22 Oct Bitter Obsession
Our obsession with bitters started in 2010 when the barmen and I got together on our cocktail bar concept and the idea of creating as much as possible from our own hands. Bitters are a major component in several of our favorite classics like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Sazerac cocktails so we knew we’d have to make our own blends.
Bitters are a high proof infusion of roots, botanicals, fruits or seeds originally used for their medicinal value. Taken on their own as a health tonic, bitters can be tough on the drinker, because of the intensely bitter taste. Added to water, however, or better yet to your morning cocktail, and BAM! I’m feeling better already!
Bitters ran strong through the golden age of the cocktail. During the late 1800’s, there wasn’t a bar anywhere that didn’t have bitters on the back bar for one drink or another. Even throughout the temperance movement, bitters still had a “medicinal” presence. Bitters went out of style, as did the cocktail, for a few decades.
With the resurgence of the classics and a handcrafted approach to the bar, bitters have come back stronger than ever with several new manufacturers in the market place. One such company is Bittercube, started by Nicholas Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz out of Milwaukee, WI in 2009. I had the pleasure of meeting Nick and Ira in New Orleans during the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail, where I took their bitters making course. My team’s East India spiced bitters turned out fantastic and we have a bottle behind the bar; ask for a sample next time you’re in.
Given our glorious age of the internet, finding base recipes to start out with was not a problem. I messed around with several recipes, including aromatic, orange, cherry and celery. First batches were hit or miss, and nothing I would put in a drink to sell. Then I discovered Brad T. Parsons’ book “Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All” (2011). This helped to clarify ingredients, the role each would play and how much to get various end results. The book is a must-read for cocktail enthusiasts, not only for bitters recipes but for an overall history of cocktail culture.
Several batches later and many months of trial and error later, the final results were fantastic. We bottled a dozen or so recipes, everything from root beer, Jerry Thomas’ original, lime, blood orange, mole and wormwood to various aromatic blends.
These days everyone in town is making Old Fashioned and Manhattan cocktails, but we believe our cocktails taste the best because we use our own bitters. At the end of the day, the biggest difference in taste and balance of a cocktail can come from just the smallest drop of bitters. Try some today, making you part of an age old tradition. Happy Tippling!