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All About Bitters (Part 1)

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Sounds very interesting, Toby. Can you say more about this:

And just like in high school, the talk culminated with an experiment—the mixing and sniffing of our own blend of bitters, concocted of Maloney’s own botanicals. We doubt he’d trust our makeshift mixture of clove, cinnamon and vanilla, but our nightcap will still be the better for it…

Were those tinctures? Or what?

We'd all be eager to hear more about the session.


Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Is there any law formulating what has to be in a cocktail bitters to get the appelation? If yes, when did that law dated from?

I've done also a bit of work on bitters presentation, and I find it fascinating and a bit confusing, especially when it comes to search in books and etc...

Is it possible that Aperitif & digestive bitters are a kind of diluted expression of Aromatic Bitters.

for example, Chartreuse elixir vegetal could be an "Aromatic bitters", and Green Chartreuse, how would you classify it? It's the same, but diluted, isn't it?


Cheers

www.BarNowOn.com

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Sounds very interesting, Toby. Can you say more about this:
And just like in high school, the talk culminated with an experiment—the mixing and sniffing of our own blend of bitters, concocted of Maloney’s own botanicals. We doubt he’d trust our makeshift mixture of clove, cinnamon and vanilla, but our nightcap will still be the better for it…

Were those tinctures? Or what?

We'd all be eager to hear more about the session.

Yes they were tinctures. I broke them up into categories so when you visited a table you had choices in similar botanicals.

Bittering Agents

Chinchona

Gentian

Catechu

Wormwood

FLORALS

Jasmine

Lavender

Heather

Chamomile

Peppermint

ANISE

Star Anise

Licorice Root

SPICES

Allspice

Clove

Cinnamon

Nutmeg

Vanilla

EXOTICS

Caraway

Pink Peppercorn

Woodruff

Cardamom

Sarsaparilla

SAVORY HERBS

Angelica Root

Quassia

Horehound

Hyssop

Sage


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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For the sake of my research I broke them down into type 1 and 2. Type 1 being bitter tinctures (used in drops) and type 2 bitter tonics (draughts - later known as apertifs).

The disntinction seemed to help ( at least for me to have a framework in my mind) when I was doing my research .

The differences were of course in the concentrations of herbal ingredients and the dosages (which were a lot larger for the tonics). Many of the tinctures were taken with wine or other alcohol, some of the tonics were made from wine or water.


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Bitters are similar to extracts. They are a highly concentrated liquid with a sharp pungent taste and distinctive aroma. Bitters are made through many processes including steeping and dissolving in alcohol or glycerine, or distillation with spirits. Ingredients include herbs, spices, roots, bark, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit, etc.

Bitters used as flavorings usually are either aromatic or fruit/vegetable based. They can be either bitter or bittersweet. Bitterness should be derived from a variety of sources such as the bitter pit of pitted fruits or the rinds of citrus fruits. Other flavors can be added to give uniqueness.

Finally, the addition of a bittering agent will assist the natural bitterness of the formula. Some of these include: angostura bark, cascarilla, quassia, gentian and quinine.

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I have a question:

Can a grocery/liquor store sell house-made bitters? I know bars can make their own bitters and use them in cocktails, but can a small grocery/deli/liquor make their own bitters and sell them in dropper bottles?

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Yeah I saw that, I'm just wondering if that applies when you make and sell them only in-house. I know of at least one store where you can buy house-made bitters, and I doubt that they are going through the TTB.

I guess its analogous to making and selling cookies in a store, versus producing them to ship to other retailers? I'm pretty sure that the laws that govern those two activities vary......

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I'm not sure, but I think that the alcohol makes it all more complicated. Perhaps Jane or Avery will weigh in.

Meanwhile: in this post, I mention a burnt toast puree that amazed me at my dinner at Alinea last year. The bitterness of the puree played so well with the sweetbreads that I retained that memory vividly enough to take advantage of this weekend's mishap.

Drying thin slices of a durum in a low oven with the door open, I left the room when my wife turned the oven up to make biscuits. I didn't realize what had happened until the bread slices filled the room with the smell of nearly burnt bread. Got it out, and had an idea.

I did an impromptu 24-hour steep with some rye (Rittenhouse) and bourbon (Wild Turkey 101), and it produced a remarkably bitter potion with yeasty, dark caramel edges. I'm steeping it with some standard spices (clove, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, mahlab, white pepper, a few other things), so I'll have something to report in a while. But I'm hoping that I've found an interesting bittering agent.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I just had the chance to try the Fee Brothers Cherry Bitters too, and I really like them. I find they work well in a drink that also contains Maraschino liqueur - they seem to create a deep dark cherry flavor together that are greater than the sum of a small bit of maraschino and a few dashes should do. I'm using them in a hibiscus infused rum drink I've just created for my fall cocktail menu. Sort of a cross between a gimlet and a Hemingway daiquiri with just 1/4 oz. of Maraschino and my homemade lime cordial. Tastes like a rum popsicle and is a beautiful color in the glass. The cherry bitters work well in this application.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Yeah I saw that, I'm just wondering if that applies when you make and sell them only in-house.  I know of at least one store where you can buy house-made bitters, and I doubt that they are going through the TTB.

I guess its analogous to making and selling cookies in a store, versus producing them to ship to other retailers?  I'm pretty sure that the laws that govern those two activities vary......

Nope. If they are going to be sold, they need to get approved by the TTB.

If you make it in house for use only in food and cocktails in-house and it never leaves the premises in a finished (or even intermediary form), then it's fine. However, as soon as it goes in a bottle - for sale, or even ostensibly for trade or for free, it falls under the control of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms' Taxation and Trade Bureau. You'll also need to have a commercial kitchen license with an endorsement to create product for sale.

Any time you're working with alcohol, the laws are significantly more stringent.

The store that is making them in-house and selling them is technically in violation of federal law and can face fines or even a shut-down.


Avery Glasser

Bittermens, Inc. - Producers of Bittermens Bitters & Extracts

Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs

Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

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Is there any law formulating what has to be in a cocktail bitters to get the appelation? If yes, when did that law dated from?

I've done also a bit of work on bitters presentation, and I find it fascinating and a bit confusing, especially when it comes to search in books and etc...

Is it possible that Aperitif & digestive bitters are a kind of diluted expression of Aromatic Bitters.

for example, Chartreuse elixir vegetal could be an "Aromatic bitters", and Green Chartreuse, how would you classify it? It's the same, but diluted, isn't it?

Mickael,

There are no laws stipulating what needs to be in a cocktail bitter to get the "appelation" - actually, there is no category for non-potable bitters within the TTB regulations. Technically, they fall under Flavor or Flavoring Agent. Bitters are considered a trade name, and any flavoring that defines itself as bitter can be a "bitter"

The nature of cocktail bitters, which are true flavoring agents, and potable bitters (such as Chartreuse, Campari and others) which typically derive themselves from medicinal herbal tonics.


Avery Glasser

Bittermens, Inc. - Producers of Bittermens Bitters & Extracts

Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs

Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

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So I came across some great peaches a while ago & was able to dehydrate a number of them using a friend's machine (cleaning, drying & saving the pits seperately), with the intention of using them for something later on. Likewise, I've been getting some very nice (fresh) nectarines in the last week or so. That said, I've been considering making a batch of both Peach & Nectarine bitters...

Now, I've researched this a bit both online & in the local library, but would really appreciate some feedback from the more food science/chemistry-minded folks if at all possible on the question of the pits. I know that they contain a relative quantity of amygdalin (it seems peaches contain significantly more than nectarines) - a mighty unfriendly substance when coupled with the process of digestion/metabolization. Obviously, in the interest of the health of myself & others, several questions/details arise which I am concerned & curious about:

1. Most sources (mostly online & non-vetted) seem to indicate that the quantity of (whole) peach pits one would have to imbibe to produce any noticeable effect is extremely high - something like a few dozen. Does this mean that a small qantity added (as a supplimentary bittering & flavoring agent to other bitter herbs) would yield a "safely negligable" quantity of the compound?

2. In researching I came accross a number of studies (mostly medical) on the production & use of Laetrile (a now defuct/bogus cancer treatment) derived from almonds or apricot/peach pits. It seems that a significant part of the extraction process involves milling such items & subjecting them to maceration in high-strength ethanol (precisely what I'd be doing in making bitters) followed by boiling off the alcohol. This, above all, makes me the most uncomfortable - as I assume this mean that alcohol extracts more of the compound, more quickly...?

3. I have read that bitter almonds (which also contain a sizeable quantity of amygdalin) are rendered useable/edible through baking at high heat, which removes the compound. Seems it is much the same with Cassava root (i.e. tapioca), so would this be a viable solution for using peach & nectarine pits?

Any advice, explanations of the relevant chemistry in question here, or just a plain old smack to the back of the head would be greatly appreciated. It bears mentioning that I'm not indisposed to the idea of using just the dehydrated (even fresh) fruit to flavor these bitters attempts, so if adding the pits isn't an option, so be it - I just don't want to brew up a batch of (potentially) hydrogen cyanide...

Cheers & thanks in advance

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More on those burnt bread bitters.

After two weeks with the spices I strained and gave them a try. The yeasty nose suggested apple to me, so I grabbed some Laird's BIB and made a sloppy Old Fashioned: lots of bitters, some demerara simple, and a good dose of the apple brandy. It's fantastic.

I have never seen any bitters recipes that use burnt bread, but I'm becoming convinced that it's a remarkable bittering agent, particularly with a gentian-based component added for complexity (the gentian has a sharper edge). I've created a 2:1 combo with Hess house bitters as the minor chord. The yeasty quality gives it a fruity roundness that's not available in any other bitters I've found.

I think I'm going to give this another go, and take better notes.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Yeah, that first batch was all eyeballing and this-n-that: a few of the dark brown toasts spent 24 hours in rye (Rittenhouse) and bourbon (Wild Turkey 101), strain, then two more weeks with some cloves, allspice berries, a broken cinnamon stick, a few crushed cardamom pods, white peppercorns, and mahlab stones.... Next time I think I'll add some dried orange rind and bump up the cloves, at the least.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Not me. But having read the website, I definitely want to party with that. I mean, it's "the best alcoholic beverage," and named Mandingo: what's not to love?

Richard, what's the flavor like?

Meanwhile: fiddling with the jerk, molé, and toast bitters these days. The last is a great addition to an Earl Grey MarTEAni (tea and toast, get it?), and a couple drops of the jerk or molé bitters take a Daiquiri or a Margarita in very different directions.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Not me. But having read the website, I definitely want to party with that. I mean, it's "the best alcoholic beverage," and named Mandingo: what's not to love?

Richard, what's the flavor like?

Meanwhile: fiddling with the jerk, molé, and toast bitters these days. The last is a great addition to an Earl Grey MarTEAni (tea and toast, get it?), and a couple drops of the jerk or molé bitters take a Daiquiri or a Margarita in very different directions.

I have not bought it. Hoping someone had tried it before I invest in a 700ml bottle - the only size on the shelf.

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I've been making my own bitters and playing around with them for a while now. I really want to use them in my work but its against the law to add something to alcohol and then "sell" it in a bar (here in sweden). We are not allowed to make any kind of infusions and since bitters not very popular here I need to make my own non-alcoholic.

So I'm trying to make some non-alcoholic bitters, the stuff that I've made is quite weak and not as powerfull as the bitters with alcohol are. I doubt that they will do anything for a nice cocktail. So I'm just checking if you guys can help me...

Has anyone made some non-alcoholic bitters or can someone give me some help on the way? How can i get stronger infusions?

Danne.


Edited by Danne (log)

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For my first serious attempt at bitters, I've ripped off Chris's burnt bread bitters, and though they're not done yet, what I have so far tastes a lot like French toast bitters. In a good way, if that needs to be pointed out.

I used Anadama bread for the toast, along with allspice berries, cassia buds and cinnamon sticks, cardamom, a little licorice, a little anise and gentian. It's not done yet, so I'm not ready to try it in a drink -- I'm just sampling little bits as the spices and gentian infuse. But I like what I have so far, and boy, the bread really contributes something.

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Well, I'm dying to hear what you think. (I've also sent a sample to someone out in Society-land and hope he'll weigh in soon.) I really think that the burnt toast bitters has interesting potential, especially in whisk(e)y-based cocktails....


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I got a bunch of baltic bitters like Riga Balsam, Dainava etc - any suggestions how they can be utilized in cocktails?

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