A Bitter Obsession

I am obsessed about bitters. If there’s one spirit that I have to have in my personal bar other than whiskey,  it would be bitters.  I first came to love bitters when I had a bad case of hiccups.  My friend splashed Angostura bitters on a lemon wedge and that was the end of the hiccups.  The taste had an unusual, herbal bite.  I enjoyed that sensation of stimulating my saliva glands.  Now, the medicinal elixir-cure-all is a part of my dining out routine.  Some of my favorite bitters are…

Campari, an Italian aperitif, is an infusion of herbs and fruit.  Historically,  the distinctive bright red color was produced from crushed cochineal insects which carmine dye is derived.  I prefer to sip my Campari neat and after dinner.  It helps  ease digestion after a full meal.  Most fine dining restaurants will have Campari available.

Bonal, a French aperitif, is ‘an infusion of gentian, cinchona (quinine) and renown herbs of the Grand Chartreuse mountains in a Mistelle base.’  I prefer mixing Bonal with a rye whiskey.  It’s a classic cocktail that is making a come back with the rise of mixologists behind the bar.

Amaro,  an Italian digestif or after dinner drink, is a maceration of herbs, roots, bark, flowers, and citrus peels in alcohol.  The maceration is normally aged in casks to soften out the flavor.  I prefer to sip an amaro neat as well.  There are many producers of amaro and one of my favorites is Zucca.

Peychauds, originally an apothecaric tonic made famous in New Orleans, is now produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.  Bitters are a key ingredient to the Sazerac  and Old Fashion cocktails.  Another famous and one of the oldest surviving producers of aromatic bitters is Angostura.  At one point Angostura ran into a shortage NOT because of the ingredients.  There was shortage on BOTTLES.  The worldwide shortage led to rationing and hoarding.  Problem solved, they found a new supplier and Angostura is back on track.

Cocktail Bitters, like Peychauds but with flavoring ingredients suitable for pairing with clear or brown spirits, enhance drinks with a simple dash.  For example The Bitter Truth, from Germany, has a Xocolatl Mole Bitter or Chocolate Bitters to spice up the flavor of an aged rum or reposado tequila.  The citrus bitters like lemon and grapefruit pair well with a clear spirits such as vodka, gin, and silver tequila.

September is Bourbon Heritage month.  PREP! September will creating the classic cocktails using bitters.

Category : Blog &Spirits Posted on September 7, 2011

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