• Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create an account.

guajolote

All About Bitters (Part 1)

594 posts in this topic

I came across this thread after many searches for information on bitters on google. Needless to say I was pretty happy to find three pages of people taking bitters.

I love bitters, but so far I have been limited to Angostura bitters which I discovered back in my bartending days. I use Angostura daily, adding a couple dashes to water, bubbly water, my makers mark (the favorite use), cooking, you name it.

Well, only having one option was getting to me so I started of on a quest to make my own. I started by doing a search on botanicals, barks, roots and herbs, and I ended up selecting over 40 different herbs, roots, and bark based on reading about their different properties both “medicinal” and flavor. Initially it started as a flavor thing, but reading a lot of the holistic and Native American healing information and the what little history on bitters that I could find and I started to factor all that in as well which made it all the more interesting.

I found some Everclear at my local BevMo and picked up a couple bottles of that, and snagged a good quality-canning jar at Cost Plus and now I have a project in my kitchen. All I can say is that while I was putting the different things into the jar (before the Everclear) it smelled amazing. I have everything from Black Cohosh root to Black Walnut bark in there. Once I added the Everclear to it my mixture had some similar notes that I smell when I have a few dashes of Angostura in a glass of water.

Either way I think what I have will be good. I still have to let sit for another week before it is done, and I am being good not dipping into it, but man, it is dark, and the volume of what I put in has really grown. I am going to really have to ring that out good. Once I cut it in half with water it will be about 75 proof and I think extremely bitter, but maybe not so orange-ie but I think that it will undoubtedly have a deep complex, and bitter flavor.

I am glad to hear about Fee Bros. – I sent them an e-mail and apparently there is a retailer right across town. I didn’t experience the same when I called Sazerac trying to track down some Peychaud's Bitters. In fact they made it really difficult for me to spend my money with them. After several voicemails and callbacks they were able to get me their West Coast distributor good thing I had the distributors number anyway. They were really surprised by my call though….

Couple questions, when I cut it with water should I use distilled water? I know nothing is going to grow in this stuff, but I want to keep it clean and pure as possible. Also after I cut it, should I again allow some additional sitting time?

Couple things I wanted to mention though after reading all these great posts that made me think about my recipe. Like the burnt sugar rounding out the flavor. That was cool to read because I had added Stevia a natural sweetener, really good, and pretty healthful too. I was thinking me crazy, but I went with my gut and added it. It fit with the other green earthy things in the mix. ;)

Anyway, again thanks for all this great info (and helping me with out knowing it). I hope that his topic is still alive and well, because I would love to talk bitters. People I know think my fascination with bitters is a bit strange… go figure.

Anyway – Cheers!

Scott

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Welcome, Scott. Let us know how your recipe turns out. Sorry I can't help you with your water question, but perhaps Balmagowry can weigh in with her experience. Or wait a while, and when Dr. Cocktail checks in next, I'm sure he'll have the answer.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi all, Balma knows (Hi Balma!) but I will recapitulate what's been going on with me: Movies, movies, movies! House renovations! 2nd lasers in for my new book Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, due out late October. I am B-U-S-Y!

But how can I turn down a bitters question!? Since you are still experimenting with your formula, Scott, you want everything to be as controlled as possible so to note differences when you lessen or increase quantities of constituents. So you are right, use distilled water as a control. Switch to whatever other kind of water strikes your fancy when all other aspects of the formula are to your liking.

--Doc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hi all, Balma knows (Hi Balma!) but I will recapitulate what's been going on with me: Movies, movies, movies! House renovations! 2nd lasers in for my new book Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, due out late October. I am B-U-S-Y!

But how can I turn down a bitters question!? Since you are still experimenting with your formula, Scott, you want everything to be as controlled as possible so to note differences when you lessen or increase quantities of constituents. So you are right, use distilled water as a control. Switch to whatever other kind of water strikes your fancy when all other aspects of the formula are to your liking.

--Doc.

Hi, Doc! Good to see you break the surface for a moment!

I too have been buried, though not as deep as you - a week of submersion in the Blog that Ate Babylon. Not much about beverages there, except that at least I have been remembering to pick the violets as they bloom here, and am saving them off in a little jar of vodka, against furture... er, need.

Welcome, Scott! I don't have much to add here, except to repeat my side of the burnt-sugar argument up-thread - to the effect that there's more than one interpretation of "burnt sugar" out there, and the only kind I've used is the one that has no flavor and is used only for color. You don't say exactly what you have in your formula or what it is that makes it orange (did I miss a mention of orange peel?), but you are right in saying that dilution will make it less so; I remember being pretty excited about the orange color of mine and commensurately disappointed with the effect of dilution. But burnt sugar (again, the dark flavorless kind) gives it a much more authoritative look. I haven't experimented with sweeteners at all yet, since I always figured bitters should be bitter. :biggrin: Interesting question, though. I wonder whether a good organic honey would be worth considering - might add an interesting note to some types of fruit-based bitters; and of course it certainly lends itself to fermentation.

I don't know anywhere near as much about all this as Doc, but my instinct chimes with yours and his re using distilled water. I didn't bother, on past batches... but I've changed my thinking since then and will certainly do so in future.


Edited by balmagowry (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This batch is not finished yet, but I think there is enough information on the page so that it can made generally available.

The second batch is now done and the result, after mixing with some of the bitters from the first try, is much better than with the first try. There is more spice in the taste and the bitter seville orange taste is not as strong-tasting as with the first try.

The seville oranges have a very strong and long lasting bitter taste and using only them may not be the best method. Additionally, the seville orange peel I used had very thick pith that managed to decompose and cause plenty of cloudiness while simmering the peel and spice.

Our household now has an electronic scale which makes it possible to actually to measure the spice. This should make the soon to be started third batch once again a little closer to the "real thing". Thanks again for the informative discussion!

Heikki Vatiainen

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey there all –

Thanks for the replies!

Getting ready to have some bitters soon. J

My batch should be ready this weekend (well at least pre-hy20cut). I actually didn’t add a lot of Orange anything to my mixture initially, because I never really noticed the orange smell with Angostura until after I had really concentrated (and reading these posts) so last weekend I added a couple oranges worth of peel, and in a matter of hours, I opened it again just to see – and viola there was the smell.

I am glad I added orange peel to it now though, I don’t think it would impact the color (oranges or burnt sugar), as it is a dark brown from the various roots and barks, seeds and herbs. Some of the ingredients I used included Black Cohosh, Black Walnut, Anise, Angelica, Chicory, Cloves, Gotu Kola, Maple, Oregon Grape, Passionflower, Peppermint, Prickly Ash, Sarsaparilla, White Oak, Wild Cherry, Allspice, Bergamont, Bethroot, Ginger, Juniper, Lavender

On another note, I picked up some Fee Bros Bitters. Went with the old fashioned ones, the peach, and Indian orange. I’ll leave the mint for another time though.

Surprised that the orange and the peach are clear. Good stuff though.

I think I like the old fashioned ones the best – every time I mix it with something I taste something new.

Any who – cheers and thanks again.

Scott

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting, when i added my water it turned a weird color, almost like when water and oil mixes but brown.

It smells amazing, and tastes extremely deep and complex.

I’ll use less anise maybe, but man it's good.

I just don't like the color, i mean i expected it to be a lighter brown, but not a "milky" brown...

Any ideas? Time to burn some sugar?

Cheers -

Scott

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow - I almost forgot about this thread.

Thought I would report back (how many months later?) on my bitters progress.

The above formula balanced it self out and provided me with a couple batches of really nice bitters. On several of the bottles I filtered my formulation through some dried peppermint leaves, which yielded awesome results. I found that filtering through a coffee filter worked really well.

I think when I originally added the water to my mixture it reacted with the oils in the different roots and bark. After it sat for about a week the bitters looked good as before.

I am really pleased with the results. I gave a few bottles away as gifts to fellow cocktail enthusiasts and the feedback was inspiring.

I think that I will probably do another batch in a month or so. We just recently moved from a house to an apartment so finding room for my various experiments, booze, cigars, and tea is tough.

Anyway – I noticed that a few other bitters threads were started – so I am going to read up a little more.

You were all so helpful when I was initially starting out so if any one is interested trying some of these bitters out – holler at me.

Cheers,

Scott

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mint Bitters, I believe they have discontinued. They were especially compounded for julep-type drinks. It would have been sad to see them go if they weren't so gut-wrenchingly, gorge-risingly horrible. Hope I didn't put too fine a point on that.

Saw a bottle of Mint on the shelves today at DeLaurenti in Pike Place Market. I'm a big fan of the Peach, and (a distant second) the Orange.

~A


Anita Crotty travel writer & mexican-food addictwww.marriedwithdinner.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Has anyone else heard of Collins Orange Bitters? I got a bottle a few years ago (I forget what I was supposed to be making with them) at Addy Bassin's MacArthur Beverages in Washington, DC. They came in a small plastic squeze bottle. Tasted like orange plus a bittering agent (but not a flavorful one, purely bitter), in a glycerin base. I tossed 'em after getting a bottle of Fee Brothers and doing a comparison, but now regret it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I had a bottle of the Collins, before I found Fee Bros. When I tasted them side by side, the Fee was so far superior that I tossed the Collins (it was almost empty, anyway). The Fee Bros. had a more pronounced orange taste and much more complexity.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Collins products are simply NAS-T!

When I tasted the Orange bitters, I swore it was one of the worst things I'd ever had in my mouth. And that's saying something.

But here's my per-dick-a-mint:

I've finally collated enough bitters recipes that I'm finally gonna do something about it. (Heck, if you're gonna have 1 New Years Resolution, it might as well be that)

Towit:

Dried Orange Peel.

Is there a significant difference between what you'd buy vs. what you could make?

I know, I know, Seville Oranges are differenct from Florida Navels and from Curacao-ian etc, etc. Don't even get me started on Tangerines and Tsatsumas and stuff.

But is the difference significant?

Fresh juicers that we are, I thought it was a shame/waste to wring the juice from a dozen or so oranges per day, just to throw the skin/peel/rind away. Lately I've taken to taking a carrot peeler to liberate the peels. I start at the bud end, executing a near perfect Horses Head, and peel it off in a single long spiral. I take the Horse Head end and hook it on a wire hangar--Joan Crawford be damned--and wait for it to dry, about 4 days.

Everybody at work is already convinced I'm weird, so when they saw me erecting Anita Bryant's tie rack, I only got a few, albeit guarded, questions.

BUT: is this approach gooder, better or simply cheaper than buying commercial?

Myers

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In my experience, bitter orange peels are indeed different from sweet orange peels. This is not to say, of course, that good bitters couldn't be made with the latter.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Admin: This is an especially big and interesting topic, so it was split off from the thread on Gary Regan's Orange Bitters.

I know this isn't exactly the thread to be posting this to, but...

Can I get some pointers on how to understand and appreciate the zen of bitters?

Thanks...


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Admin:  This is an especially big and interesting topic, so it was split off from the thread on Gary Regan's Orange Bitters.

I know this isn't exactly the thread to be posting this to, but...

Can I get some pointers on how to understand and appreciate the zen of bitters?

Thanks...

If you ask here, you'll get a lot of "religion". :P Bitters acolytes have a pretty firm grip of this board. They'll want to convince you that bitters go good in everything from 40-year-old scotch to oatmeal. (well... maybe in oatmeal... :P) Since Angostura are the main bitters I have any experience with, here's my advice on them.

Angostura bitters are actually more spicy than bitter. :) They're good for a couple of things:

Giving unaged or underaged liquor an "aged" color and flavor. Light rum + bitters = passable gold rum substitute. ;)

Complimenting intentionally bittersweet flavors. Not sure why, but the spiciness of the Angostura really blends well with bittersweet flavors like tonic water, triple sec, or Campari.

Balancing out accidental bitter flavors. If a gin or whiskeymaker tries to collect too much of the tail end of a distillation run, this can sometimes cause bitter off flavors to enter the spirit. If a tequilamaker uses underaged agave, it can sometimes cause bitter off flavors to enter a spirit. Sometimes it's just a case of an aged spirit not being aged properly. But especially when you work with cheap spirits, bitters can be a lifesaver. The careful application of bitters and sugar has the potential to turn even the most awful rotgut into something drinkable, assuming that it's main flaw is bitter off flavors. :) If it's the gut-heaving smell, or the brain-frying proof, or some other issue, you might have to also try some other things. For instance I can't seem to add enough bitters and sugar to fix Georgia Moon; it keeps me humble in my opinion of my mixology skills. :P


Edited by mbanu (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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!


KathyM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 (log)

Richard W. Mockler

Seattle

I will, in fact, eat anything once.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.....


'the trouble with jogging is that the ice falls out of your glass'

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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


Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

Share this post


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

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


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.com/2005/11/06/style/tm...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 (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.