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All About Bitters (Part 1)

594 posts in this topic

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.

Hey johnder, how is it coming along? I am getting ready to give it a try. Is it too clove-ey? Did you use Bay Rum essential oil? If so, how much?

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when recreating some of those old bitters recipes if they seem heavy on certain spices sometimes its because they used the percolation method to infuse and filter. it wasn't always just infuse in jar and then strain. but i don't think they ever used distillation because it does not come out as aromatic. but i also thought abbots were cask aged?

a great bitter i've been expirimenting with is wild cherry bark... it makes a pretty funky aromatic cocktail bitter....

i use docter harter's recipe minus the sugar....


abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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The Abbott's literature that I have implies that the product was produced by a method something like this: Infuse ingredients in grain alcohol, cut with water, age in barrels (or perhaps swap the last two steps). Barrel-aged grain alcohol is more or less whiskey (I know it's not really, but close enough), so starting with a base of whiskey produces an even more complex end result without the need for barrel-aging yourself. After all, why not let someone else do it?

Planning on trying the recipe verbatim this summer when I get some money saved up. Like I said upthread, why be afraid of cumarin here and not in the original? And I do plan to use my old-school Abbott's one day.

-Andy


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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insightful observation on the oak aging.... i never really thought of it that way.

i have been collecting barks and roots for a while.

then i was gonna create simple bitters from each and try and learn their qualities so i could build on them.

gentian is my favorite.


abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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Sorry for the lack of updates on this. I do have 2 batches currently sitting in mason jars. The clove/nutmeg coming off them is really insane. I am still trying to track down some oak barrels to age these in, as I think that is the only way to tone down the nose on them.

I have been tasting them every week or so, and all you can taste now is the clove and nutmeg in them. Aroma wise you can pick up some of the vanilla scent from the tonka beans, and also some of the juniper.

Given the small monetary investment in it, I think it was worth it, hopefully the barrel aging will make it amazing.

John


John Deragon

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I am still trying to track down some oak barrels to age these in, as I think that is the only way to tone down the nose on them.

Why would you want to do this? Everything I've heard about Abbott's indicates that the unique profile, coupled with the strength of flavor and aroma, is what makes them so wonderful.

I say try them like they are. And you might want to send me some for a second opinion ;)

-Andy


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Okay, so I finally got everything together and started my batch, using the PerfumeKev recipe, with some modifications. I too thought the amount of cloves seemed insane, and, based on johnder's comments, I reduced the cloves and nutmeg. I also used a little more of some of the other ingredients, with no real system, just using what "seemed about right". In some cases the quantities are pretty small compared to the precision of my scale (1g), so it's hard to say how what I used compared to the recipe. I scaled the recipe down, using 2 cups of rye, rather than 8. The following are the amounts I used, as well as the deviation from the scaled-down recipe:

3 g. Star Anise, crushed (+140%)

2 drops Bay Rum extract (This one I had to fudge. Based on my Googling, the yield when extracting essential oils seems ot be on the order of .5 to 1%. Since I needed 5 g. of Bay Rum, that would work out to 25-50 mg. A drop being about 40 mg., I should have used one, but the second one slipped out, so about +100%)

10 g. Benzoin resin, powdered

10 g. Cardamom pods, cracked

30 g. cloves, whole (-74%)

2 big sticks (14 g.) Ceylon Cinnamon (It calls for 4 sticks, but these were big sticks, I estimated a typical Cinnamon stick was on the order of 3.5 g.)

2 g. dried Spearmint (+33%)

1 g. Lavender flowers (+33%)

5 g. dried Gentian bark (this was a little over 1 tsp., so about +50%)

1/3 c. (44 g.) chopped fresh Ginger (-11%)

2 g. ground Nutmeg (-42%)

2 g. Allspice berries, crushed

50 g. Tonka beans, cracked (-11%)

2 c. Wild Turkey 101 proof Rye

What I can say is that all the spices together smelled just amazing. The mixture once in the jar smelled -- potent. The only thing I didn't like about it was that the Benzoin, which is a gray powder, gives the whole thing an unnattractive gray cast, so it ends up looking like very dirty water with stuff floating in it. I plan on filtering with as fine as a filter as it takes to get rid of that sickly color.

Now all I have to do is wait-shake-wait, etc. My plan is to age in a jar with toasted American oak chips. Now I am waiting for more ingredients to arrive so I can get started on Dr. Cocktail's H & H's Aromatic Bitters recipe.

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I am still trying to track down some oak barrels to age these in, as I think that is the only way to tone down the nose on them.

Why would you want to do this? Everything I've heard about Abbott's indicates that the unique profile, coupled with the strength of flavor and aroma, is what makes them so wonderful.

I say try them like they are. And you might want to send me some for a second opinion ;)

-Andy

From my research and speaking to one or two other people I was under the impression that they were an aged bitters. I will gladly send you some as is, but in their current state will put hair on your chest.

:biggrin:


John Deragon

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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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What I can say is that all the spices together smelled just amazing. The mixture once in the jar smelled -- potent. The only thing I didn't like about it was that the Benzoin, which is a gray powder, gives the whole thing an unnattractive gray cast, so it ends up looking like very dirty water with stuff floating in it. I plan on filtering with as fine as a filter as it takes to get rid of that sickly color.

You may want to try the benzoin resin as opposed to the powder. The resin is, as you would expect extremely sticky but smells amazing.

John


John Deragon

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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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pretty interesting stuff....

i have so many bitters recipes but none with so many ingredients. this raises a couple questions....

is this what ellegedly went in the recipe due to some sort of chemical analysis?

with alot of recipes like wine or whiskey there are few inputs but so many outputs....

but also for your results if one flavor sticks out too much there may be too much. if one flavor in a wine is too loud it gets blended down so its not onesided....

chefs create broths with many components but try to create one new flavor or feeling.... if you could identify too easily one of the spices it wasn't made right....

things to consider but keep up the good work. this is serious cocktail progress.


abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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I am still trying to track down some oak barrels to age these in, as I think that is the only way to tone down the nose on them.

Why would you want to do this? Everything I've heard about Abbott's indicates that the unique profile, coupled with the strength of flavor and aroma, is what makes them so wonderful.

I say try them like they are. And you might want to send me some for a second opinion ;)

-Andy

From my research and speaking to one or two other people I was under the impression that they were an aged bitters. I will gladly send you some as is, but in their current state will put hair on your chest.

:biggrin:

I would be honored to sample your bitters. :biggrin:

Another thought I had was that perhaps the filtered liquid needs to just 'rest' the way you would let an infusion or homemade liqueur rest for mellowness. In my experience with infusions and liqueurs the flavors belnd better and are much more harmonious when allowed to sit, sans solids, for a month or so. This could probably be accomplished in a glass or metal container, at least until you are able to find a barrel (if you determine that it still needs a barrel).

-Andy


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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pretty interesting stuff....

i have so many bitters recipes but none with so many ingredients.  this raises a couple questions....

is this what ellegedly went in the recipe due to some sort of chemical analysis?

with alot of recipes like wine or whiskey there are few inputs but so many outputs....

but also for your results if one flavor sticks out too much there may be too much.  if one flavor in a wine is too loud it gets blended down so its not onesided....

chefs create broths with many components but try to create one new flavor or feeling.... if you could identify too easily one of the spices it wasn't made right....

things to consider but keep up the good work. this is serious cocktail progress.

This recipe is as a result of a recent gas chromatography analysis on a previously unopened bottle of Abbott's Bitters from the 1920's coordinated by members of the Drinkboy Forum.

-Andy


Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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So I had my first drink with the batch -- a Martinez cocktail. Wow. It was amazing. By itself the bitters are very overpowering, but added a few dashes to a martinez and it became a whole new animal. Complex, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg. A huge difference.

So based on that one drink, so far so good!

John


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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gallery_40796_4259_17259.jpg

Unicum bitters are really good in a Manhattan!

We did a little taste test the other night. A bitters showdown, Manhattan-style. The recipe was 4 parts Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon, 1 part Cinzano Rosso Vermouth and 1 dash (3 drops) of Angostura, Peychaud's, Unicum or Regan's Orange Bitters.

On last place, we were unanimous. The Orange Bitters, which are so good in so many drinks, were bad in this. That has been my experience with them: While they have rescued many a drink, or elevated them from good to great, with some drinks they clash horribly and the result is -- not so good.

For second and third places, we were divided. I preferred Angostura to Peychaud's, but half the panel had them coming in the other way around. Both were good though.

The winner, however, was unanimous again. At least in this Manhattan recipe, everyone agreed -- the Unicum was tops.

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gallery_40796_4259_17259.jpg

Unicum bitters are really good in a Manhattan!

We did a little taste test the other night. A bitters showdown, Manhattan-style. The recipe was 4 parts Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon, 1 part Cinzano Rosso Vermouth and 1 dash (3 drops) of Angostura, Peychaud's, Unicum or Regan's Orange Bitters.

On last place, we were unanimous. The Orange Bitters, which are so good in so many drinks, were bad in this. That has been my experience with them: While they have rescued many a drink, or elevated them from good to great, with some drinks they clash horribly and the result is -- not so good.

For second and third places, we were divided. I preferred Angostura to Peychaud's, but half the panel had them coming in the other way around. Both were good though.

The winner, however, was unanimous again. At least in this Manhattan recipe, everyone agreed -- the Unicum was tops.

While definitely better than Fee's, I've come to have mixed feelings about Regans' Orange Bitters. They work really well in some drinks, esp ones containing gin or Chartreuse, but are terrible in others. If you can afford them, I would definitely give The Bitter Truth orange bitters a try, out of the 4-5 brands I have tried I find them the most versatile (and are more or less my favorite). Saturday I made an Emerald (Irish Whiskey Manhattan; 2:1 Bushmills:Cinzano) with TBT orange bitters, awesome stuff.

Would love to try Unicum in a Manhattan though, sounds really interesting.

-Andy


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Fee Brothers now has a limited edition barrel aged bitters out. It's outstanding. Get it while you can.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Let the barrel aging begin!

gallery_22527_3599_773676.jpg


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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Let the barrel aging begin!

Well, now you just have to make about 240 gallons of bitters, and you should be able to fill those...


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Let the barrel aging begin!

gallery_22527_3599_773676.jpg

Oh baby - that looks great!! What size barrels are those?

And I happened to have a martinez last night with some of the unaged that found it's way into my hands, and it was AWESOME!


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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The 3 smaller ones are 3 gallon, and the big one is 5 gallons.

2 of the small barrels are promised away already, so I only need to fill 8 gallons.

:blink:


John Deragon

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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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The 3 smaller ones are 3 gallon, and the big one is 5 gallons. 

2 of the small barrels are promised away already, so I only need to fill 8 gallons.

:blink:

Sorry, couldn't tell scale from the picture!

Thought, they might be full size wine barrels.

Where did you get them?

Are they used? Will you try to char the inside?

So many questions...


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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The 3 smaller ones are 3 gallon, and the big one is 5 gallons. 

2 of the small barrels are promised away already, so I only need to fill 8 gallons.

:blink:

Sorry, couldn't tell scale from the picture!

Thought, they might be full size wine barrels.

Where did you get them?

Are they used? Will you try to char the inside?

So many questions...

All 4 of the barrels are used once, and have I think a level 4 or 5 toast on them, and they came from Tuthilltown Distillery in upstate New York.

The 3 smaller barrels are bourbon barrels, used for Tuthilltown's awesome Bourbon, and the other larger one was from Tuthilltown's Rye.

The barrels were just emptied a month or so ago, so the aroma coming from them is pretty amazing. I am going to "roll" the larger barrel to see if I can extract any leftover rye from the wood before using it for bitters. This involves putting a small amount of water (~1 liter) in the barrel and rolling it around for a day or so to try and pull any residual liquor out of the wood.

I contacted Ralph from Tuthilltown a few months ago and he graciously offered to sell me a few of his used barrels.


John Deragon

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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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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

And, I finally got my Catechu and Malva flowers from Alchemy Works, so I started up the batch of the Boker's Bitters replica:

gallery_40796_4259_46023.jpg

The Catechu is interesting stuff. Looks like little black rocks and smells smoky, kinda like Lapsang souchong tea.

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Fee Brothers now has a limited edition barrel aged bitters out.  It's outstanding.  Get it while you can.
I got two bottles today. A quick taste test in the palm of my hand reveals a delicious Christmas pudding flavor profile. This is going to be a fun one.

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One of Trader Vic's books introduced a bartender named Jasper LeFranc, who used nutmeg-infused Angostura as part of his sour mix, and I've heard that Angostura used to advocate infusing orange peel in a bottle of its bitters as a substitute for proper orange bitters.

So has anyone fooled around with infusing bitters? :)

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