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All About Bitters (Part 1)

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The biggest thing stopping me from making my own bitters is the intimidating ingredient list, but I'm inspired by what appears to be an upsurge in homemade bitters at high-end cocktail bars. For those of you who have made your own, where have you been ordering the various barks, flowers, etc.? I wanted to have a go at replicating Abbott's Bitters.

Hey there, Chris.

I'd suggest Tenzing MomoTenzin Momo from here in Seattle. They are an outstanding herbilst shop, and besides the fact that they are extremely reasonably priced, they'll ship you all that you need.

They have the gentian root in non-power form and most of the other items described in this discussion.


Liberty Bar - Scratch Drinks, Ridiculous Liquor Selection

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" 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)"

Did anyone try this Trinidad Especial?

Since I've been playing with it, my friends and I came up with the idea that we could serve it as a shot. If someone orders a Trinidad Especial for a group of mate, then we share it in as many shot glasses, and we call it the Pre-Tox Shot.

I'm not a doctor, and definitly don't pretend to be. But we thought that, if Angostura Bitters can mix and adapt in any mix, then it's possible that it can mix in your stomach. Our thoughts took us to try to have a Pre-Tox before "night out drinking". It's like pouring a very large dash of Angostura Bitters straight into your belly, and also that shot taste good. May be Angostura would then act like it does in a Punch, marrying and smoothing all the ingredients together. After, you tell me if the next morning you are not feeling much better.

By the way, Angostura was created at the beginning for stomach disorder.

OK, we know that it is a little bit weird, but so far, with a Pre-Tox, the following mornings have been much much better.

Cheers

Mick


Cheers

www.BarNowOn.com

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I'm trying to get a filtering system for the fall bitters production. The only one I can find on the internet for less than $100 is this one, but I may be searching poorly. Meanwhile, Jamie Boudreau mentions using a Pur filtering system. Has anyone else tried that?

Oh, and if you have old, free whiskey, bourbon, rye, or frankly any other oak barrels lying around, drop me a PM.


Chris Amirault

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I don't really understand exactly what charcoal filters, like the britta and pur systems, remove from solutions, so am not exactly sure if that is what you are looking for.

I think you're really just looking to remove solids of a certain size, not other aromatics and impurities, which is what people typically use charcoal filters for.

So a vacuum and buchner funnel may still your best bet. Or the good old cheesecloth, paper towel, coffee filter progression.

The thing I'm interested in is fining vs. filtering. Maybe with isinglass or other substances.

I know where you can get used wine barrels for $15 or less, but I think the shipping would kill you...


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Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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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.

TVC, any report?


Chris Amirault

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I don't really understand exactly what charcoal filters, like the britta and pur systems, remove from solutions, so am not exactly sure if that is what you are looking for.

. . . . .

Doesn't charcoal trap volatile organics? If that's true (I'm going on memory here, so I could well be wrong), charcoal is the last thing you want to use, isn't it?


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I'm having a hard time finding out what those filters do and don't trap save for a list of "bad things" that don't help with the questions we have here.

So who's got a Buchner funnel system that they like?


Chris Amirault

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I'm having a hard time finding out what those filters do and don't trap save for a list of "bad things" that don't help with the questions we have here.

So who's got a Buchner funnel system that they like?

I have this one. It works well, but I find the 1 liter size constraining at this point. Given I am making liters of bitters for tales of the cocktail, its a bit tedious.

But if you are working with smaller batches you should be fine.


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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Tweaking the Hess House Bitters again:

1 cup brandy

1 cup vokda

30g raisins

15 g ginger (julienne)

6 g dried gentian

2 g cloves

2 g allspice

2 g star anise

7 g green cardamom pods

7 g cinnamon

10 g mahlab

2 g mace

Burnt sugar later.


Chris Amirault

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WRT Büchner funnel filters: The size of your batch is mostly limited by the size of your Erlenmeyer filter flask. Get a large one for large batches. It's also a lot easier to get a vacuum aspirator that you attach to the water faucet than using one of those hand pump things. I imagine it might also be possible to hook the filter flask up to a modified vacuum hose from a FoodSaver-type machine.


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Charcoal filters will remove volatile aromatics. Any home brewing shop that also sells winemaking supplies will have filters that are designed to remove particles with out removing the volatiles. Morebeer.com is one biggie but there are LOTS of stores. The big production filters are pricey but there are also smaller small batch versions. Brita etc. might be a good filter for any water your adding but would strip out a lot of flavor post steep.

Also just saw a new angostura type "aromatic bitters" http://www.pickledveggies.com/products_mixers.html

Anybody try these? I have three different ones now so I didn't get a bottle.

SK

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Also just saw a new angostura type "aromatic bitters" http://www.pickledveggies.com/products_mixers.html

Anybody try these?  I have three different ones now so I didn't get a bottle. 

SK

I don't know about the bitters, but someone at that company should find out what the word "grenadine" actually means.


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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Charcoal filters will remove volatile aromatics.  Any home brewing shop that also sells winemaking supplies will have filters that are designed to remove particles with out removing the volatiles.  Morebeer.com is  one biggie but there are LOTS of stores.  The big production filters are pricey but there are also smaller small batch versions.  Brita etc. might be a good filter for any water your adding but would strip out a lot of flavor post steep.

Also just saw a new angostura type "aromatic bitters" http://www.pickledveggies.com/products_mixers.html

Anybody try these?  I have three different ones now so I didn't get a bottle. 

SK

I have a bottle that I bought in a gas station in Delafield, Wisconsin because I can't see a bottle of bitters without buying it. That's the only place I've ever seen them. They are basically a weaker, less interesting version of Angostura bitters. They're very one dimensional, like bitter cinnamon. I find them too weak too have much effect which might be why they have a gigantic spout at the top. I'll stick with Angostura.


nunc est bibendum...

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Thanks, glad I didn't go for it. I saw them at Legers Liquors in Berkeley. Great place, they carry all the Fee bitters and a just HUGE selection of everything.

SK

Also just saw a new angostura type "aromatic bitters" http://www.pickledveggies.com/products_mixers.html

Anybody try these?  I have three different ones now so I didn't get a bottle. 

SK

I have a bottle that I bought in a gas station in Delafield, Wisconsin because I can't see a bottle of bitters without buying it. That's the only place I've ever seen them. They are basically a weaker, less interesting version of Angostura bitters. They're very one dimensional, like bitter cinnamon. I find them too weak too have much effect which might be why they have a gigantic spout at the top. I'll stick with Angostura.

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Thanks, glad I didn't go for it.  I saw them at Legers Liquors in Berkeley.  Great place, they carry all the Fee bitters and a just HUGE selection of everything.

SK

Also just saw a new angostura type "aromatic bitters" http://www.pickledveggies.com/products_mixers.html

Anybody try these?  I have three different ones now so I didn't get a bottle. 

SK

I have a bottle that I bought in a gas station in Delafield, Wisconsin because I can't see a bottle of bitters without buying it. That's the only place I've ever seen them. They are basically a weaker, less interesting version of Angostura bitters. They're very one dimensional, like bitter cinnamon. I find them too weak too have much effect which might be why they have a gigantic spout at the top. I'll stick with Angostura.

It's funny--I'm living in Wisconsin and I frequently troll liquor stores looking for things I haven't seen elsewhere and I've only ever seen them in that gas station. The liquor store I go to (its actually a Woodman's supermarket liquor store) to get staples (whiskey, gin, vermouth, etc) carries a wide range of their pickled products but not the bitters.

I guess the reasoning is why carry an Angostura knockoff if you can get the real thing?


nunc est bibendum...

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Can someone with more experience than I have talk a bit about the different characters of readily available (mail order is fine) bittering agents? I'm not talking about citrus pith here, btw. I've been using gentian, and reading old receipts I'm not sure how to separate the no-longer-available from the here-and-different.

So what else is there besides gentian? What's it taste like? Do proportions change?


Chris Amirault

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I got some quassia for making a Boker's replica. I'm not sure how descriptive I can be about the taste. It is BITTER, VERY bitter. I actually put a little piece on my tongue -- big mistake. Not nearly as aromatic as gentian, if I recall correctly, and much more potent.

So what else is there besides gentian? What's it taste like? Do proportions change?

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Quassia containes quassin, the most bitter substance in nature. It's 50 times more bitter than quinine.

Speaking of quinine, chinchona is another possibility.

There's also wormwood.

It might be interesting to use the pith of citrus fruits.

Hops is another possibility.

If you to someplacel like Rain Tree Nutrition you can get extracts of potential bittering agents such as artichoke, Baccharis genistelloides and Simarouba amara.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I guess I have two questions. Do these bittering agents lend other flavor components besides "bitter"? And is "bitter" just, well, bitter, a one-note flavor? I mean, "salty" has lots of different components; doesn't "bitter"?


Chris Amirault

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All of these things can be presumed to add unique flavors. Certainly the flavor of quinine (not to mention the flavor of chinchona bark) is different from the flavor of quassin (not to mention the flavor of quassia).


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OK, right. I had been presuming that. I guess I have three questions, or really one main question.

So the question I have is, what are these other flavor qualities for each item? I've tasted lots of quinine and, lately, gentian, so I have a sense of the differences there. But I have no idea about how to make decisions based on flavor combinations involving these other bittering agents.


Chris Amirault

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I'm trying to get a filtering system for the fall bitters production. The only one I can find on the internet for less than $100 is this one, but I may be searching poorly. Meanwhile, Jamie Boudreau mentions using a Pur filtering system. Has anyone else tried that?

Oh, and if you have old, free whiskey, bourbon, rye, or frankly any other oak barrels lying around, drop me a PM.

In his (hilarious) talk at Tales this year during the homemade ingredients panel, Boudreau had some thoughts regarding loss of aromatic materials when straining with a Pur Filter.

First, Boudreau is a believer in making bitters by blending tinctures. He feels this gives you much more control over the end product. This makes sense to me, given the variability of the herbs and spices which go in on the front end.

Second, he claims using a Buchner funnel gave him the worst hand cramps he has had since he was 11. It wasn't a place he wanted to visit again.

Third, in regard loss of aromatics, he said something like, c'mon, even if there is some loss of aromatics when using a charcoal filter, the flavors we are playing with in bitters are so strong, how much does that small loss matter? I'm guessing this is especially true if you are, like him, making bitters by blending tinctures.


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I haven't used eGullet in years, so let's see if this works:

The Pur filter system has enabled me to make my best bitters ever, while cutting down my labour by hours. Not only does it do a fantastic job of filtering the final product without any further sedimentation, but I feel that it better integrates flavours.

Erik mentioned that my system may work because I'm making my bitters by blending individual tinctures, but I don't actually filter my bitters until the batch has been blended to the flavour profile that I'm trying to achieve. In other words, I don't actually use the Pur until my final filtration (at $8/filter with only 5 or so uses in this fashion it wouldn't be economically viable to use the Pur every time). My pre-blended filtrations are quickly done with layers of cheesecloth.

As for those who think that a tiny little carbon water filter is going to strip away all flavour, be aware that every distillery filters before bottling. A lot. Woodford Reserve, for example, puts its whiskey through 40 filters. You can also buy crappy Kangaroo filters (~$30) whose purpose is to make bad booze taste better (I haven't tried it so I don't know if it works), so we know that a carbon filter won't strip much colour or flavour.

So I say give it a shot. It works great for me (I can't imagine doing it any other way now). If you're in San Francisco go to Bourbon & Branch to taste my bitters or if you're in NY go to Death & Co. I think you'll find that they have a TON of flavor and don't have a lot of that "edge" that you can find in some homemade bitters.

I purchased my Pur on sale at Amazon and I think it cost something like $25 including 5 filters. Not a bad deal at all.

Jamie Boudreau

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