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Chris Amirault

All About Bitters (Part 2)

355 posts in this topic

Say you start with 75% abv infused alcohol as your bitters base. You can , for example, dilute it with 50% water to end up with a 50% abv bitters which is now comprised of 1/3 water and 2/3 original infusion. Or you can keep it at full strength as a 75% abv bitters.

I have no idea why you're telling me this.

No one is arguing that the 75% abv bitters and the 50% abv bitters won't taste different straight out of the bottle.

Did you read above?

So now let's say that you add 0.5 ml of bitters to 10 ml of water. In the case of the 75% bitters, we now have 10 ml of water and 0.5 of the original infusion. In the case of the 50% bitters, we have 10.16 ml of water and 0.33 ml of the original infusion. Effectively what we have done is dilute the original infusion by 20X in the version using the full strength bitters and by 30X in the version using the 50% abv bitters. That's a pretty big difference, and depending on taste thresholds and the intensity of the original infusion, these two glasses of liquid might taste very different.

Which is what I've been saying throughout - with two differing abvs you will have two different tasting products, and 1 dash of 75% abv bitters is not the same flavour you'll get with two dashes of 37.5% bitters, as the two dashes still equate to 37.5% abv.

Second is for use "in the field." One would like for a bitters to have an intensity that contributes the correct amount of flavor, aroma, etc. to drinks when used in the convenient and expected amounts. An especially intense bitters might be tricky to use if there is always the danger that a dash will overwhelm the drink. One problem I have with a lot of modern bitters is that they are diluted too much, so that 4 or 5 dashes are needed where 2 with a "standard" bitters would suffice.

First bolded part - Which I expect the producer considers in the production of their bitters as already said.

Second bolded part - I already addressed this with you earlier in this thread so don't think we need to go over it again.

Sam and I are assuming that when you dilute to bottle strength that nothing louches or precipitates out. Obviously if flavor components become solids in suspension or settled to the bottom of the dasher, then the flavor of the two end drinks could well be different.

The same product at two differing abvs taste differently, it's that simple!


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OK, let's follow this to its logical conclusion. Here's a thought experiment:

Two dasher bottles, one half full with 75% base bitters. One half full with water.

Make two 90ml Manhattans.

Put one 1ml dash from each dasher into drink.

The drink has 1ml of full-strength bitters in 92ml of drink. Sip. Yum.

Pour the contents of dasher bottle with water into the full strength one, resulting in a 37.5% bitters.

Put two 1ml dashes into the drink.

The drink has 1 ml of full-strength bitters pre-mixed with 1 ml of pure water in a 92ml of drink. Sip. Yum.

The two drinks are chemically identical (having the same number of molecules of each constituent compound), assuming nothing precipitated when the bitters were diluted in the dasher bottle.


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OK, let's follow this to its logical conclusion. Here's a thought experiment:

Two dasher bottles, one half full with 75% base bitters. One half full with water.

Make two 90ml Manhattans.

Put one 1ml dash from each dasher into drink.

The drink has 1ml of full-strength bitters in 92ml of drink. Sip. Yum.

Pour the contents of dasher bottle with water into the full strength one, resulting in a 37.5% bitters.

Put two 1ml dashes into the drink.

The drink has 1 ml of full-strength bitters pre-mixed with 1 ml of pure water in a 92ml of drink. Sip. Yum.

The two drinks are chemically identical (having the same number of molecules of each constituent compound), assuming nothing precipitated when the bitters were diluted in the dasher bottle.

This is actually hilarious. You cannot be serious? The conversation is regarding the difference in flavour between 75% abv bitters and 37.5% abv bitters. If you can't see that there is a difference there's no point in continuing the conversation.

Dashing water. As I said up-thread, "This forum can be odd sometimes."


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No where did Sam or I say that there was no difference between the 37.5% and the 75% bitters. We both have said at least once that they obviously taste different from each other on the tongue.

It is clear from my example (and from common sense) that diluting 75% bitters to 37.5% bitters and dispensing twice as much yields an identical drink. Not identical tasting bitters if dashed onto your finger and stuck in your mouth. We all agree on that. Identical drinks if dashed into a drink in concentration-adjusted amounts (twice as much of the half-as-strong bitters in this case). You seem to be saying that this is not true.

The original genesis of this discussion was your statement that by diluting with water immediately prior to bottling, you are changing the flavor of some botanicals relative to others. Absent precipitation or time-related aging or oxidation effects, I can see no justification for this and logic would seem to preclude any.

If I have misunderstood your position -- which is what I initially thought had happened -- then I apologize. If I understand your position correctly, then perhaps you could explain how those two Manhattans are not chemically identical.


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No where did I say that there was no difference between the 37.5% and the 75% bitters.

Post 841 is where this started.

- 37.5% abv bitters have a specific flavour

- 75% abv bitters have a specific flavour

- Adding two dashes of 37.5% bitters does not equate to one dash of the 75% abv bitters for a multitude of reasons. It also has nothing to do with changing the final abv, it's about altering flavour by adding something (bitters) which has a dramatic effect on drinks, especially at two wildly differing abvs. I'm still baffled as to why you're contesting this? It's just bizarre, even moreso when you've admittedly not put it into practice.

It is clear from my example (and from common sense) that diluting 75% bitters to 37.5% bitters and dispensing twice as much yields an identical drink. Not identical tasting bitters if dashed onto your finger and stuck in your mouth. We all agree on that. Identical drinks if dashed into a drink in concentration-adjusted amounts (twice as much of the half-as-strong bitters in this case). You seem to be saying that this is not true.

How is it clear exactly? It's wrong. The two abvs have their own unique flavour. The aromatic compounds are impacted/influenced dependent on the abv, and adding twice as much of the lower abv does not equate to the larger abv. Maybe consider what my job is...

The original genesis of this discussion was your statement that by diluting with water immediately prior to bottling, you are changing the flavor of some botanicals relative to others. Absent precipitation or time-related aging or oxidation effects, I can see no justification for this and logic would seem to preclude any.

I guess you learn something new everyday. As an example, go grab a whisky or gin and add a teardrop of water, then tell me there's no flavour change. Now, put that thought towards something that is flavoured with a variety of botanicals. Are you sure about your logic?


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... go grab a whisky or gin and add a teardrop of water, then tell me there's no flavour change. ...

I think this is the heart of the matter. I believe the straight-forward laws of chemistry apply here. Being a good scientist, I "suffered" through an experiment.

- I dispensed two identical 1/2 oz pours of Balvenie 12 (43%ABV) into two identical same-temperature single malt glasses.

- I tasted them A, B, A, B. Identical.

- I dispensed 1 drop of tap water into B. Swirled to mix.

- I tasted them A, B, A, B. Identical.

- I dispensed several more drops of water into B. Swirled to mix.

- I tasted them A, B, A, B. Probably identical. I might have detected a slight reduction of heat in B, but it might have been my imagination, given that this is a un-blind experiment. Flavor character was identical.

- I dispensed about 1/2 tsp of water into B. At this point, I could clearly detect the milder presentation of the scotch, "smoother", less penetrating, less alcoholic heat, and to my taste, less compelling. The flavor was identical in character but slightly reduced in intensity.

- I finished both glasses of Balvenie, dispensed an oz of Lagavulin 16 into a glass, visualized a drop of water, and sat down to type.

I don't think anything special happens when you dilute something with water (unless something drops out of solution, you expose it to aging/flavoring in a cask, etc.). It matters not whether this happens at the distillery, in the bottle at your house, or in your glass.

I think the upshot is that we have different world views and are unlike to convince each other. I enjoy and appreciate your products, and am grateful for their availability. Thank you. I wish you a Happy Holiday. No hard feelings -- truly.


Edited by EvergreenDan (log)

Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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Seemed like the right day to post the most recent addition to my cabinet...

christmasbitters.jpg


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I don't think anything special happens when you dilute something with water.

Flavour changes. Ask anyone who has been involved in the development stages of a product and ask them about the differences dependent on the abv. Why you struggle with this is beyond me? It's not a viewpoint, it's a matter of fact. Various aromatics will come to the fore dependent on the difference. As another example, have you tried Martin Miller's Original alongside the Westbourne Strength? The difference between the two is startling and their only difference, yep you guessed it, the abv.

As for your experiment, some of the greatest minds in the world of Whisky are all in agreement regarding the difference a drop of water can make. I've actually lost count of the number of tastings I've sat in and/or hosted and had this demonstrated.


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Right. Dilution will make a difference. But that doesn't seem to be quite what you are arguing. You seem to be arguing that diluting to XXX times tastes different depending on whether you do this via a one-stage dilution or a two-stage dilution.

Let me propose a scenario and if you can answer some questions about it, perhaps we can clear up some misunderstanding:

- A herbal infusion -- let's say one of your own so it's something you're well familiar with -- is done into 75% abv alcohol. We will call this the "original extraction."

- Bitters A is made simply by using the 75% original extraction at full strength.

- Bitters B is made by making a 1X dilution of the original extraction to attain 37.5% abv.

We now decide to make some bitters-and-water drinks...

- Drink No. 1 is made with 100 ml of water and 0.25 ml ("one dash") of Bitters A. This results in a 400X dilution of the original extraction for a total drink volume of 100.25 ml.

- Drink No. 2 is made with 100 ml of water and 0.5 ml ("two dashes") of Bitters B. This results in a 401X dilution of the original extraction for a total drink volume of 100.5 ml.

- Drink No. 3 is made with 99.75 ml of water and 0.5 ml ("two dashes") of Bitters B. This results in a 400X dilution of the original extraction for a total drink volume of 100.25 ml

Would you expect these drinks to taste similar or different? Most especially, would you expect there to be any significant taste difference between Drink No. 1 and Drink No. 3? Given that there is only a 0.0025% difference in dilution between Drinks No. 1 and 3 and Drink No. 2, would you expect this minute difference to result in a difference in taste?

It is my understanding, and I believe the understanding of many who are responding to your posts in this thread, that you believe that Drink No. 1 and Drink No. 3 would taste different, despite the fact that they have the same dilution of the original extraction.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Right. Dilution will make a difference.

And the rest is irrelevant. Why? Because the point you're both trying to come back with is simply a case of diluting the original infusion with enough water to bring them to the same abv, so they taste identical. Which misses the point. Completely...

In a regular cocktail, one made with a bitters at 75% abv will taste different to one made with 37.5% abv bitters.

Would it be possible for you to at least attempt any of these things before assuming you're right?

and I believe the understanding of many who are responding to your posts in this thread

Many? The math is crazy. Just odd...


Edited by evo-lution (log)

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So you're not going to answer the questions, then?

Would it be possible for you to at least attempt any of these things before assuming you're right?

I don't have any 75% bitters. But I've done experiments diluting some 50% bitters I have and applying them to cocktails. They taste identical when used in amounts that contain identical amounts of the prima materia.

In a regular cocktail, one made with a bitters at 75% abv will taste different to one made with 37.5% abv bitters.

I don't actually disagree with this entirely. I just don't agree with your reasoning for saying why it's so, and based on your arguments in this thread thus far it's not clear that you have a firm grasp of the basic underlying science. At least not one you're willing to share with anyone. Again, this might be helped by actually addressing the questions I posed.

The reason cocktails made with 75% bitters will usually taste different from one made with 37.5% bitters is because they probably contain a different amount of the original extraction, depending on how formulated, and definitely contain a different amount of water. I just disagree with the reasons you are giving. The main reason the two cocktails might taste different is because they contain a different amount of the original extraction. In the context of a cocktail that is being diluted with lots of water through melting ice in a way that is likely to vary by a greater amount than any differences in the amount of water contained in the two bitters formulations, I don't believe the difference in the amount of water contributed in each dash is as important as any differences in the amount of the original extraction, but I suppose it's possible.

What you seem to be arguing is that diluting the original extraction with water when you make your bitters changes its taste in some kind of fundamental and permanent way that carries through into an infinitely more massive dilution into a cocktail. I may not be a bitters maker, but I do know a little something about chemistry and sense perceptions, knowledge which tells me that this supposition cannot be true. What you want to do when making a bitters is to dilute it to a strength that gives the effect you want (i.e., that contains the amount of original extraction you want) in the amounts typically used in cocktail making, and doesn't have to be handled like plutonium. That makes sense.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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So you're not going to answer the questions, then?

I already have. To prove some sort of point you're now adding them to only water to bring both abvs to the same level. Why? That's just odd. This wasn't what we were talking about originally.

I've done experiments diluting some 50% bitters I have and applying them to cocktails.

You hadn't before. Now you have. Funny that...

I don't actually disagree with this entirely. I just don't agree with your reasoning for saying why it's so, and based on your arguments in this thread thus far it's not clear that you have a firm grasp of the basic underlying science. At least not one you're willing to share with anyone.

Don't be ridiculous, I already have. As for your firm grasp comment, best ignore that.

The reason cocktails made with 75% bitters will usually taste different from one made with 37.5% bitters is because they probably contain a different amount of the original extraction

Finally we're getting somewhere...

Oh, but you're rambling again.

depending on how formulated, and definitely contain a different amount of water. I just disagree with the reasons you are giving. The main reason the two cocktails might taste different is because they contain a different amount of the original extraction. In the context of a cocktail that is being diluted with lots of water through melting ice in a way that is likely to vary by a greater amount than any differences in the amount of water contained in the two bitters formulations, I don't believe the difference in the amount of water contributed in each dash is as important as any differences in the amount of the original extraction, but I suppose it's possible.

What you seem to be arguing is that diluting the original extraction with water when you make your bitters changes its taste in some kind of fundamental and permanent way that carries through into an infinitely more massive dilution into a cocktail.

Did I say that? That's another post you've made where I'm not sure you read what came before. And why the obsession with the water? Really, why? The amount of water (and alcohol) in the original extraction decides the abv, and thus affects the flavour of that bottling. So, 75% abv bitters taste differently to that which is 37.5%. That bottling will then affect the flavour in the finished drink. So let's say there's more cardamom and angelica prevalent at 75%abv, but at 37.5% it is more citrus forward, that'll affect the drink.

And stop with all these ratios of bitters being diluted in enough water to make them both have the same abv. It's quite funny but has nothing to do with what is being spoken about.

To how it started, two dashes of 37.5% abv bitters is not the same as one dash at 75% abv as each has it's own flavour profile and no matter how many dashes of 37.5% you add, it'll still be 37.5%.

So take two identical Martinis and add 2 dashes of each bitters (75%abv and 37.5%abv) to each Martini, and the flavour profiles described above (cardamom and angelica prevalent at 75%abv, citrus forward at 37.5%) will have an effect on how the final drink tastes.


Edited by evo-lution (log)

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What you seem to be arguing is that diluting the original extraction with water when you make your bitters changes its taste in some kind of fundamental and permanent way that carries through into an infinitely more massive dilution into a cocktail.

Did I say that? That's another post you've made where I'm not sure you read what came before. And why the obsession with the water? Really, why? The amount of water (and alcohol) in the original extraction decides the abv, and thus affects the flavour of that bottling. So, 75% abv bitters taste differently to that which is 37.5%. That bottling will then affect the flavour in the finished drink. So let's say there's more cardamom and angelica prevalent at 75%abv, but at 37.5% it is more citrus forward, that'll affect the drink.

The reason I say that is because that is exactly what you're saying. And you say it again above.

I get that a bitters might taste more strongly of cardamom and angelica at 75% abv and more of citrus at 37.5% abv. We all understand this. What doesn't quite follow is that these taste differences will carry through once the respective bitters are further diluted, and to a far greater extent, when they are added to a cocktail in minute quantities. It doesn't follow because this dilution will also affect the taste of the bitters, just as much as the original dilution did. Since we agree that abv has an effect on flavor and agree that diluting a 75% abv bitters 100% with water to 37.5 % abv can have a profound effect on the expression of the flavors, then we must also agree that an 8,000% dilution of those bitters will have an even more profound effect. And this actually understates the extent to which bitters are diluted in a cocktail.

At the very least, then, we understand that the dilution of the bitters that happens in the glass is many orders of magnitude greater than the dilution that happens for the bottle. And if making a 100% dilution for the bottle from 75% to 37.5 % abv shifts citrus to the fore and cardamom and angelica into the background, one would expect that an 8,000% dilution in the glass would have an even more profound effect and shift other flavors around. This is something you seem unwilling to address, and what you have written suggests you believe that the dilution that happens for the bottle is the only one that matters. You seem to be suggesting that once the bitters are diluted to have a certain flavor profile, these flavors transfer into the drink just as they were coming out of the bottle despite the fact that the drink itself further dilutes the bitters. But that doesn't make sense because as you yourself have said, dilution changes the flavors. I don't see any chemical basis to assert that the 75% abv expression of the bitters will have a predominant taste of cardamom and angelica in the cocktail whereas the 37.5% abv expression of the bitters will taste more citrus-forward in the cocktail simply because they taste that way straight from the bottle. And you seem to be asserting that they will. Plenty of things have certain flavors straight out of the bottle that change radically when diluted into other ingredients.

Let's look at a real situation. Let's say you're making an Old Fashioned. You put either 0.25 ml of 75% bitters or 0.5 ml of 37.5% bitters into 100 ml of 40% abv bourbon, and you stir with ice to get 20% dilution (20 ml of added water).

If we look only at the water added by the ice, we have effectively created an 8,000% to 8,100% dilution of the original extraction into water. On a chemical basis, this dilution in the glass is no different from the dilution that was done to bring the 75% abv bitters down to 37.5% abv. It's just 80 times greater, is all.

Because this dilution is no different on a chemical basis, another way of looking at it would be to say that we have effectively created a "0.1874% abv bitters" by further diluting the 75% bitters with 20 ml of water, and a "0.1869% abv bitters" by further diluting the 37.5% bitters with 20 ml of water. That's a trifling difference of 0.0005% in abv, which suggests that there won't be any difference in the flavor of the two Old Fashioneds attributable to the bitters. And of course we haven't yet factored in the water that the bourbon maker put into the bourbon to dilute it down from barrel proof to 40% abv, which probably accounts for at least another 25 ml of the drink volume.

Now... could there be factors that lead a 75% abv bitters to taste different from a 37.5% abv bitters in a way that carries through into the cocktail other than concentration? Sure. The most obvious would be if certain substances precipitate out and get filtered off when the bitters is reduced to 37.5% abv. This would create a permanent and enduring change in the flavor profile of the bitters. But thus far you seem to be arguing that a 75% abv bitters tastes different from a diluted-down 37.5% abv expression of the same bitters solely due to proof and concentration, and that these differences will carry through into the drink in some kind of characteristic way despite the massive dilution that happens in the glass. That just doesn't follow. It's like saying that because 100 proof Wild Turkey tastes different from 80 proof Wild Turkey coming out of the bottle, you can't make the two cocktails taste the same by putting more water into the 100 proof cocktail. We know this isn't true.

So take two identical Martinis and add 2 dashes of each bitters (75%abv and 37.5%abv) to each Martini, and the flavour profiles described above (cardamom and angelica prevalent at 75%abv, citrus forward at 37.5%) will have an effect on how the final drink tastes.

Of course those will taste different. They will taste different because you used twice as much of the original extraction in the cocktail you dashed the 75% bitters into. But that's not what we're talking about. You say yourself that "two dashes of 37.5% abv bitters is not the same as one dash at 75% abv."

As to whether they will taste different in the characteristic ways you suggest, the minor at-home testing I've done with the available bitters I have around the house since this thread started suggest that you're wrong about those characteristic flavor differences carrying through into the drink. One dash of 50% compared to two dashes of the same bitters diluted-down to 25% tasted identical to everyone who tasted the two drinks. I don't have any bitters of substantially higher proof at home.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Weeping Jesus on the cross...

- Make a litre of citrus bitters using 75%abv alcohol.

- Take half of those bitters and dilute to 37.5%abv with water, so you have a 75%abv citrus bitters, and a 37.5%abv citrus bitters. Thus creating two intensely flavoured bitters with differing flavour profiles. I'd imagine the lower abv would have a more floral profile, with more spice prevalent in the 75%abv bitters.

- Then make two identical drinks, say Gin&Tonic or a Martini for example, adding 2 or 3 dashes of each bitters to either drink, so one is made with the 37.5 bitters, the other with the 75%.

- Taste those drinks. You'll find they will taste different due to the flavour profile brought to the party by the bitters.

That's it. That's all I've been saying. It really is that simple. All you keep presenting throughout is various ratios/experiments geared toward diluting the original maceration to the same abv. I'm more interested in real-World scenarios where the flavour profile is the main focus, as shown directly above.


Edited by evo-lution (log)

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- Make a litre of citrus bitters using 75%abv alcohol.

- Take half of those bitters and dilute to 37.5%abv with water, so you have a 75%abv citrus bitters, and a 37.5%abv citrus bitters. Thus creating two intensely flavoured bitters with differing flavour profiles. I'd imagine the lower abv would have a more floral profile, with more spice prevalent in the 75%abv bitters.

- Then make two identical drinks, say Gin&Tonic or a Martini for example, adding 2 or 3 dashes of each bitters to either drink, so one is made with the 37.5 bitters, the other with the 75%.

If nothing is lost by adding water (and I have had compounds crash out of solution during dilution akin to anise in absinthe or raki), then 2 dashes of the half strength should pretty much taste the same as 1 dash of full strength given a relatively excessively large volume of cocktail.

100+1 part full strength will pretty much equal 100+2 part half strength as far as your palate can detect. We are not sensitive enough to detect the differences between 0.00990 to 0.00980 (final concentration).

Your argument about has changed to 100+1 part full strength versus 100+1 part half strength. Which was not what you were arguing before. Or what Sam or Dan are arguing now.

And if the extra water is an issue, keep in mind that 25% of most post-stirred/shaken cocktails is ice melt so the additional water would be negligible.

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Your argument about has changed...

Nope, just went back and read and the point I have been making throughout is the same. I don't need to go back and quote it all as it's already there.

I haven't once mentioned 100+1 or any other ratio, all that has ever been posted is that the two bitters will taste different at their respective abvs and that two dashes of the lesser abv have their unique profile, different to that of the higher abv.

You make identical drinks, using two bitters at differing abvs, it'll taste different.

All these ratios and what-not that people keep bringing up completely miss the point. It's about a concentration of flavour which changes based on its abv. This started at post 841.

Out of curiosity, have any of the three of you tried anything similar to what I posted in 860? You could even do your one dash 75% - two dash 37.5% thing if you must.


Edited by evo-lution (log)

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to enhance flavor, just add water

keep in mind, when you are diluting something like scotch you are not only concerned with the aroma, but also the tension between aroma and the alcohol. similarly, many wines can have great aroma, but not always while maintaining enough acidity to contrast it.

all of my experience with diluting high proof distillates confirms sam's thoughts on two stage dilution. the perceptual changes are explained by mcgee in the above linked NYTimes article. the aroma enhancement by water dilution change is mostly physical unlike other enhancement phenomenons like adding salt or sugar (or even texture) which are due to our highly constructed realities and relate to reward systems.

using different proofs for infusion bases will give you different results, but keep in mind it is easy to over extract. most vermouth producers started extracting at the minimums of preservation to capture aroma, while avoiding bitter principles and resinous stuff that they deemed flaws. granted they were also looking for different intensity levels. most of the new bitters i've tasted on the market lack aromatic intensity, while unfortunately still giving you a feeling of being over extracted. sloppy garish stuff. i haven't bought a new bitters besides bittermen's mole in a few years now.


Edited by bostonapothecary (log)

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I know nothing about the science behind all this but I've been following this conversation and I think the difficulty for this outside observer arises from the fact that somewhere along the line everybody abandoned the discussion and set out to prove they're right. What I'm getting from it is that Adam is saying if you use bitters at two different ABVs, you will get two different tasting drinks. Others are arguing that if you do x+x-y with this one and x-x+y with that one, you will get two drinks that will be perceived as equal in taste. Adam is saying that the point is that nobody using the two bitters is going to do all of that stuff, they're just going to dash it in regardless because who really thinks about the ABV of the bitters when they grab them from the cabinet and goes to scientific lengths to correct for the differences. Others are saying "ah, but you can minimize the perceivable differences if you really want to and think it through". It seems to be an argument of possible vs. practical... nobody is going to have the final word on this one no matter how long it goes on. It is entertaining and informative though.


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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somewhere along the line everybody abandoned the discussion and set out to prove they're right.

I'm glad someone else pointed this out. Another ratio will likely follow this...

just a reminder. this is more or less the forum that invented modern bartending (egullet even spawned modernist cuisine). some of the great contributors have come and gone. thousands of people have and do lurk here as a source for their ideas and education. you will see precedents on here for an astounding amount of trends used around the world. i'm pretty sure much of the success has come from a scholarly tone and an avoidance of guru-ism.

i have a feeling that in the sous-vide topics, nathanm and vengroff, would always welcome another ratio in the hopes that their ideas scale.

if anyone wants to perform any tests, the rules of two stage dilution should apply to more than just bitters. everything should scale to liqueurs, spirits, absinthe etc...


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(Used by permission of Creative Commons Commercial 2.5 license.)

There are at several different issues being discussed in this part of the thread.

1) Whether two drinks with absolutely identical final constituents will taste identical if the bitters are diluted in one step (one dash full strength right into the glass, with an extra dash of water in the glass) or two steps (in the dasher, then to compensate, two dashes into the drink).

2) Whether two drinks with nearly identical final constituents, differing only by a the extra water involved in using two dashes of the 37.5% bitters will taste different. Same as 1), but don't use the extra dash of water.

3) Whether bitters will change in relative aromatic (non-tongue) flavor when diluted in a dasher -- that the 37.5% bitters might taste different from the 75% bitters when dashed onto your finger and stuck in your mouth. By relative flavor, I'm not talking about alcoholic heat or intensity but a change in the relative prominence of one aromatic botanical to another.

Absent a chemical reaction (such as solids precipitating out of solution), I believe:

1) is chemically impossible. The two drinks have the same number of constituent molecules in each drink. Any perceived effect will disappear in double-blind A/B/X testing.

2) is vanishingly unlikely, otherwise drinks would impossible to make repeatedly because the amount of dilution in cocktail-making caused by ice and measuring errors is orders of magnitude higher than the 1ml amount that we are talking about. Any perceived differences will disappear under double blind testing.

3) May be true, but because it is both counter-intuitive and in conflict with my experience in tasting bitters, I doubt it. Every bitters that I've ever tasted has been the same in character when sampled directly out of the dasher and then diluted in plain (or seltzer) water. (I'm talking relative botanical aromas here, not bitterness, alcoholic heat, saltiness, acidity, etc.) If 3) is true, then bitters makers should ignore the flavor of the bitters in the bottle and construct them so that they taste as desired in the cocktail. Alas, I don't know how to construct a double-blind test for this.

I think we all agree that:

4) Two dashes of the same bitters in a glass will make a different drink than 1 dash.

5) Savvy bitters consumers consider the concentration / potency of the bitters when dispensing dashes. One dash of Xocolatl Mole may overwhelm a delicate drink, whereas 2 dashes of Angostura might not be enough.

6) Bitters should ideally be constructed so that they are an appropriate concentration. For example, Stirring's Blood Orange "bitters" are so mild that that they are useless in dash quantities.

7) The alcohol concentration during infusion makes a big difference, along with time, material preparation, temperatures, etc. This affects the flavor of the "base" bitters, prior to dilution to bottle strength.


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Good summary. I would say that I'm right with you with respect to your points and responses numbered 1 and 2 above. I'm not sure I agree with respect to your response to point number 3.

I think it's pretty clear that aromatic constituents change based upon a large number of variables. In this case, concentration and abv are the primary ones we're concerned with.

You can see the effect of concentration in a drink like Audrey's Dreamy Dorini Smoking Martini where a half ounce of highly concentrated Islay single malt is "stretched out" with two ounces of vodka (and water from the ice, of course). This keeps the alcoholic strength more or less the same, but radically decreases the concentration of the scotch molecules. There are many different flavors and aromas that are detectable in the cocktail compared to the malt.

You can also see the effect of concentration by comparing, e.g., Wild Turkey 101 and Wild Turkey 80. The difference between these two spirits being that there is more water added to the Wild Turkey 80, so the concentration is reduced. These two spirits do not taste the same. Of course, the abv is also reduced, so there may be a double effect. It might be interesting to dilute a sample of Wild Turkey 101 by 20% with 100 proof vodka and then compare the three spirits. This would offer an opportunity to see how much of the difference between WT 101 and WT 80 results from a reduction in concentration and how much results from a reduction in abv.

To evaluate the effect of abv in isolation would be a bit more complicated. One could take two samples of 75% bitters and do a 100% dilution of both samples, one with 75% ethanol and one with water. The two samples would then have the same concentration of flavor/aroma molecules but would have a different abv. This would be an interesting experiment to try. I suspect that there would be a noticeable difference between the two samples due to the greater volatility of ethanol compared to water, but I also expect that the difference would be no where near as great as differences attributable to concentration. If we were to compare those two 100% diluted samples (one at 75% abv and one at 37.5% abv) of bitters with a 75% sample of undiluted bitters, I would expect to see a relative degree of similarity between the two diluted samples and large differences between those samples and the undiluted sample.

It's noteworthy that when most of us speak of reducing the abv, what we're really talking about is reducing the concentration and the abv. My suspicion is that the reduction in concentration may be the more important variable.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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There are at several different issues being discussed in this part of the thread.

1) Whether two drinks with absolutely identical final constituents will taste identical if the bitters are diluted in one step (one dash full strength right into the glass, with an extra dash of water in the glass) or two steps (in the dasher, then to compensate, two dashes into the drink).

<<snip>>

Absent a chemical reaction (such as solids precipitating out of solution), I believe:

1) is chemically impossible. The two drinks have the same number of constituent molecules in each drink. Any perceived effect will disappear in double-blind A/B/X testing.

This, I believe, is the heart of the misunderstandings here.

When we make an infusion of herbs, spices, citrus, etc. to make a bitters, what we are creating is a solution consisting of ethanol, water and various aromatic and flavorful molecules. If we had the technology, we could determine the parts-per-million of every constituent molecule in the solution.

Now, we understand that our solution of ethanol, water and various aromatic and flavorful molecules may taste differently depending on a variety of factors such as temperature, abv, presence of sugar, concentration of the various aromatic and flavorful molecules, and so on.

We also understand, one hopes, that solutions with the same chemical composition taste exactly the same, regardless of how those solutions may have come to have their chemical compositions. Furthermore, those of us who know a little something about how sense organs and human perception work know that even solutions with highly similar chemical compositions will taste exactly the same so long as the differences fall within certain sensation thresholds.

This understanding is largely what I have been speaking to.

If we take a 75% abv solution of ethanol, water and various aromatic and flavorful molecules and dilute it by 100% with water, we have created a solution that contains half as many aromatic and flavorful molecules per unit volume as the original solution. It also contains half as much ethanol and two and a half times as much water per unit volume compared to the original solution. These differences will make the 37.5% bitters taste and smell different from the 75% bitters because the concentration of aromatic and flavorful molecules as well as the abv have changed.

Now this could lead one to believe -- as Adam apparently does -- that the differences in flavor between the two bitters will carry through into any drink into which these bitters are dashed. But chemistry doesn't work that way. When we dash bitters into a cocktail, all we are doing is adding a dose of aromatic and flavorful molecules to the drink together with minor amounts of (effectively flavorless) water and ethanol. This lets us understand that if we add one dash of 75% bitters to the one cocktail and two dashes of 37.5% bitters to another cocktail, the amount of aromatic and flavorful molecules we are contributing to each cocktail is the same. (This also constitutes a massive dilution and reduction in the concentration of aromatic and flavorful molecules.) The only difference will be that the cocktail with the two dashes of 37.5% bitters will contribute five times more water to the drink. Could this make a difference? Well, maybe. It could affect the concentration or abv of the final cocktail. But in reality we are only adding minute quantities of water anyway. Once we introduce the variability of chilling via melting ice the likelihood that this small amount of additional water will meaningfully affect the concentration and abv of the final cocktail is vanishingly small, and the chemical composition of the two cocktails will be identical within reasonable threshold tolerances. One way of putting this into "chemistry talk" would be to say that the parts-per-million of the various aromatic and flavorful molecules will be effectively the same in both cocktails. This means that the two cocktails will taste virtually identical and will not be distinguishable in double-blind A/B/X testing.

The reason to dilute a bitters to bottle proof is so that it contributes the desired number of aromatic and flavorful molecules when used in the doses typically and conveniently employed in making cocktails, i.e., by the dash -- although some makers of especially concentrated bitters have decided to employ eyedropper dosing rather than dash dosing. Too many aromatic and flavorful molecules per dose, and the bitters becomes very tricky to use. Too few aromatic and flavorful molecules and your bitters may be perceived as a poor value, and/or unduly burdensome to use, and/or bartenders may have a tendency to over-dose in compensation.

If, on the other hand, the dilution to bottle proof causes a chemical reaction such as louching, precipitation, etc., then the game changes. And this strikes me as somewhat likely, although I haven't heard Adam say that he sees this in his bitters manufactory.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Following this thread with amusement, but the bourbon person in me is obligated to point out that Wild Turkey 80 is NOT watered down Wild Turkey 101. It's ~5 year old whiskey while the 101 is more like 7 or 8.

The new Wild Turkey 81 that started to hit stores this year is a lot closer to 101 plus water.

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just a reminder. this is more or less the forum that invented modern bartending (egullet even spawned modernist cuisine). some of the great contributors have come and gone. thousands of people have and do lurk here as a source for their ideas and education. you will see precedents on here for an astounding amount of trends used around the world. i'm pretty sure much of the success has come from a scholarly tone and an avoidance of guru-ism.

i have a feeling that in the sous-vide topics, nathanm and vengroff, would always welcome another ratio in the hopes that their ideas scale.

if anyone wants to perform any tests, the rules of two stage dilution should apply to more than just bitters. everything should scale to liqueurs, spirits, absinthe etc...

What has this post got to do with anything? As for the bolded bit. Odd.

It's noteworthy that when most of us speak of reducing the abv, what we're really talking about is reducing the concentration and the abv. My suspicion is that the reduction in concentration may be the more important variable.

This is what I've been saying. With the abv change you are affecting flavour.

This lets us understand that if we add one dash of 75% bitters to the one cocktail and two dashes of 37.5% bitters to another cocktail, the amount of aromatic and flavorful molecules we are contributing to each cocktail is the same

No. It's not. They both have their own flavour profile. Which takes me to my last point on this subject...

I think we all agree that:

4) Two dashes of the same bitters in a glass will make a different drink than 1 dash.

And these bitters at two different abvs (or concentrations if you must) are different.


Edited by evo-lution (log)

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