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All About Bitters (Part 1)


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#91 DrinkBoy

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 02:44 PM

The Zen Of Bitters... here is my take on this.

"Bitters is for cocktails, as salt is for soup."

Ok, so perhaps that is an oversimplification, but its a description that works well for me. The point I'm trying to make with that is that just as salt "brings out" the flavor in a soup, bitters performs a special bit of magic in a cocktail. And just as you wouldn't want to to actually "taste" the salt in your soup, likewise you don't want to use enough bitters in your cocktail that it tastes of bitters.

Originally, in order for a cocktail to be called a cocktail, it was expected to include bitters. This was essentially true up until around 1900, at which time it is said the "Lone Tree Cocktail" was invented, partially as a dare, to prove that you could actually make a cocktail without bitters. At least that is the story that is related in the appendix to the second edition of the Savoy Cocktail Book.

Bitters was even an ingredient in the Martini (at least in print) up until about 1940. Normally it called specifically for orange bitters.

I often find that bitters provides a special little binding action to the flavors in a cocktail, so it suprises me every time I hear somebody order a drink like the Manhattan (one of the few surviving cocktails that is still expected to include bitters) and specifically call for it to be made without bitters. It is my expectation that at some point in this persons past, they got a little too curious about the contents of that little paper-wrapped bottle and sampled a teaspoon of it straight. This would then prompt them to never want to repeat that mistake, or even include it in any future libations.

A few weeks ago I was visiting a bartender who was showing off one of his creations. It was good, but something was missing. I pulled out a little mini-bottle of Angostura that I often carry with me, and added a few dashes. Perfect! The bartender himself was shocked at the transformation that I performed on his drink with just a couple of dashes. It was clearly the missing ingredient.

-Robert

#92 birder53

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 10:40 AM

Bitters are not just "salt" for a drink. Salt alone cannot always round out the flavors of food for me. I recently made a drink from Grimes book, can't remember the name, which contained gin, cointreau, lillet and lemon juice. It just didn't taste like much of anything to me so I got out Gary Regan's orange bitters and added two dashes. Voila! I don't know what the magic was but I now had a very tasty drink.

At Regan's "Cocktails in the Country" class, as we entered the "classroom" for the first time, Gary was busy dispensing a healthy serving of bitters into each of the drinks he had lined up for the class. I was very afraid by how much he was using until I tasted the drink. That was my epiphany! I wasn't using enough bitters at all when making drinks at home!

Angostura bitters, orange bitters, peychauds bitters - what a wonderful world this is!
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#93 mrbigjas

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 12:30 PM

Bitters was even an ingredient in the Martini (at least in print) up until about 1940. Normally it called specifically for orange bitters.



i recently bought my first bottle of orange bitters, and did indeed add some to a plymouth/noilly prat martini. and it was delicious. it added this depth of flavor to it that isn't really describable, but made a huge difference.

#94 rmockler

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 01:11 AM

Random bitters note, but in the spirit of this discussion:

I do'n know much about cocktails, but I've always loved bitters (try Angostura 'n' apple cider some day) and lately have been experimenting particularly with cocktails that use their little bit of alchemy.

Last night, with Gin and limes on hand, decided to look to cocktaildb for guidance. Found the Hong Kong Cocktail: 1 oz Gin, 1 oz Dry Vermouth, 1/4 ounce lime juice, dash o' bitters, dash o' sugar.

This was a really swell drink, I have to say, and its swellness was clearly (and by taste test) a result of the role the bitters played in simultaneously making everyone play happy together AND adding their own aromatic fun to the Gin and Vermouth tango.

Still trying to get a handle on what to do with my bottle of Peychaud's ... though it is awful pretty in sparkling water ....

[edited for typos]

Edited by rmockler, 04 June 2005 - 01:12 AM.

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#95 bacchant036

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 06:31 AM

on a slightly different note when i get my hands on a new type of bitters, fernet, amer etc best way to get an idea of the flavour is to add a couple of splashs to soda or 7 up, wasn't until i tried this that i began to understand fernet anyway.....
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#96 winesonoma

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 10:12 AM

Peychaud's is used in Sazerac's a famous New Orleans cocktail. http://www.sazerac.com/bitters.html
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#97 eje

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Posted 05 June 2005 - 10:36 AM

Still trying to get a handle on what to do with my bottle of Peychaud's ... though it is awful pretty in sparkling water  ....

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Along with the rye in a Sazerac, as winesonoma notes, I find Peychaud's flavor combines well with Brandy.
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#98 eje

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Posted 10 November 2005 - 10:38 AM

The most recent Sunday NY Times Style magazine featured an article on bitters talking with Joe Fee and about Regan's Orange bitters.

(This link will probably expire soon. Registration may also be required.)

http://www.nytimes.c...h_bitters_.html

"Orange bitters were a dog for a long time," confirms Joe Fee, whose family business, Fee Brothers of Rochester, N.Y., makes the oldest brand of orange bitters in America today. (According to his father, Jack Fee, it dates to 1951 - when orange bitters were a requisite ingredient in dry martinis.) "We didn't even know why we made them anymore."


Coincidentally, I'd been reading through Baker's "Jigger, Beaker, and Glass" and decided I would give making his "Hellfire Bitters" a try.

This is my take on it. So far it smells quite nice. I'm not exactly sure what kind of peppers I used. Some sort of bird chile, I believe. The small, festively colored and very hot ones that are available here in late summer and fall still attached to their little bushes.


Hellfire Bitters a la Charles Baker Jr.

2 Cups Very Hot Chiles
2 Cups Vodka
2 TBSP Molasses
2 Limes (Quartered)
1/2 tsp. Cinchona (Quinine) Bark Powder
8 Allspice Berries, Crushed

It all goes in the blender and then into a sterilized jar to age for a couple weeks, shaking periodically. Squeeze through cheesecloth and bottle.

Anyone else experimented with making their own bitters?

-Erik

Edited by eje, 10 November 2005 - 11:39 AM.

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#99 eje

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Posted 10 November 2005 - 11:15 AM

In "Jigger, Beaker and Glass" baker mentions 6 main bitters.

One of them is Quinine or Calisaia bitters. Are these available anywhere? Or a modern equivalent?

-Erik
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#100 eje

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 10:06 AM

I'm pleased with the Hellfire Bitters (or Weaponized Bitters of Mass Destruction, as I like to call them).

I haven't dared taste them directly; but, a dash in a glass with a little simple syrup, juice of half lime or lemon, ice, and soda water makes a fine and bracing tonic. They also make a tastier, if alcoholic, replacement for tabasco or other hot sauces.

I would change the recipe thusly next time:

Hellfire Bitters a la Charles Baker Jr.

2 Cups Very Hot Ripe Chiles
2 Cups Vodka (preferably 100 proof)
2 TBSP Molasses
2 Limes (Quartered)
1/2 tsp. Cinchona (Quinaquina officinalis) Bark Powder
16 Allspice Berries, Crushed

All the standard cautions with very hot chilies apply. Don't get it in your eyes or on other sensitive parts. Don't take a big sniff of the blender. I used some sort of thai bird chilies, as I've never been over fond of the flavor of cayenne peppers. High proof Jamaican rum, like Wray and Nephew might be a nice change from vodka. Along with the cautions about Chilies, Quinine is poisonous in larger doses, so don't get carried away and add huge amounts of that to your bitters.

It all goes in the blender and then into a sterilized jar to age for a couple weeks, shaking periodically. Squeeze through cheesecloth and into another jar to age for a couple more weeks. Rack off or pour carefully and filter through a coffee filter, leaving as much sediment as possible in jar and bottle in a sterilized jar.

edited to clarify some stuff.

Edited by eje, 20 December 2005 - 04:04 PM.

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#101 Splificator

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Posted 12 January 2006 - 08:23 AM

Eje having had the temerity to send me some of these Weaponized Bitters of Mass Destruction, the least I could do was try them. Since the Bone, one of the drinks in my repertoire, already contains three dashes of tobasco sauce, that seemed like the perfect place to start. And guess what: I lived to tell the tale. What's more, I had another. Nice work.

The Hellfire Bone:
Shake well with cracked ice:
2 oz 100 or 101-proof rye whiskey (or 100/101 bourbon)
1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon rich simple syrup (the kind made with 2 parts demerara to 1 part water)
3 cautious dashes Baker's Hellfire Bitters.
Strain into chilled tall shot glass and have at it.

The Hellfire Bitters have a cleaner, more piercing heat than the tobasco--a blue flame rather than a red flame. You don't get much but the peppers coming through at first, but some of the other stuff bobs up on the palate after the initial shock has worn off.
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#102 k43

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Posted 12 January 2006 - 10:41 AM

I add a few drops of Angostura to many things to perk up the flavor. It particularly helps spaghetti sauce and fond reductions. As DrinkBoy says, keep the amount below the level where you know it's there.

#103 eje

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Posted 13 January 2006 - 09:48 PM

Thanks for the kind words Dave.

Along with their cocktail applications, the Hellfire Bitters are probably an effective vermicide.

The next bitters experiment was confused. Initially, I intended to make something like Stoughton Bitters. I thought "Quassia" was "Cassia" and went about starting the mixture below. Later I was reading an herb catalog and realized that "Quassia" was a completely different herb that had nothing to do with Cinnamon.

Clementine Bitters

Peel of 3 Clementines and leaves, sliced thin and steeped in 1 cup vodka

1 stick Mexican Cinnamon
1/8 cup Dried Orange Peel
1/8 cup Chamomile
1/8 cup Gentian Root
4 Bay Leaves
1 Cup Vodka

2 TBSP Blackstrap Molasses

Crush all dry ingredients in a pestle. Steep both of the mixtures for 2 weeks, shaking occasionally, strain through cheesecloth, combine with 2 tbsp Blackstrap.

Age for 2 more weeks, rack or pour off and strain through coffee filter into sterilized containers.

Edited by eje, 14 January 2006 - 08:23 PM.

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#104 lancastermike

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 10:39 AM

Looking for a source for Peychaud's bitters other than the Buffalo Trace site. PA LCB tells me there supplier has none and will not be getting anymore so they cannot special order it for me. The Buffalo Trace site wants 10 bucks for shipping. I am not cheap, but that seems a little much. Any help for another source? It is not at retail in Pennsylvania

#105 cdh

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 10:50 AM

But in PA bitters need not be sold by the PLCB stores exclusively, right? Angostura's in my supermarket. You might want to call DiBruno's in PHL and ask if they've got them. I recall that Lisa mentioned something about stocking Fee's, so bitters are on their radar. Maybe PM Lisa directly... Lisa1349 is her eG handle.
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#106 slkinsey

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 12:03 PM

Hmm. I guess three hours each way is a little too much for you to drive up to NYC and buy some Peychaud's at Pegu Club. :biggrin:
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#107 lancastermike

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 01:49 PM

But in PA bitters need not be sold by the PLCB stores exclusively, right?  Angostura's  in my supermarket.  You might want to call DiBruno's in PHL and ask if they've got them.  I recall that Lisa mentioned something about stocking Fee's, so  bitters are on their radar.  Maybe PM Lisa directly... Lisa1349 is her eG handle.

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In fact, my Fee Bros Orange bitters came from DiBruno's. I do not think they stock Peychaud's however. I may ask her if she has a source however.

#108 lancastermike

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 01:51 PM

Hmm.  I guess three hours each way is a little too much for you to drive up to NYC and buy some Peychaud's at Pegu Club.  :biggrin:

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Would love to drive up for a bottle of bitters and a cocktail or two, Sam. Real problem on visiting Manhatthan these days is price of a room. Article in the NYT about this just the other day. We used to like to come up for a show and a weekend stay, but it is just too dear these days

#109 johnder

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 02:08 PM

Anyone else experimented with making their own bitters?

-Erik

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I have a batch of Hess' House Bitters brewing, it is currently in the steeping phase. Won't move onto the next phase until 1/29. :unsure:

Edited by johnder, 19 January 2006 - 02:08 PM.

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#110 eje

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 03:21 PM

I have a batch of Hess' House Bitters brewing, it is currently in the steeping phase.  Won't move onto the next phase until 1/29.  :unsure:

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Cool! Can't wait to hear how they come out. I've wanted to try those for a while.

Is there any method to the madness of bitters making?

In, "Jigger, Beaker, and Glass," Baker gives three distinct methods.

To my imperfect memory the methods were:

1) Macerate ingredients in spirits, filter and bottle.
2) Macerate ingredients in spirits, filter through cheesecloth. Steep seperated dry ingredients in warm liquid, cool and age. Re-incorporate two essences. Filter and bottle.
3) Briefly cook all ingredients in liquid, cool, add high proof alcohol, age, then filter and bottle.

If I remember correctly, 1 was used for his Angostura clone, 2 for his orange bitters, and 3 for the Hellfire Bitters. The Stoughton bitters recipes I've seen usually use method 1.

edited for stupid usage.

Edited by eje, 19 January 2006 - 10:22 PM.

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#111 M.X.Hassett

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 07:14 PM

Hopefully this helps
I am pretty sure I can reprint this since I beleive it is in the public domain:
Bakers Agnostura sub

Cinchona bark, 8 drachms
Lemon peel 2 drachms
Orange peel 2 drachms
Cardamon seeds, shelled and crushed 1/2 drachm
Chaomile flowers, 2 drachms
Bark cinnamon, 1/2 drachm
Raisins 1/4 lb.
Best grain alcohol 2 qts
All ingredients must be ground or pounded fine exept the raisins, and these are first chopped fine, then mixed thoroughly with everything else. Seal tightly in a 2 qt jar and pour enough of the finest grain alcohol obtainable, to fill- which will be a scant 2 qts. Let stand at an even, fairly warm temperature for 6 weeks, stirring or shaking vigorously twice every day. Strain, then strain through a cloth; pressing at the last to extract essentials from the sediment. Stir and strain once more, and bottle for use.
bon chance, Messieurs.

Orange Bitters

.......Dried orange peel, 1/2 lb, chopped fine. Burnt sugar, about 4 tbsp. Good grain alcohol, 4 cups; cologne spirits if best possible. Cardamon, caraway and coriander seeds 1/2 drachm each. These last come from the corner drug store...chop the orange peel very fine, add herb seed and pour on the alcohol the stand in a sealed jar for 15 days......pour off spirits through a cloth and seal again. Take the seeds and peel, put them in a saucepan, crushing with a wooden muddler. Cover them with boiling water, simmer 5 minutes; put in covered jar for 2 days, then strain this off and add to the spirits. Put in burnt sugar for colour. Filter again, let stand until it settles perfectly clear then bottle for use-being careful not to agitate the slight precipitation or sediment during this final operation.

Hell Fire

Pound up 2 cups of scarlet round bird peppers, or small chilis or cayenne peppers. Put in a saucepan with 1 cup of tart white wine; simmer up once and turn everything into a pint jar, add 1 cup of Cognac brandy and seel jar tight. Let steep for 14 days, strain through several thicknesses of cloth and bottle for use

from "The Gentleman's Companion, An Exotic Drinking Book" by Charles H. Baker, Jr. 1939 edition.

Edit: added ingredients for first receipt.

Edited by M.X.Hassett, 19 January 2006 - 07:18 PM.

Matthew Xavier Hassett aka "M.X.Hassett"

"Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters-it is vulgarly called bittered sling and is supposed to be an exellent electioneering potion..."
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#112 birder53

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 01:51 PM

But in PA bitters need not be sold by the PLCB stores exclusively, right?  Angostura's  in my supermarket.  You might want to call DiBruno's in PHL and ask if they've got them.  I recall that Lisa mentioned something about stocking Fee's, so  bitters are on their radar.  Maybe PM Lisa directly... Lisa1349 is her eG handle.

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In fact, my Fee Bros Orange bitters came from DiBruno's. I do not think they stock Peychaud's however. I may ask her if she has a source however.

View Post


DeLaurenti in Seattle carries Peychaud's. Here is their website De Laurenti They will send it to you.
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#113 Lan4Dawg

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 02:48 PM

some thing rather interesting and some what ironic I noticed (& do not remember it being discussed in this rather lengthy thread). The Angostura bitters say quite plainly on the side of the bottle "not made with Angostura bark". Yet the Fee Brothers bitters claim Angostura bark as one of the main ingredients and proudly note it on the front label.
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#114 eje

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 05:35 PM

some thing rather interesting and some what ironic I noticed (& do not remember it being discussed in this rather lengthy thread).  The Angostura bitters say quite plainly on the side of the bottle "not made with Angostura bark".  Yet the Fee Brothers bitters claim Angostura bark as one of the main ingredients and proudly note it on the front label.

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It is a bit odd.

According to this essay on the Drinkboy site, Angostura bitters, the brand, were named after the city in Venezuela they were developed in, not the ingredients, and are made with Quinine Bark.

True Angostura Bark is an altogether different bitter substance that is sometimes used medicinally. This page from botanical.com has details.

I keep forgetting to pick up a bottle of the fee bitters. How do they compare to Angostura?

edit - I was reading back through this fascinating thread and one of the previous posts said Angostura was made with gentian, not quinine. Since Baker's Angostura clone uses Quinine, I had assumed Angostura did too. Reading the Angostura bottle closely, it does say it is a gentian bitters.

Edited by eje, 21 January 2006 - 10:18 AM.

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#115 slkinsey

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Posted 20 January 2006 - 10:28 PM

Some people aren't fond of the Fee aromatic bitters, but I like them a lot. To me, they seem to have more of a clove top note as opposed to Angostura's cinnamon top note. I think the Fee's is a perfect match with Laird's bonded.
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#116 M.X.Hassett

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Posted 21 January 2006 - 01:08 PM

I found a self-variation of Baker's hell fire bitters in his "The Gentleman's Companion, An Exotic COOKERY Book", Charles H. Baker Jr. 1939 copy #859:

……...Cut up as many round red bird pepper, or hot red pod peppers, as is necessary to fill a pint bottle loosely. Over this pour as much sherry, brandy and strained lime juice, as the vacant air spaces will take. Donate one scant tsp of salt, and 1/2 tsp quinine powder. Now stand for two weeks on kitchen shelf, uncorked. It is then ready for use. Some stout boiler-plated Britishers even put a dash or 2 in their gin and bitters! The original British mixture used the wine-brandy blend but, ignore the citric fermented juice. . . . Cayenne Wine: means the result of substituting 2 tsp- about 1/4 oz- of Cayenne pepper for the fresh red peppers, in the above routine, omitting the quinine.

I will be putting up a batch and will report back.

Erik: Which version did you recently make.

Edited by M.X.Hassett, 21 January 2006 - 01:09 PM.

Matthew Xavier Hassett aka "M.X.Hassett"

"Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters-it is vulgarly called bittered sling and is supposed to be an exellent electioneering potion..."
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#117 eje

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Posted 21 January 2006 - 02:06 PM

Erik: Which version did you recently make.

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Matt

The recipe I used is upthread a bit, I'll also PM you with it.

I omitted the cooking step and added allspice and a couple limes.

I'm unclear why the cooking step in this or the orange bitters recipe is necessary.

-Erik
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#118 eje

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Posted 26 January 2006 - 05:59 PM

Large article about bitters in yesterday's LA Times:

A revival of bitters? Sweeeet!

"From a taste standpoint," says Peter Birmingham, bartender-sommelier at Norman's in West Hollywood, "a bitters makes the mouth water and promotes visual and smell pleasures, because it contains concentrated flavor essences. The bitterness itself makes the flavors [of a drink] extend. Here at Norman's, we hang our hat on a Manhattan made with Peychaud bitters, sweet vermouth and Joshua Brook bourbon."


A fairly long article with a few cocktail recipes.

PS. Props to Chuck Taggert's Gumbo Pages for linking to this long and fascinating thread. Here's a few clicks back atcha.

Edited by eje, 26 January 2006 - 09:48 PM.

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Erik Ellestad
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#119 eje

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Posted 08 February 2006 - 10:21 AM

Clementine Bitters

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Strained the clementine bitters and gave in to peer pressure and made a small tea of the solids. After cooling, combined flavored water with flavored vodka and added a cup of 100 proof rye. At this point, it seems I may have gone a bit overboard on the gentian. At least, compared to the other commercial bitters in my cabinet, it seems to be a little more extreme. Perhaps it will settle down with aging.

Also put down a half batch of Robert Hess' House Bitters, based on one of the more recent recipes from the DrinkBoy forums.

Robert Hess' House Bitters (scroll down)
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#120 k43

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Posted 09 February 2006 - 11:13 AM

Here's my synthesis of what's appeared on Drinkboy, the LA Times, eGullet and Chowhound:

Gary Regan, "The Joy of Mixology" is the best book
http://cocktaildb.co...owse?category=2
amaro – generic Italian term

Agwa – Bolivian liqueur with an attractive bitterness and a slight stimulative effect — contains ginseng, guaraná and (nonnarcotic) coca leaf.
Amaro Braulino – strongly herbal, aged
Amaro Felsina Ramazzotti – vermouth with bitter orange flavors.
Amaro Lucano – decidedly bitter, but without the intensity of Fernet Branca. Very complex, nutty, herbal overtones without a trace of sweetness
Amaro Montenegro – similar in weight and bitterness to Lucano, but with a more citrus and nutty, spiced flavors
Amaro Nonino – grappa style – complex, warm and round flavors
Angostura – cookie-sweet spice (mostly clove) aroma with a winy character
– darkens and mellows young spirits (e.g., rum)
– compliments bittersweet flavors (tonic water, triple sec, Campari)
– with a bit of sugar, balances out bitterness in cheap spirits
Averna – dark, with bitterness rounded out by rich fruit flavors, vanilla and sugar – the fullest bodied amaro
Becherovka – Czech – sweet with a cinnamon/spice flavor
Boonekamp – comes in large bottle (750 ml) but is as strong as rdinary bitters – dark, unsweetened, clove and licorice predominate, with many others in the background
Campari – bitter vermouth with a cherry-like aroma.
Calisaia bitters (quinine) – made in Spain and Italy, hard to find in U.S.
Cynar – sweet vermouth bittered with artichoke.
Dubonnet – vermouth flavored with quinine, herbs and spices.
Fee Brothers, http://www.feebrothe....asp?Category=5
– aromatic (close to Angostura, but has more pronounced cinnamon and clove highlights)
– orange
– mint (too pronounced for anything but cake frosting)
– peach (makes a lovely champagne cocktail, and pairs with fruit juice based drinks quite well, but it gets lost in straight booze)
Fernet Branca – dark, pungently bitter with a strong alcoholic kick – numerous herbs, including peppermint
– Branca Menta – Fenet Branca with a good dose of mint liquor
Jägermeister. Complex herbal flavor; from Germany.
Peychaud's Bitters – brighter than Angostura, with more licorice – complex aroma, with anise and root beer
Punt è Mes – bitter vermouth.
Ramazzotti – medium-dark and quite bitter, but not as intense as Fernet Branca or as round as Averna
Regan's Orange Bitters #6 – from D&D or http://www.buffalotr...om/giftshop.asp – expensive shipping, so order several things – spicy, aggressively flavored with gentian, quinine and cardamom. Other orange bitters are not good.
Stirrings blood orange bittershttp://www.stirrings...bloodorange.php or from Sur La Table, http://www.surlatable.com/ – not as robust as Angostura, Peychaud, or Regan's #6, but more flavor components than Fee's orange. They're non-alcoholic, which limits their intensity, and since they didn't use alcohol to extract the flavors, the flavors are more muted as well.
Suze – French aperitif; flavors of gentian, orange and vanilla.
Torani Amer – sweet vermouth with orange, gentian and quinine flavors, somewhat reminiscent of Amer Picon, a traditional Basque vermouth not available in this country.
Underberg – in single-serving bottles – roundly herbal, and quite pleasant straight