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All About Bitters (Part 1)

594 posts in this topic

I've been drinking a lot of Chargers lately. Got through a bottle of Gary Regan bitters and am on my way wth the Angostura. With the latter I kept wondering what that more than familiar flavor was until it hit me. Wray & Nephew Pimento Liqueur. Almost identical. I wonder what the drinks mixing implications of this similarity are--one month down, eight to go. There's an opportunity here as the liqueur carries with it a punch of sweetness. For those of you who want to experiment, all you have to do is go down to Jamaica and buy a bottle of the stuff...


You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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What's the best way to try a new bitters, especially if you don't know much about it? Club soda and simple syrup, just to get a feel for it? An old-fashioned or Manhattan?

I just picked up a few bottles of bitters from eBay -- which was an interesting diversion, when I was looking for a place I could order Luxardo Maraschino since not many places will ship to NH -- and other than Fernet Branca, I don't know the first thing about them. I'm not even sure which ones are digestive bitters like Peychaud's etc., and which can be drunk almost-straight like Campari. (Though anything labeled Amaro, I assume falls into the latter category.)

(I also got a small bottle of creme de violette, so it might pay to keep an eye on the auctions.)

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What's the best way to try a new bitters, especially if you don't know much about it?  Club soda and simple syrup, just to get a feel for it?  An old-fashioned or Manhattan?

I just picked up a few bottles of bitters from eBay -- which was an interesting diversion, when I was looking for a place I could order Luxardo Maraschino since not many places will ship to NH -- and other than Fernet Branca, I don't know the first thing about them.  I'm not even sure which ones are digestive bitters like Peychaud's etc., and which can be drunk almost-straight like Campari.  (Though anything labeled Amaro, I assume falls into the latter category.)

(I also got a small bottle of creme de violette, so it might pay to keep an eye on the auctions.)

I usually do two things, first I put a few drops in the palm of my hand and rub hands together to warm the bitters. It is a good way to get the "nose" of the bitters.

For taste I will take a drop or two straight, and then take a few dashes in an ounce or two of plain club soda.


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

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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Just tried both of those things with Peychaud's and with Regan's orange bitters -- it definitely does give you a feel for the thing (and Regan's is surprisingly good in club soda, actually).

Excellent, thank you.

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I came across (and bought, natch) a bottle of Aromatic Cocktail Bitters by Forest Floor Foods. "Special blend for an American Palate". Ingredients are angostura bark and spice flavors, citrus oil and gentian in a solution of water, alcohol and glycerine, and caramel color. The bottle gives the website, here.

I really need to work on identifying what I am smelling/tasting. These bitters are very nice, though. I tasted them alongside my Angostura's, Peychauds and Fee's Old Fashioned, and they are as good, but different enough to warrant buying.


Edited by Bricktop (log)

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I came across (and bought, natch) a bottle of Aromatic Cocktail Bitters by Forest Floor Foods.  "Special blend for an American Palate".  Ingredients are angostura bark and spice flavors, citrus oil and gentian in a solution of water, alcohol and glycerine, and caramel color.  The bottle gives the website, here.

I really need to work on identifying what I am smelling/tasting.  These bitters are very nice, though.  I tasted them alongside my Angostura's, Peychauds and Fee's Old Fashioned, and they are as good, but different enough to warrant buying.

I found a bottle of the Forest Floor bitters last year. I haven't used them lately but I remember thinking they bore an uncanny resemblance to Angostura. I was disappointed in not having a new weapon for my cocktail arsenal.

As Wisconsin is one of the few places where Angostura bitters never disappeared from behind the bar it seemed to me that Wisconsin-based Forest Floor probably didn't want to deviate too far from what people were used to. I'll have to give them another head-to-head with the Angostura. Maybe I was a little hasty in my judgement. Regardless, it is a fine product.

Kurt


“I like to keep a bottle of stimulant handy in case I see a snake--which I also keep handy.” ~W.C. Fields

The Handy Snake

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In this months issue of Saveur magazine there is a recipe for orange bitters. Any comments on it? How do you think it will impact cocktail recipes in for the average reader?

As far as the recipe, it seems to be just a generic orange bitters recipe, very similar to the recipe on drinkboy minus the burnt sugar, which I really like.

John


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

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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John, I have not looked at my copy yet, but just the fact that a mainstream publication is mentioning a bitters other than the Angostura's, or even rarer Peychauds, is a great sign for cocktail lovers.

One of these days, I may actually try to make my own.

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For the past few weeks I have been scouring obscure sources to try and find all the ingredients to try and recreate the long lost Abbott's Bitters. I managed to track down every ingredient recently, the most difficult being the Pimenta Racemosa.

I used the recipe Kev posted over on drinkboy here as the starting point. I am at a disadvantage as I have never tasted Abbotts, but I do know that it is very clove heavy. The 470g of cloves in 8c of base seems crazy though.

So what I ended up doing was making a batch of dried botanicals to the recipe and then breaking up the batch into smaller ones to work with. Taking the same amount of base (in my case Rittenhouse 100) and doing a set amount of dried ingredients in one, and double the amount in the other, working in 400g of Rye.

I am going to let it sit for 2 weeks, and proceed as normal using the Hess recipe as a start. I did cut back on the Tonka beans as they are dangerous. My plan is to find someone that can do a toxicology anaylisys on it after they are done to see exactly how much coumarin is in the end product and if it would be dangerous in a dash or two that would be used in a drink.

Here is a photo of most of the ingredients being weighed out

gallery_22527_3599_287461.jpg

gallery_22527_3599_140241.jpg


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

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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The original recipe calls for 8 cups of liquid, which will yield probably close to 7.5 cups of liquid. I used a little more than 4 cups of rye in the above pictures, so I should get when all is said and done 3.75 to 4 cups of bitters.


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

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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Evening!

After experimenting with Orange and Angostura bitters-making, we think we're ready to delve into peach. Has anyone here made peach bitters or seen a recipe?


Drink maker, heart taker!

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Also, while this topic is bumped, I was wondering if anyone had any sort of update on the much-anticipated (by me anyway) Angostura orange bitters.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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I've tried samples of two different iterations from Angostura, as have several people around NYC. Good stuff. I hope they'll get off the pot and start production.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Yah the two versions I tasted we both amazing. One definitely had much more of a burnt orange nose. I would be happy with either one really.


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

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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So jealous! I had originally heard (or imagined I heard) that they would be out by the end of 2006, obviously incorrect. Hopefully they hit shelves soon.

-Andy


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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I did think the "use actual vanilla instead of tonka" idea on the drinkboy forums was right on.

I've been meaning to give it a try; but, haven't found any local herbal stores that stock bay, tonka, or Benzoin.

Amusingly, shortly after this recipe was published on drinkboy and the health risks of tonka were discussed, I was served doughnuts covered in tonka sugar at Manresa in Los Gatos. Needless to say, while I appreciated the opportunity to amuse my dining companion with tonka bean related trivia, I did not forgo the delicious morsels out of concern for my health.

In any case, looking forward to hearing about your results!


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Evening!

After experimenting with Orange and Angostura bitters-making, we think we're ready to delve into peach.  Has anyone here made peach bitters or seen a recipe?

You might drop Dr. Cocktail (Ted Haigh) a note. It was his encouragement that resulted in Fee Brothers releasing their version of peach bitters.

I think bitter almonds/extract figure prominently in the recipe.


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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After having recently acquired a tiny bottle of Abbott's and receiving for Christmas a cologne that listed coumarin as a fragrance I feel qualified to opine that coumarin/tonka is subtly, but distinctly, different from vanilla, at least in aroma.

I find it interesting that everyone is hesitant to use tonka beans in their recreations but noone seems too hesitant to use the real old Abbott's (aside from the obvious scarcity issue).

Surely a drop can't hurt?

-Andy


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Big article about Bitters in today's SF Chronicle:

Spirits: Reinventing bitters, Camper English

Even bartenders with access to all the commercial bitters have begun experimenting with making their own, often following and modifying recipes in out-of-print bartending books from the early 1900s. Absinthe's Jonny Raglin made bitters by infusing herbs in gin and rum for just a few hours, then reducing the proof of the resulting liquid using an espresso machine. His co-worker Jeff Hollinger includes a recipe for cherry-vanilla bitters that can be swapped in for Angostura or other bitters in his book "The Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics" (Chronicle Books, 2006).

Includes the recipe for Dr. Schwartz Cherry-Vanilla Bitters from the aforementioned book.


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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The recipe looks OK, though, I think most folks who have made Orange Bitters without any supplemental bittering, have thought they lacked a little zip.

Maybe with a couple teaspoons of Gentian?

Also, a lot of work to dry all the orange peel yourself.

Speaking of bitter orange, I was recently eating a Page Mandarin, and I couldn't help but be struck by how wonderfully oily and fragrant the peels were. To the point the orange oils were literally dripping from the fruit. Quite bitter to the taste as well!

I expect they might be quite good in bitters.


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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So I have been playing around with some versions of grapefruit bitters recently and came up with a pretty good version. The big test will be of course if it is shelf stable, and won't cloud up on me.

The recipe can be found here in recipe gullet.

The end product is bitter -- definitely get some of the bitterness from the grapefruit, but the bitter from the gentian helps settle the pith like bitterness from the grapefruit.

The end result is very yellow and has a tremendous aroma of grapefruit. Now to see what I can use it in.

John


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

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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The bitters sound really good John. Should the beta drink be a martini? I'd think that might work nicely to best showcase the flavor of the bitters.


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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Read my mind exactly.


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

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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Ha! Great minds truly do think alike...


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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