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All About Bitters (Part 1)

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I've been experimenting with celery bitters based on nothing but my own assumptions of how they may have been made. I first read about them in Tom Bullock's "Pre-Prohibition Cocktails". I heard Ted Haigh has an original bottle.

I tried a batch with celeriac with poor results. I now have a batch with celery seed instead. I'll post the results next week.


"Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator they have a

claim on, even its ice compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like

food."" - Kingsley Amis

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i don't know if anyone else was into making and drinking the jerry thomas decanter bitters... supposedly the "virginia snakeroot" in the recipe is toxic but what exactly it is that he used isn't clear. many herbs have many names. the book "Imbibe!" asssumes its something also known as "serpentaria" which is not exactly on the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) list... other literature calls "Asarum canadense" (which can easily be found) virginia or canadian snakeroot and might be the more likely choice because it has a larege history in early american brewery and native american medicine. from what i've read there is no negative information about the herb. snakeroot is often called "wild ginger" and is compared to the cultivated ginger we commonly use today... to be on the side of safe you could easily make the recipe substituting ginger and i'm sure a bottle would disapear really quickly... i didn't waste any of mine in a manhattan but drank it by the ounce before meals...


abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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i don't know if anyone else was into making and drinking the jerry thomas decanter bitters... supposedly the "virginia snakeroot" in the recipe is toxic but what exactly it is that he used isn't clear.  many herbs have many names.  the book "Imbibe!" asssumes its something also known as "serpentaria" which is not exactly on the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) list... other literature calls "Asarum canadense" (which can easily be found) virginia or canadian snakeroot and might be the more likely choice because it has a larege history in early american brewery and native american medicine.  from what i've read there is no negative information about the herb.  snakeroot is often called "wild ginger" and is compared to the cultivated ginger we commonly use today... to be on the side of safe you could easily make the recipe substituting ginger and i'm sure a bottle would disapear really quickly... i didn't waste any of mine in a manhattan but drank it by the ounce before meals...

They must have been remarkable indeed if putting them in a Manhattan would have been wasting them :blink:


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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i don't know if anyone else was into making and drinking the jerry thomas decanter bitters... supposedly the "virginia snakeroot" in the recipe is toxic but what exactly it is that he used isn't clear.  many herbs have many names.  the book "Imbibe!" asssumes its something also known as "serpentaria" which is not exactly on the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) list... other literature calls "Asarum canadense" (which can easily be found) virginia or canadian snakeroot and might be the more likely choice because it has a larege history in early american brewery and native american medicine.  from what i've read there is no negative information about the herb.  snakeroot is often called "wild ginger" and is compared to the cultivated ginger we commonly use today... to be on the side of safe you could easily make the recipe substituting ginger and i'm sure a bottle would disapear really quickly... i didn't waste any of mine in a manhattan but drank it by the ounce before meals...

There's a long discussion on the DrinkBoy site starting with fatdeko2's post here:

Bitters Recipe

A bit later in the topic, Dr. Cocktail weighs in on Asarum canadense and notes that it is in the same plant family, Aristolochiaceae, as Virginia Snakeroot and is thus actually covered by the FDA warning.


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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i don't know if anyone else was into making and drinking the jerry thomas decanter bitters... supposedly the "virginia snakeroot" in the recipe is toxic but what exactly it is that he used isn't clear.  many herbs have many names.  the book "Imbibe!" asssumes its something also known as "serpentaria" which is not exactly on the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) list... other literature calls "Asarum canadense" (which can easily be found) virginia or canadian snakeroot and might be the more likely choice because it has a larege history in early american brewery and native american medicine.  from what i've read there is no negative information about the herb.  snakeroot is often called "wild ginger" and is compared to the cultivated ginger we commonly use today... to be on the side of safe you could easily make the recipe substituting ginger and i'm sure a bottle would disapear really quickly... i didn't waste any of mine in a manhattan but drank it by the ounce before meals...

There's a long discussion on the DrinkBoy site starting with fatdeko2's post here:

Bitters Recipe

A bit later in the topic, Dr. Cocktail weighs in on Asarum canadense and notes that it is in the same plant family, Aristolochiaceae, as Virginia Snakeroot and is thus actually covered by the FDA warning.

hmm. it doesn't seem to answer any flavor questions about its ginger like character... i think i'm gonna track down both herbs and do a taste test... risking renal failure to advance mixology is no big deal...

and manhattans aren't that exciting to me anymore... i'm a new flavor fiend... i'd rather drink a fun enigmatic bitter... it wasn't concentrated enough to be a cocktail bitter anyhow... i'd sub the decanter bitters for the plain whiskey before i subbed it for the angostura...

i think the decanter bitters is a good concept or system for a drink... i think i'm gonna find my own favorite root, citrus, and dried fruit to keep it going on my kitchen counter...


abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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Hello Everyone,

I just realized that I've been granted a participating membership, I'm so happy.

It's my first post here, and I'll do my best to share with you some stuff that I like.

Talking about bitters, I like the fact that they were not supposed to be drunk straight, as you explained perfectly at the beginning of the topic.

Now, I went to Italy last year (a country that loves everything that is Bitter) to check a few cocktails for a competition (Angostura), and I nearly dropped of my chair (or thought that I was going to die) when a bartender from Bologna picked up a jigger and a bottle of Angostura Aromatic when starting his cocktail.

He used 30 ml in his recipe, and the result was incredible (obviously you have to like bitters). He also won the European final with this one....

Many of my friends and colleagues have made this cocktail since, and they too were stunned by the result.

If you have a couple of minutes, you should give it a go:

Trinidad Especial by Valentino Bolognese - Italy

30 ml Angostura Aromatic Bitters

30 ml Orgeat Syrup

20 ml Fresh lime Juice

10 ml Pisco Mistral

Shake hard and long, and strain in a martini glass (or shooter glasses to share)

I personally classify this cocktail as one of the most interesting that I've ever tasted.

Cheers

Mick


Cheers

www.BarNowOn.com

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That's an interesting use of Angostura bitters--as the base spirit (and at 90 proof it would certainly qualify I should think). The most extreme example I'd seen prior to that is the Seelbach Cocktail which calls for seven (7) dashes each of Angostura and Peychaud's. One of my favorites is gin and bitters, or Pink Gin. I prefer Ted Haigh's recipe which calls for "six goodly dashes of Angostura bitters." It's a magical transformation in which some of the flavors in the gin are enhanced while others are held back. And for all the bitters being used, no sweetener is necessary, the gin itself is enough.


Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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I just got a participating membership too. So I'll first post as someone who likes to actually drink the bitters (a goodly amount in a little sake cup) I can't wait to try this cocktail.

Don

Hello Everyone,

I just realized that I've been granted a participating membership, I'm so happy.

It's my first post here, and I'll do my best to share with you some stuff that I like.

Talking about bitters, I like the fact that they were not supposed to be drunk straight, as you explained perfectly at the beginning of the topic.

Now, I went to Italy last year (a country that loves everything that is Bitter) to check a few cocktails for a competition (Angostura), and I nearly dropped of my chair (or thought that I was going to die) when a bartender from Bologna picked up a jigger and a bottle of Angostura Aromatic when starting his cocktail.

He used 30 ml in his recipe, and the result was incredible (obviously you have to like bitters). He also won the European final with this one....

Many of my friends and colleagues have made this cocktail since, and they too were stunned by the result.

If you have a couple of minutes, you should give it a go:

Trinidad Especial by Valentino Bolognese - Italy

30 ml Angostura Aromatic Bitters

30 ml Orgeat Syrup

20 ml Fresh lime Juice

10 ml Pisco Mistral

Shake hard and long, and strain in a martini glass (or shooter glasses to share)

I personally classify this cocktail as one of the most interesting that I've ever tasted.

Cheers

Mick

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Sitting here in my living room, I'm finding myself very interested in the lilacs that my wife picked today and wondering if there's a way to infuse their nectar into a spring bitters. Thoughts?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Sitting here in my living room, I'm finding myself very interested in the lilacs that my wife picked today and wondering if there's a way to infuse their nectar into a spring bitters. Thoughts?

i was thinking the same thing! but with honeysuckle. unfortunately, dried honeysuckle tastes nothing like the nectar (and is actually really gross). seems like you'd need a LOT of nectar to flavor a little bitters, though. if you can get enough, i imagine you could distill it.

do you have a method to collect the nectar?

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Well, the first thing to check before eating any flower is to make sure it isn't poisonous.

I found this handy page on edible flowers:

Edible Flowers

When discussing wild edible plants we often overlook their flowers. This is unfortunate since edible flowers can be a very valuable survival food source.

The flowers of edible plants are frequently abundant and easy to identify. Since many edible flowers are also brightly colored, they can be easy to spot even at a distance.

Looks like you're in luck with Lilac, though flavor is said to be quite variable.

You probably won't capture much scent without distillation.

It does appear that some honeysuckle varieties may be poisonous, so best to be sure you know which you are harvesting... Same with Jasmine.

Here's another good page:

Edible Flower Guide


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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No, you were supposed to tell me how to do that.

train an army of bees?

or how about http://www.instructables.com/id/Honeysuckl...Nectar-of-Life/. i'm sure a similar process could be used for lilacs... however this could be seriously time consuming.

alternatively, there seem to be a lot of recipes online for both honeysuckle and lilac syrups, which are exactly what you'd expect them to be: bring water to boil w/flowers, add sugar. i imagine that you'd be able to infuse booze similarly, rather than use the nectar. with some flowers, you may have to use fresh blossoms, though, as dried ones have lost all the scent/flavor.

theres a big honeysuckle bush outside my front door. i may try this once it starts blooming.


Edited by lostmyshape (log)

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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

Almost 3 years later, I finally noticed this behind the counter at a local Italian Deli...

gallery_27569_3448_24654.jpg

Not only that, but scored a lovely large bottle of Amarena Fabbri Wild Cherries in Syrup.

Persistence pays!


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Angostura recently launched an Orange Bitters

I live in Trindad and was able to get some

img0045mediumqg9.jpg


Edited by lennyk (log)

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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

Almost 3 years later, I finally noticed this behind the counter at a local Italian Deli...

gallery_27569_3448_24654.jpg

Not only that, but scored a lovely large bottle of Amarena Fabbri Wild Cherries in Syrup.

Persistence pays!

I've been trying to track down "Bitter Martini", a spirit by Martini & Rossi that I've seen mentioned in a few recipes recently. While searching for it, I came across China Martini which looks like Martini's attempt at quinine bitters. I much prefer that bottle though Erik! Does anyone know if China Martini and Bitter Martini are related at all? I'm struggling to find information on Bitter Martini, much less a source of it...


Jay Hepburn

Oh Gosh!

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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

Almost 3 years later, I finally noticed this behind the counter at a local Italian Deli...

gallery_27569_3448_24654.jpg

Not only that, but scored a lovely large bottle of Amarena Fabbri Wild Cherries in Syrup.

Persistence pays!

I've been trying to track down "Bitter Martini", a spirit by Martini & Rossi that I've seen mentioned in a few recipes recently. While searching for it, I came across China Martini which looks like Martini's attempt at quinine bitters. I much prefer that bottle though Erik! Does anyone know if China Martini and Bitter Martini are related at all? I'm struggling to find information on Bitter Martini, much less a source of it...

i thought china martini was kind of boring... its very high alcohol. 30% or so. i was hopeful that it would be elegant like a barolo chinato but it wasn't that memonable... its like a combination of fernet and sweet vermouth...


abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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Hello Egullet,

I'd like to know if some of you are playing with the Elixir Vegetal De la Grande Chartreuse. http://www.chartreuse.fr/pa_elixir_uk.htm

I'd like to think that It is the oldest Bitters that we can still buy to make cocktails - and it costs no more than $20.....

The thing that is intersting is that if Charteuse Elixir is a Bitters, then cocktails could take another turn:

- First of all, Chartreuse Elixir is pretty old, something like 1737 (with a recipe dating back from 1605).

- The recipe is a mix of herbs, spice, plants, etc... with medicinal properties...so I'd like to think that It should be classified as bitters.

If it is a Bitters, then the tradition to drink it over a sugar cube in France could be the start of the Sazerac, the Old fashioned and the Champagne cocktails' Cocktail Cultures.

It could mean that mixing tradition with spirits came from Europe, and may be from the French Alps. The knowledge that the monks have learned by working with natural vegetals is still today in practice in order to find and make medicinal success.

Mr Peychaud was a French Creole, may be influenced by traditions from Haiti - & Mr Siegert was a German doctor...

I just came back from Paris for the Cocktails & Spirits Bar show, and it was very interesting to see everyone involved with the european cocktail culture.

Please let me know what do you think of this possibile road to perdition, and if you consider Charteuse Elixir not as a Bitters, then why not?

:smile:

Cheers

Mick


Cheers

www.BarNowOn.com

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Mickael,

I've not had Chartreuse Grand Elixir Vegetal as of yet so can't speak to whether or not it is bitter or could be used like a bitters in cocktails. Sounds promising. It's pretty scarce here, but if you create any recipes, you'll have to post them.

Generally, medicinal and/or bitter elixirs, whether wine, beer, or spirits based, go back nearly as far as it possible to trace human history.

The way I look at it, is, the particularly American invention in relation to bitters was combining perfectly good, (or maybe not perfectly good,) spirits with these medicinal elixirs in the same glass.

You'll find Vermouth-like substances nearly as far back in Greco-Roman history as you can go. But, for whatever reason, nobody thought to combine these "medicinal" substances with the recreational substances like Whisk(e)y, Gin, or other spirits until the Americas of the 19th Century.

Thus, while the Italians may have had Vermouth, Gin, and Campari, it didn't occur to them to create the Negroni until the fashion for drinking bittered spirit based cocktails in the American manner had trickled back to Europe.


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I've had Elixir Vegetal a number of times. Doesn't strike me as a bitters. First of all, it's not all that bitter. But it doesn't seem to have that intensity of flavor that makes something a bitters in the same sense that Angostura bitters are bitters. You're not going to be able to flavor a rich rum drink with a few dashes of Elixir Vegetal, for example.


--

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I've run across recipes for "Gin and Tansy" and "Gin and Wormwood" in a number of old bar books (not to mention "Gin and Bitters" and "Gin and Pine").

This one is from a 1934 edition of "Harry Johnson's 1882 New and Improved Bartender's Manual and a Guide for Hotels and Restaurants":

Gin and Wormwood: (Use a small bar glass.) Take six to eight sprigs of wormwood, put these in a quart bottle and fill up with Holland gin; leave this stand for a few days, until the essence of the wormwood is extracted into the gin. In handing out this, pour a little of the above into a small whiskey glass and hand it with the bottle of gin to the customer to help himself. This drink is popular in the eastern part of the country, where the wormwood is used as a substitute for bitters.

Anyway, I'm guessing these beverages were intended more as medicinal or tonic beverages, rather than recreational, but to me these infusions and the method of serving get closer to the roots of the "Cock-tail" than probably the monastic elixirs.


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Anyway, I'm guessing these beverages were intended more as medicinal or tonic beverages, rather than recreational, but to me these infusions and the method of serving get closer to the roots of the "Cock-tail" than probably the monastic elixirs.

What I'd like to dream is that all bartenders at that time were kindly supposed to be the doctors of life...Thanks to the monks, a few dashes of bitters in booze or on a sugar cube could do miracles... :rolleyes: Cock-Tail!

To spice things up, may be the monks were a bit naughtier than we thought. I have to check if they were allowed to drink alcohol, but anyway, booze weren't very far away because they needed neutral alcohol to create the elixirs of life.

May be the naughty boys were playing with a local cognac and they started to mix herbs or something like that... Or may be even much better:

Lets say that they kindly fix themselves a kind of

Monk-Ey Sazerac.

Large measure of brandy

1 sugar cube soaked with Chartreuse Elixir Vegetal

Crushed the sugar and stir the drink till the sugar is dissolved

Optional: Ice

To be honest, I don't know what the true is.

But I'd like to believe that the monks were making drinks...

Mick


Cheers

www.BarNowOn.com

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Anyway, I'm guessing these beverages were intended more as medicinal or tonic beverages, rather than recreational, but to me these infusions and the method of serving get closer to the roots of the "Cock-tail" than probably the monastic elixirs.

What I'd like to dream is that all bartenders at that time were kindly supposed to be the doctors of life...Thanks to the monks, a few dashes of bitters in booze or on a sugar cube could do miracles... :rolleyes: Cock-Tail!

To spice things up, may be the monks were a bit naughtier than we thought. I have to check if they were allowed to drink alcohol, but anyway, booze weren't very far away because they needed neutral alcohol to create the elixirs of life.

May be the naughty boys were playing with a local cognac and they started to mix herbs or something like that... Or may be even much better:

Lets say that they kindly fix themselves a kind of

Monk-Ey Sazerac.

Large measure of brandy

1 sugar cube soaked with Chartreuse Elixir Vegetal

Crushed the sugar and stir the drink till the sugar is dissolved

Optional: Ice

To be honest, I don't know what the true is.

But I'd like to believe that the monks were making drinks...

Mick

Monks were (and still are) certainly drinking alchohol, at the very least they needed wine for the Mass, but from everything I have ever read of Medieval drinking habits, they would have had wine, spirits, and liqueurs that they had made, taken mostly for medicinal purposes (and of course beer). My understanding is that mixing things on the fly, ie to be consumed in the short term instead of bottled like a liqueur, was more the realm of aristocrats and such with their punch bowls (or secular apothecaries).


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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The Fee Brothers peach are...okay. I agree that they're a bit sweet and not all that bitter or nuanced.

Yep. I agree completely. I really like the idea of the Peach Bitters, and I use it here at Liberty in a number of cobblers and such - but the taste is rather - to steal the word - nuanced for most drinks to really create the effect. I am surprised that it's not more of a pronounced bitter. That said - it's a product worth getting.

We're making our own bitters, a cranberry/orange/rosehips, and an absinth/vanilla bitters. Next will be a solid lemon bitters which will have many uses.

This thread is amazing. Really. So much incredible information, and I have to applaud all the contributors - this is easily the most complete information in the world as far as I know concerning bitters. It's been a pleasure reading through the info.


Liberty Bar - Scratch Drinks, Ridiculous Liquor Selection

Blog: Alcohology

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