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All About Bitters (Part 1)

594 posts in this topic

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

The Hellfire Bone:

Shake well with cracked ice:

2 oz 100 or 101-proof rye whiskey (or 100/101 bourbon)

1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon rich simple syrup (the kind made with 2 parts demerara to 1 part water)

3 cautious dashes Baker's Hellfire Bitters.

Strain into chilled tall shot glass and have at it.

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


aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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

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Thanks for the kind words Dave.

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

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

Clementine Bitters

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

1 stick Mexican Cinnamon

1/8 cup Dried Orange Peel

1/8 cup Chamomile

1/8 cup Gentian Root

4 Bay Leaves

1 Cup Vodka

2 TBSP Blackstrap Molasses

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

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


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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

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


Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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

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

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

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

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Anyone else experimented with making their own bitters?

-Erik

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


Edited by johnder (log)

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

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I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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

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

Is there any method to the madness of bitters making?

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

To my imperfect memory the methods were:

1) Macerate ingredients in spirits, filter and bottle.

2) Macerate ingredients in spirits, filter through cheesecloth. Steep seperated dry ingredients in warm liquid, cool and age. Re-incorporate two essences. Filter and bottle.

3) Briefly cook all ingredients in liquid, cool, add high proof alcohol, age, then filter and bottle.

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

edited for stupid usage.


Edited by eje (log)

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Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Hopefully this helps

I am pretty sure I can reprint this since I beleive it is in the public domain:

Bakers Agnostura sub

Cinchona bark, 8 drachms

Lemon peel 2 drachms

Orange peel 2 drachms

Cardamon seeds, shelled and crushed 1/2 drachm

Chaomile flowers, 2 drachms

Bark cinnamon, 1/2 drachm

Raisins 1/4 lb.

Best grain alcohol 2 qts

All ingredients must be ground or pounded fine exept the raisins, and these are first chopped fine, then mixed thoroughly with everything else. Seal tightly in a 2 qt jar and pour enough of the finest grain alcohol obtainable, to fill- which will be a scant 2 qts. Let stand at an even, fairly warm temperature for 6 weeks, stirring or shaking vigorously twice every day. Strain, then strain through a cloth; pressing at the last to extract essentials from the sediment. Stir and strain once more, and bottle for use.

bon chance, Messieurs.

Orange Bitters

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

Hell Fire

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

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

Edit: added ingredients for first receipt.


Edited by M.X.Hassett (log)

Matthew Xavier Hassett aka "M.X.Hassett"

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

- Balance and Columbian Repository. May 13, 1806

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

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

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


KathyM

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


in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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

It is a bit odd.

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

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

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

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


Edited by eje (log)

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Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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

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

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

Erik: Which version did you recently make.


Edited by M.X.Hassett (log)

Matthew Xavier Hassett aka "M.X.Hassett"

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

- Balance and Columbian Repository. May 13, 1806

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Erik: Which version did you recently make.

Matt

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

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

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

-Erik


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Large article about bitters in yesterday's LA Times:

A revival of bitters? Sweeeet!

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

A fairly long article with a few cocktail recipes.

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


Edited by eje (log)

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Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Clementine Bitters

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

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

Robert Hess' House Bitters (scroll down)


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Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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

Gary Regan, "The Joy of Mixology" is the best book

http://cocktaildb.com/ingr_browse?category=2

amaro – generic Italian term

Agwa – Bolivian liqueur with an attractive bitterness and a slight stimulative effect — contains ginseng, guaraná and (nonnarcotic) coca leaf.

Amaro Braulino – strongly herbal, aged

Amaro Felsina Ramazzotti – vermouth with bitter orange flavors.

Amaro Lucano – decidedly bitter, but without the intensity of Fernet Branca. Very complex, nutty, herbal overtones without a trace of sweetness

Amaro Montenegro – similar in weight and bitterness to Lucano, but with a more citrus and nutty, spiced flavors

Amaro Nonino – grappa style – complex, warm and round flavors

Angostura – cookie-sweet spice (mostly clove) aroma with a winy character

– darkens and mellows young spirits (e.g., rum)

– compliments bittersweet flavors (tonic water, triple sec, Campari)

– with a bit of sugar, balances out bitterness in cheap spirits

Averna – dark, with bitterness rounded out by rich fruit flavors, vanilla and sugar – the fullest bodied amaro

Becherovka – Czech – sweet with a cinnamon/spice flavor

Boonekamp – comes in large bottle (750 ml) but is as strong as rdinary bitters – dark, unsweetened, clove and licorice predominate, with many others in the background

Campari – bitter vermouth with a cherry-like aroma.

Calisaia bitters (quinine) – made in Spain and Italy, hard to find in U.S.

Cynar – sweet vermouth bittered with artichoke.

Dubonnet – vermouth flavored with quinine, herbs and spices.

Fee Brothers, http://www.feebrothers.com/Product.asp?Category=5

– aromatic (close to Angostura, but has more pronounced cinnamon and clove highlights)

– orange

– mint (too pronounced for anything but cake frosting)

– peach (makes a lovely champagne cocktail, and pairs with fruit juice based drinks quite well, but it gets lost in straight booze)

Fernet Branca – dark, pungently bitter with a strong alcoholic kick – numerous herbs, including peppermint

– Branca Menta – Fenet Branca with a good dose of mint liquor

Jägermeister. Complex herbal flavor; from Germany.

Peychaud's Bitters – brighter than Angostura, with more licorice – complex aroma, with anise and root beer

Punt è Mes – bitter vermouth.

Ramazzotti – medium-dark and quite bitter, but not as intense as Fernet Branca or as round as Averna

Regan's Orange Bitters #6 – from D&D or http://www.buffalotrace.com/giftshop.asp – expensive shipping, so order several things – spicy, aggressively flavored with gentian, quinine and cardamom. Other orange bitters are not good.

Stirrings blood orange bittershttp://www.stirrings.com/ingredientsbloodorange.php or from Sur La Table, http://www.surlatable.com/ – not as robust as Angostura, Peychaud, or Regan's #6, but more flavor components than Fee's orange. They're non-alcoholic, which limits their intensity, and since they didn't use alcohol to extract the flavors, the flavors are more muted as well.

Suze – French aperitif; flavors of gentian, orange and vanilla.

Torani Amer – sweet vermouth with orange, gentian and quinine flavors, somewhat reminiscent of Amer Picon, a traditional Basque vermouth not available in this country.

Underberg – in single-serving bottles – roundly herbal, and quite pleasant straight

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

Robert Hess' House Bitters (scroll down)

Filtered this through cheesecloth, did the boiling of the dry ingredients, and after a brief steep and cool combined both and added some molasses.

Boy, they smell great! I really recommend that recipe.

I can't wait to try these in cocktails!

Still haven't figured out what to do with my gentian clementine bitters. I think I may macerate some orange zest in rye with more spices and combine with existing bitters to dilute and diversify the flavors. It's just too bitter at this point. Perhaps I should just give up and start over.


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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

Robert Hess' House Bitters (scroll down)

Filtered this through cheesecloth, did the boiling of the dry ingredients, and after a brief steep and cool combined both and added some molasses.

Boy, they smell great! I really recommend that recipe.

I can't wait to try these in cocktails!

Robert's last step involves adding water to the completed infusions--have you added it to yours?

I just finished putting together my batch of these last weekend, and I think this last step may have been their undoing--the aroma and taste are fantastic, but the bitters tend to get lost in the cocktail (I made an old fashioned and a Manhattan with them). I've taken to adding 6 or more dashes to an old fashioned, but I may just go back and whip up some more infused rye and add that to the half-gallon of bitters (!) now sitting on my kitchen counter, to see if I can rev up the flavor some more.


Paul Clarke

Seattle

The Cocktail Chronicles

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Robert's last step involves adding water to the completed infusions--have you added it to yours?...I just finished putting together my batch of these last weekend, and I think this last step may have been their undoing

Paul,

Thanks for the heads up. I haven't quite gotten to that step, yet.

Perhaps, I skip it!

I was already worried that the proof was getting kind of low, with the addition of the liquid from steeping the spices.

-Erik


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Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Well, after the last tasting of the clementine bitters, I decided it

needed some other flavor elements to compete with the gentian. So I

steeped the zest of a couple oranges, a clove, and 4 cinnamon sticks

in a couple cups of rye for a week or two.

I have now combined them with the bitters and it is, uh, interesting.

I put a bit of simple syrup and a couple dashes of bitters in a glass,

and added some soda water.

Guess what?

I've created a pretty passable caffeine free cola flavoring.

Really.

The orange and cinnamon are more up front and the gentian gives it a bit longer bitter finish than commercial brands; but, other than that it's very recognizably close to commercial cola beverages.

<sigh>

If only I'd used coca leaves instead of bay leaves, we'd really be cooking with gas.

Final recipe below.

----

Clementine Bitters

Peel of 3 Clementines (and leaves if you've got 'em), sliced thin

Zest of 2 medium oranges

5 stick Mexican Cinnamon

1 whole clove

1/8 cup Dried Orange Peel

1/8 cup Chamomile

1/8 cup Gentian Root

4 Bay Leaves

2 Cups Vodka

2 cups rye

1 cup water

2 TBSP Blackstrap Molasses

Crush all dry ingredients in a pestle. Steep the zest in the rye and the dry ingredients in the vodka for two weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain through cheesecloth, combine liquids and reserve spices. Bring water to boil, pour on the spices, and steep overnight. Strain spicy water. Combine spicy water with flavored alcohol and add blackstrap.

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


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Finally got around to giving a try to the Hess bitters I made.

Ingredients:

4 cups rye (Old Overholt)

3 tsp dried gentian

1/2 cup ginger (julienne)

1/8 cup whole cloves

3 Tbs cardamom pods (cracked)

8 whole star anis

8 sticks cinnamon

2 tsp. Allspice

Followed general liqueur/bitters procedures, crush ingredients, steep for a good long while, filter, sweeten lightly (molasses), rest, and filter again.

I find them pretty long on spice but short on bitter. I know he is trying to reproduce a particular brand of bitters; but, if I do them again, I'll probably up the gentian and reduce the spices (especially the clove).


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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