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All About Bitters (Part 1)

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This morning, a friendly postman delivered the last vital ingredient--benzoin resin-- and so today I put away my first batch of the Abbott's replica as per the Perfumekev recipe from Drinkboy. Based on the research detailed in the previous post I went with the full measure of Tonka beans, though I did up the gentian about 50% based on eje's commentary here on the Hess Bitters that form the basis for the Abbott's recipe. I also used instead of 101 rye a 3:1 ratio of Wild Turkey Rye and 190 proof Everclear based on Mr. Glasser's advice here, which should result in something between 120 and 125 proof. Apart from that and the need to use Bay Rum essential oil instead of leaves (about 8-9 drops) I pretty much followed the recipe to a T and the results smells phenomenal already. I got a little benzoin resin on my hands in the process and I'm not really sure I really want to get it off.

I figure I'll strain and dilute around the end of the month, bring it down to about 90 proof or so and then start thinking about a buchner funnel or something. Pretty stoked.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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So I've been doing some research on coumarin toxicity as I prepare to begin my own Abbott's batch and I thought I'd share the good news.

Wikipedia informs us that "the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has established a tolerable daily intake of 0.1 mg coumarin per kg body weight" which equated to about 6 g of coumarin per day for someone about 135 lbs. Information on the coumarin content of tonka beans that I could uncover is somewhat vague but to be safe, let's assume that tonka beans are made up of pure coumarin. If this is the case, the 225g of coumarin is going in to 80 oz of liquid. This equals about 2.8g of coumarin per oz, meaning a person that weighs 135 lbs could concievably consume at least two full ounces of the Abbott's replica (or presumably the original) every day without getting sick from it....

Decimal check: 0.1 mg/kg would be only ~6 mg for that 135 lb person. Based on your formula, if just 1% of the tonka beans' weight is extractable coumarin, you could be getting something like 28 mg/oz in your bitters, putting your content per teaspoon very close to the "tolerable daily intake." But that is only a hypothetical exercise; I have no idea how much coumarin might be extracted from 225g of tonka beans.

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Wow good catch, I guess my excitement got the better of me and I didn't reread more carefully. Info on the coumarin content of the beans has not been easy to come by but a range of 1-3% pops up semiregularly. How soluble that is in alcohol I guess would be the next question, specifically how much can get out of cracked dried beans in 2 weeks. Johnder said upthread he was going to have toxicology analysis done to his version...anything ever come of that?

Since I weigh considerably more than 135 lbs :rolleyes: I don't think I have much to fear from regular and enthusiastic use of the replica but it would be nice to know just what I'm dealing with.

Damn metric system...


Andy Arrington

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Continuing what is apparently a theme of making bitters with toxic ingredients, I made an impromptu batch of "Wormwood bitters" with a nod to Mr. eje and his Savoy tribulations, as well as Mr. Darcy O'Neil's writeup of his take on the green swizzle. A friend for whatever reason pestered me to make some so I got some dried wormwood at the natural foods store the other day and threw together the following this afternoon with leftovers from the Abbott's project:

25g dried wormwood

2g cracked cardamom pods

1g dried spearmint

1g dried lavender

1g star anise

1 drop bay rum essential oil

All infused into 6 oz of Beefeaters and 2.5 oz of everclear for a proof booster. Should yield 8-10 oz of complete product, enough to fill a dasher bottle for me and my pal, almost certain to be a lifetime supply. Should be interesting anyway, and hopefully not too poisonous.


Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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So the Abbott's Bitters replica got done steeping today. boiled the solids in water and added that and some brown sugar. Next step, back into the jar with toasted oak chips:

gallery_40796_4259_5113.jpg

David I'd be very interested to know if/how this worked out for you. Barrel aging is beyond my means right now and this seems like a perfect shortcut. Whats more, yesterday at the store I saw oak chips for grilling made from sawn-up Jack Daniels barrels! Seems like a perfect shortcut to the 'used whiskey barrel' aging. I know that in winemaking oak chips are used to impart flavor much faster than an actual barrel...presumably the same is true here. Are we looking at 3-4 weeks, or longer? Or is it just a check-as-you-go thing?

Or did you even think it was worth the effort?


Andy Arrington

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David I'd be very interested to know if/how this worked out for you ... Or did you even think it was worth the effort?

Well, it's not a lot of effort, so I'd say it's worth it. You don't even have to expend the effort of waiting -- I just used some out of the jar whenever I felt like it. Flavor definitely changed, but I don't know if that is because of the oak or just because of time. Didn't do the control experiment.

However, I do have some that is still in the jar with the oak -- I will do a comparison tonight with the stuff I put in a dropper bottle after a few months.

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David I'd be very interested to know if/how this worked out for you ... Or did you even think it was worth the effort?

Well, it's not a lot of effort, so I'd say it's worth it. You don't even have to expend the effort of waiting -- I just used some out of the jar whenever I felt like it. Flavor definitely changed, but I don't know if that is because of the oak or just because of time. Didn't do the control experiment.

However, I do have some that is still in the jar with the oak -- I will do a comparison tonight with the stuff I put in a dropper bottle after a few months.

What kind of chips did you use? Anything special?


Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Has anyone ever had any success sourcing Bay Rum leaves (Pimenta racemosa)? The essential oil comes up all over the place but I've been searching on and off for years for a source for the leaves, to no avail. Can the oil be subbed, as David Santucci did, or do I need to go to Florida and gather some myself?

Chris,

You might try contacting Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead, FL (Homestead's the Mother Lode of tropical plants for most of the US, lots of nurseries there) -- if they can't get fresh leaves themselves, they can probably put you in touch with someone who can -- alas, I gave my bay rum tree away last spring, or I could've supplied you with a bunch myself!

It's fascinating reading your list of tinctures and tasting notes; regarding health effects, just to be cautious I'm pretty sure calamus root has a suspected carcinogen in it. It used to be a fairly popular ingredient in home remedies and toilet products, but I have no idea if any modern testing has been done.

Cheers,

Jim


"The thirst for water is a primitive one. Thirst for wine means culture, and thirst for a cocktail is its highest expression."

Pepe Carvalho, The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

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However, I do have some that is still in the jar with the oak -- I will do a comparison tonight with the stuff I put in a dropper bottle after a few months.

Worth it.

Did this comparison: 2 oz WT Rye, 1/4 oz. simple, split in two, 6 drops in each, found the one made with stuff that had been with the oak all this time much more enjoyable. I think the oak kinda tones down the prickliness of all that clove. I say leave it in/with oak as long as you can.

What kind of chips did you use? Anything special?

Bought the chips in a homebrew store. They were "American Oak, House Toast". They are not as charred as bourbon barrels I have seen. You might want to have a look around your local brew store; as I recall mine at the time (American Brewmaster in Raleigh -- great store) had a few different choices: definitely American and French, and maybe different levels of toast.

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However, I do have some that is still in the jar with the oak -- I will do a comparison tonight with the stuff I put in a dropper bottle after a few months.

Worth it.

Thanks for the notes, it's really quite remarkable the impact it has but I guess that's sort of the point. I'm going to research this a bit more and see what else I can find out. The bourbon barrel chips are very tempting.

I'd read that oak chips impart flavor much faster than a barrel, at least in winemaking. I wonder what the approximate equivalents would be...seems like your two years with chips would equate to quite a long time in barrels, assuming the same principles hold, probably longer than the original ever saw in wood. Not that thats a bad thing of course.


Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Strained the wormwood bitters today but I'll have to wait to finish them...the color is an extraordinarily dark green, and the nose is mainly...mint. Hmm. Lost about 1/3 of my liquid volume it looks like, which is more than I expected. The dried wormwood must be really dehydrated.

Also whipped up a batch of Johnder's grapefruit bitters. Easy enough, should be lots of fun. These seem like they may require more dilution than called for...if my math is right (this thread has proven it may not be), these will still come out well over 100 proof...I presume Mr. Johnder was working with a 151 grain alcohol instead of the 190 I have here?


Andy Arrington

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I'd read that oak chips impart flavor much faster than a barrel, at least in winemaking. I wonder what the approximate equivalents would be...seems like your two years with chips would equate to quite a long time in barrels, assuming the same principles hold, probably longer than the original ever saw in wood. Not that thats a bad thing of course.

At some point it comes down to simple math on the internal-surface-area-to-volume ratio. A standard 60 gallon barrel is approximately 38 inches tall with a 27 inch base and top. That works out to an inner surface area of around 2,170 square inches (this is actually probably overstating it a bit). Do the math: This equals around 36 square inches of internal surface area per gallon, or around 0.28 square inches of internal surface area per ounce. Smalller barrels will, of course, have a larger amount of internal surface area per ounce due to geometry. But anyway, it seems unlikely to me that it would be more than one square inch per ounce. So, think about it: One wood chip soaking in booze may have a surface area of 4 square inches or more. That might be enough to "barrel age" as much as 8 or even 16 ounces of bitters.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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I'd read that oak chips impart flavor much faster than a barrel, at least in winemaking. I wonder what the approximate equivalents would be...seems like your two years with chips would equate to quite a long time in barrels, assuming the same principles hold, probably longer than the original ever saw in wood. Not that thats a bad thing of course.

At some point it comes down to simple math on the internal-surface-area-to-volume ratio. A standard 60 gallon barrel is approximately 38 inches tall with a 27 inch base and top. That works out to an inner surface area of around 2,170 square inches (this is actually probably overstating it a bit). Do the math: This equals around 36 square inches of internal surface area per gallon, or around 0.28 square inches of internal surface area per ounce. Smalller barrels will, of course, have a larger amount of internal surface area per ounce due to geometry. But anyway, it seems unlikely to me that it would be more than one square inch per ounce. So, think about it: One wood chip soaking in booze may have a surface area of 4 square inches or more. That might be enough to "barrel age" as much as 8 or even 16 ounces of bitters.

i think that the barrels used for bitters are intended to be neutral. its probably more about oxidation than the flavor of the oak. so if you are trying to mellow your bitters the chips may not do what you envision.


Edited by bostonapothecary (log)

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I'd read that oak chips impart flavor much faster than a barrel, at least in winemaking. I wonder what the approximate equivalents would be...seems like your two years with chips would equate to quite a long time in barrels, assuming the same principles hold, probably longer than the original ever saw in wood. Not that thats a bad thing of course.

At some point it comes down to simple math on the internal-surface-area-to-volume ratio. A standard 60 gallon barrel is approximately 38 inches tall with a 27 inch base and top. That works out to an inner surface area of around 2,170 square inches (this is actually probably overstating it a bit). Do the math: This equals around 36 square inches of internal surface area per gallon, or around 0.28 square inches of internal surface area per ounce. Smalller barrels will, of course, have a larger amount of internal surface area per ounce due to geometry. But anyway, it seems unlikely to me that it would be more than one square inch per ounce. So, think about it: One wood chip soaking in booze may have a surface area of 4 square inches or more. That might be enough to "barrel age" as much as 8 or even 16 ounces of bitters.

i think that the barrels used for bitters are intended to be neutral. its probably more about oxidation than the flavor of the oak. so if you are trying to mellow your bitters the chips may not do what you envision.

I wouldn't have necessarily been surprised that this were true, but for David Santucci's empirical results. Even neutral oak has an effect on flavor though. There used to be a treasure trove of information on Abbott's on the old Drinkboy forums, including, if memory serves, some insights into their aging methods. Sadly, I didn't think to save all that before it was gone, and Google either failed to cache it or my search skills are not up to finding it. As I recall (and this is to be taken with salt unless Dr. Cocktail shows to to confirm) it was used/spent oak vats(?) that it was aged in, and the vats were reused many times, so the level of flavor imparted may have been relatively mild.

I'm beginning to think the way to go might be to split the batch up into several smaller amounts and try different types of wood chips.


Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Strained the wormwood bitters today but I'll have to wait to finish them...the color is an extraordinarily dark green, and the nose is mainly...mint. Hmm. Lost about 1/3 of my liquid volume it looks like, which is more than I expected. The dried wormwood must be really dehydrated.

This turned out to be 4.5 oz of liquid that smelled very strongly of mint and was overwhelmingly bitter. Added 3 scant tsp of burnt sugar syrup and about 1.5 oz of water. No cocktail usage yet but the flavor is now much rounder, with a nice bitter minty finish. I find it interesting the different dimension of bitterness the wormwood gives vs the gentian in the other things, more on the front of the palate and less sharp. This could have some interesting applications.


Andy Arrington

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Keep sharing. I'm overwhelmed by the many tinctures I have and get a headache thining about applications and combinations....


Chris Amirault

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Grapefruit bitters infusion yielded about 6.75 oz, to which I added 3/4 oz of burnt sugar syrup and 5 oz of water at which point the stuff louched to a dirty dishwater color, which is annoying. The flavor is terriffic though, layered and very subtle with nice bitterness. Haven't tried it in a drink yet but my initial reaction is that more peel might be in order next time if I'm going to dilute so much but it certainly doesn't lack for flavor so we'll hold off on further opinon til trials.


Andy Arrington

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i just wrote somewhat a summary of the bitter beverages chapter of "fenaroli's guide to flavor ingredients" on my blog.

its pretty cool and he talks about "special effects" in bitter beverages where you put an infusion of a bitter principle in a distillate of the same botanical to increase the aroma but reduce the bitter.

something like 2x aroma, 1x bitter.

any guess as to a commercial product that might use "special effects"?

i feel like i smell more quinine in cynar than i taste but who knows...

i have some distilled quinine from an experiment that i could marry with the regular infusion. what kind of hollywood blockbuster bitters should i make?


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i feel like i smell more quinine in cynar than i taste but who knows...

I'm pretty sure that quinine is odorless.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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  Hey there, Chris.

  I'd suggest Tenzing MomoTenzin Momo from here in Seattle.  They are an outstanding herbilst shop, and besides the fact that they are extremely reasonably priced, they'll ship you all that you need.

  They have the gentian root in non-power form and most of the other items described in this discussion.

Question for anyone who has ordered from this site... What quantity/weight is each herb sold by? It only says "$.85," etc. There's no quantity anywhere that I can tell.

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i feel like i smell more quinine in cynar than i taste but who knows...

I'm pretty sure that quinine is odorless.

what ever i bought as quinine definitely has an aroma and is massively bitter. i think the salt you can refine from the raw bark might be odorless, but what is used in beverage is raw and has an aroma.


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  Hey there, Chris.

  I'd suggest Tenzing MomoTenzin Momo from here in Seattle.  They are an outstanding herbilst shop, and besides the fact that they are extremely reasonably priced, they'll ship you all that you need.

  They have the gentian root in non-power form and most of the other items described in this discussion.

Question for anyone who has ordered from this site... What quantity/weight is each herb sold by? It only says "$.85," etc. There's no quantity anywhere that I can tell.

I don't think I've actually ordered from here but I remember being equally confused whole looking at it. The link at the top labelled "Online Ordering" brings up the links on the side to categories but the relevant info is easy to miss even though it's right there in front of you (because everyone is looking for the categories). "All Oils are priced at 1/2 fluid ounce, Herbs are priced at 1 ounce each, and Tinctures are 1 fluid ounce."


Andy Arrington

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i feel like i smell more quinine in cynar than i taste but who knows...

I'm pretty sure that quinine is odorless.

I can say, from some experiments I did as an undergrad, that rats can tell the difference between sugar pellets and sugar pellets doped with quinine. They taste the quinine pellet once and they never put one in their mouth again.

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I wouldn't have necessarily been surprised that this were true, but for David Santucci's empirical results.

One possible caveat with my experiment: the stuff from the jar with oak chips was unfiltered, while the stuff I bottled was run through a coffee filter.

Unfiltered stuff looks quite a bit less attractive, like water you washed your brush in after painting something black. Maybe in the ugly blackness lies the secret to better flavor.

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I wouldn't have necessarily been surprised that this were true, but for David Santucci's empirical results.

One possible caveat with my experiment: the stuff from the jar with oak chips was unfiltered, while the stuff I bottled was run through a coffee filter.

Unfiltered stuff looks quite a bit less attractive, like water you washed your brush in after painting something black. Maybe in the ugly blackness lies the secret to better flavor.

I wonder about this myself...Angostura Bitters, for example, are far from clear. To what degree is filtration desireable here?


Andy Arrington

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