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All About Bitters (Part 1)

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I wonder about this myself...Angostura Bitters, for example, are far from clear. To what degree is filtration desireable here?

I think the big culprit in making the bitters look unpalatable was the powdered benzoin resin. I know others have found a more resinous version -- what have you managed to find?

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I wonder about this myself...Angostura Bitters, for example, are far from clear. To what degree is filtration desireable here?

I think the big culprit in making the bitters look unpalatable was the powdered benzoin resin. I know others have found a more resinous version -- what have you managed to find?

I used a liquid resin that came in little jars labelled "Benzoin, Siam Liquid (styrax tonkinensis)" Came from somaluna.com. It's a medium-dark brown with almost a faint blue tint to it, fairly viscous but not nearly so much as the gum syrup I made recently. This may be entirely meaningless, but I would say about twice as viscous as a 2:1 simple syrup.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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I don't think I've actually ordered from here but I remember being equally confused whole looking at it. The link at the top labelled "Online Ordering" brings up the links on the side to categories but the relevant info is easy to miss even though it's right there in front of you (because everyone is looking for the categories). "All Oils are priced at 1/2 fluid ounce, Herbs are priced at 1 ounce each, and Tinctures are 1 fluid ounce."

Haha. Thanks. It really is right there.

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After fifteen days of soak, today I was able to go to the next step with my Abbott's and was somewhat surprised to only extract about 5 cups of liquid from the 8 cups of booze that went into the jar. The dried spices used, I would imagine, accounted for a lot of that. I'm somewhat curious if cooking the solids with water is going to extract any of the alcohol from the cloves and such. I guess the heat involved would cause most the alcohols present to boil away?

So I have no scientific way to measure the proof of my finished product, only arithmetic, assuming the the liquid came out at the same proof that it went in (120). My tiny bottle of old Abbott's indicates a proof of 100, but a smaller sample bottle apparently of a later formulation states 90. Modern Angostura is 90, Peychaud's is 70, as is Regans. Most aromatic bitters lower in proof than that are not generally highly regarded products. I'm kind of interested in any opinions others might have... lower proof would of course yield more bitters but a higher proof would theoretically result in more concentrated and intense flavors. Thoughts?

Edit for update: The more I thought about this the closer I came to settling on 90 proof and then whaddya know the amount of water that resulted from cooking solids came out to pretty much spot on to do that very thing. Proceeding to the next step now.


Edited by thirtyoneknots (log)

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Ok one more update on the finished product. The jar yielded 5 cups of (presumably) 120 proof infused rye/everclear mix. Once this was straiend off the solids I put the spices in a huge 5 qt skillet with 5 cups water and did a relatively brisk simmer for 35 minutes. This yielded about 11 1/3 oz of water once strained again. I then melted 1 cup of white sugar (Imperial Sugar, from my hometown of course) and once it was nice and brown I added the water to the still-hot melted liquid (unfortunately pressed for time by this stage but it doesn't seem to have hurt anything). Once this had cooled sufficently I measured it again and found 1 2/3 cups of liquid, remarkably the exact amount of nonalcoholic liquid to add to 40 oz of 120 proof to result in a 90 proof finished product. I then added this to the infused booze and then to come up to a nice round 55 oz I put in 3/4 oz each of WT 101 rye and Old Overholt.

If the math is right and nothing changed drastically along the way then I now have 55 oz of a mighty tasty Abbott's replica at 90 proof with about 1/2" of deposit in the bottom. At some point I'll try to filter this out and add some oak chips to simulate the barrel aging but I'm actually pleased as punch at what I've got going on right now. I tasted it several times along the way, even stopping to draw some of the undiluted liquor for an old fashioned (with Old Grand-dad BIB for the courious) and the addition of water and burnt sugar did wonders for the complexity and overall balance of the bitters. Really quite remarkable; the old-fashioned was nice but the bitters seemed awfully subtle in it*...they are now clearly much more balanced and complex-tasting, and this even without the benefit of oak chips or even time in the jar to integrate. I have to say I'm pleased with my investment!

*In fairness, I've rarely seen Abbott's recommended for Old-Fashioneds, mostly for Manhattans, Champagne Cocktails, Martinezes, etc. Interestingly these all have a wine component...coincidence?


Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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What's the rationale behind diluting the bitters down to 90 proof? Why not leave it at, say, 150 proof?


--

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I like mine at 80 proof so you get more botanical smell less booze smell.

Toby


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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What's the rationale behind diluting the bitters down to 90 proof?  Why not leave it at, say, 150 proof?

At 120 proof the heat overpowered the nuance...they were not a constructive addition to cocktails the 2-3 times I tried them in tests along the way. The water from the cooking process added another dimension and helped round out the flavors. It also had a different character and "shape" if you will than the spirits infused with the exact same material. Adding the water helped smooth out the flavors in an immidiate and extreme way. The burnt sugars added to the bitters also helped make those flavors "pop" more without adding any perceptable sweetness to the bitters themselves. And all this verbage boils down to the same thing that Toby said...so yeah.

Those are the actual effects dilution had, but as far as my rationale behind it...for one I've never seen a bitters recipe that did not call for dilution (at least not one I can recall offhand). Also no commercial cocktail bitters of which I am aware clocked in any higher than 100 proof. When the hobbyist or craft bartender makes his own bitters one can write off the dilution as an economic expedient, to stretch the return on investment by adding a free ingredient to an expensive one. When a commercial operation who is buying untaxed industrial alcohol by the tank car full is shipping out their bitters, which are legally a food additive (no tax), with a proof that moderate I figure their must be a reason. If higher proof in cocktail bitters (or baking extracts, etc) yielded a superior result one would think that someone out there would be doing it. Not a foolproof reasoning but it was good enough for me, which the aforementioned results confirmed as a sound decision. The fact that the amounts worked out so perfectly was a nice bonus as well.

I refrained from any further test runs today but tomorrow some sort of Martinez or Manhattan type thing is in order. Stay tuned. As a comparison I'll probably try out another Old Fashioned identical to the one I made this afternoon as well.


Edited by thirtyoneknots (log)

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Andy, I would actually think that diluting the alcohol down is much more an economic expedient for the commercial producer than the home hobbyist. When one is speaking of real dollars, two tanks of industrial alcohol costs twice as much as one tank. I think it is also the case that products like, say, Angostura bitters are made at an incredibly concentrated strength (this way they don't have to use as many tanks to make it, again reducing cost) and then diluted down to a more reasonable intensity for use.

I get that 80 or 90 proof bitters may give you "more botanical smell less booze smell" coming out of the bitters bottle. I'm more wondering whether this is true once you have dashed that bitters into three ounces of booze and modifier that will all end up at around 72 proof or less once it's diluted by ice.


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I'd be interested to hear what others who have developed commercial bitters think about this. I've noticed the effect Sam describes with the tinctures I have: very alcoholic out of the jar/bottle but the boozy nose dissipates in the glass.


Chris Amirault

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If one could somehow get a flavorful base at high enough proof that even with some dilution and moderate sweetening it would still be over 100...well I'd like to try it but I'm not sure I'd go about making it myself that way. Angostura is the greatest bitters out there, in my opinion, and these Abbott's that I made have similar concentration if not quite as much depth. Before the finishing stages this was not the case: the intensity was good but had to compete with the heat and the depth was nonexistent. I wouldn't be surprised if the cooking of solids to get more water soluble compounds out isn't partly responsible for that. This afternoon I'll do a slightly more scientific test by making another OF identical to the one yesterday with the finished product.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Angostura is the greatest bitters out there, in my opinion, and these Abbott's that I made have similar concentration if not quite as much depth.

I agree. The more I fiddle around with these at home, the more I am convinced I'll never touch the level of the Angostura bitters.


Chris Amirault

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Angostura is the greatest bitters out there, in my opinion, and these Abbott's that I made have similar concentration if not quite as much depth.

I agree. The more I fiddle around with these at home, the more I am convinced I'll never touch the level of the Angostura bitters.

Yeah I wonder if it has to do with more than one bittering agent or something...they are so layered and multidimensional.


Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Seriously, how do they get that depth and character with Angostura? I just finished a batch of Fennel Blood Orange bitters, my best bitters to date but, still lacking the layering of flavors that is Angostura. Pretty frustrating.

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This afternoon I'll do a slightly more scientific test by making another OF identical to the one yesterday with the finished product.

Ok I still can't explain why but I will now categorically state that the lower proof "finished" bitters perform worlds better in a cocktail, or at least in an Old Fashioned made with Old Grand-dad BIB. I had to hunt yesterday for the character of the bitters, only getting some clove and ginger spice once the ice had melted quite a bit. Today it is right up front providing the beautiful base accents and balances that one expects from an aromatic bitters. If anyone ever come up with an explanation as to why this happens I'm all ears but personally I need no further proof that it is a necessary part of the process.

Really stoked about how these came out.


Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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So, the difference between the two batches you tried was that the second (better) batch had been reduced in proof by the addition of water in which you had boiled the solids? Am I getting this right?

I just wonder what it might be like if, for example, you had done the initial infusions in (Brita filtered?) grain alcohol and then, once you had boiled the solids in water, if you had reduced that water down until it was, say, only 25% of the volume and then you would end up with 150 proof bitters that should have all the same flavor compounds, but wouldn't louche, etc. Another potential advantage to keeping the bitters at high proof would be that you could incorporate "green" flavors from fresh herbs without worrying about those colors and flavors browning. I have a friend who infused a green herb into solutions with different concentrations of alcohol, and found that the infusion into high proof grain alcohol stayed green over time while the 100 proof and 80 proof samples browned. So, potentially, you could make a high proof bitters flavored with fresh marjoram, fresh lovage and fresh lemon verbena that would be a brilliant green and stay fresh.


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So, the difference between the two batches you tried was that the second (better) batch had been reduced in proof by the addition of water in which you had boiled the solids?  Am I getting this right?

Yes, some caramelized sugar was added as well. I should add that the 'batches' are actually the same liquid, tested at different periods during the process.

Upthread, Avery Glasser cautions against infusing in proofs over about 150 to prevent overextraction. Similarly, he suggests that proofs under 100 will give insufficient extraction. This was my basis for boosting the proof of the Wild Turkey Rye base with 190 proof grain spirits, basically making a high proof (~120) blended whiskey. What I'm actually quite curious about is how much the rye base is contributing to the finished flavor. It seems like it should be but there is so much going on...next time I am likely to go with neutral spirits and see how it comes out. Would be cheaper that way at any rate.

Your point about fresh herbs into the mix is an interesting one, especially as most of the recipes circulating call for dried herbs and spices. Apart from maybe citrus peel or of course ginger has anyone tried making any bitters with fresh ingredients? Where would one even get something like fresh cloves?


Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Hello there.

I can see that one day you guys will be close to find the secret recipe of Angostura. can't wait :biggrin:

Please, I'd like to know how you taste your bitters?

It's quite complicated: No nose, clearly strange taste...what process do you use to make your mind.

Merci

Mick


Cheers

www.BarNowOn.com

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Not sure what you mean. I get lots of nose on mine -- part of the point, after all! -- and if you take a few drops and rub them in your hands, you'll bring out the aroma.

I dribble a bit into soda water usually myself.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Not sure what you mean. I dribble a bit into soda water usually myself.

Sorry If I'm confusing.

You already gave me an anser: you use it with soda & rub some in your hands.

For the nose, it's not always blackout, but it depends a lot of which catergory of bitters.

The Aromatic Bitters for example (opposed to the fruit bitters) doesn't have that much nose (room temperature), not much taste (if you want it diluted with water), but they still do miracles in cocktails.

So I was just curious to know how you taste your bitters when you are making them?

cheers


Cheers

www.BarNowOn.com

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Not sure what you mean. I dribble a bit into soda water usually myself.

Sorry If I'm confusing.

You already gave me an anser: you use it with soda & rub some in your hands.

For the nose, it's not always blackout, but it depends a lot of which catergory of bitters.

The Aromatic Bitters for example (opposed to the fruit bitters) doesn't have that much nose (room temperature), not much taste (if you want it diluted with water), but they still do miracles in cocktails.

So I was just curious to know how you taste your bitters when you are making them?

cheers

I did several different ways, includingthe aforementioned soda mix (sometimes slightly sweetened), rub, and straight...Simple cocktails like a Champagne Cocktail or Old Fashioned with a whiskey you are familiar with can be a good way to investigate as well.

As far as lack of nose or taste...we must have different recipes of Angostura bitters.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Most aromatic bitters are, well frankly... ALL nose. They are called aromatic for a reason, especially with a fine,strong spiritus backbone. I occasionally do a smell sampling of different bitters as an introduction to bitters for guests at work.

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As far as lack of nose or taste...we must have different recipes of Angostura bitters.

My confusion exactly.

Perso, I can go more into details if you need, but I've been working out on how to make people taste & understand Angostura in quick & simple 4 Steps:

1/ Try it over a sugar cube, like if it would be a medicine (as it was, and still is). Just suck it, ventilate the sugar and don't eat it!

That way, you will get the taste. But you've got only 5 senses in your month, that won't help that much to de-confuse you.

2/ I also prepare a kind of syrup: 1 part Angostura / 1 part water / 1.5 part caster sugar. It helps me to be quicker at my OF(s), but it also gives me an incredible control of the horrible dash. It helps a lot if you want to compare or know what happened in a cocktail.

3/ After I flame it in a Boston Glass or in a tin (it's hot!). so i can get all my nose working.

Cloves will be my No1, after work it out, but there is a lot than opens up, surely much more than at room temperature. It's like a barbecue, I use an atomizer, I pump & then I flame (

)

The smell is incredible (Vin Chaud - Christmas ...)

4/ Before I'd finish, I fix myself a quick Trinidad Especial ; 30 Angostura / 30 Orgeat / 20 Lemon J / 10 Brandy (grape) . I share a shaker with my mates, and that'll fix my stomach for the night.

Let me know if it helps, or if you've got any tips.

Cheers


Cheers

www.BarNowOn.com

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I was doing some searching about Suze (my daughter sent me a bottle from France) and ran across this interesting blog entry by Elliot Essman, a self proclaimed "bitterhead" with a "bitter tooth," titled "Bitter is Still Better." It is a nice wide-ranging discussion of bitters that might be of interest to those interested in cocktails. Check it out: http://www.stylegourmet.com/wine/art021.htm

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