Wednesday, July 10, 2013
I was pleasantly surprised recently when my friend Ricky called me from the Finger Lakes in NY. While visiting a local distillery he stumbled upon a vast array of Fee Brothers bitters and called to see if I wanted him to pick me up any. I decided to have him get me a few bottles (pictured above). Needless to say I was quite excited. I'm always on the lookout for interesting bitters, which seem to be (extremely) hard to find in the local stores here in PA. As a cocktail aficionado I've come to appreciate bitters. There is always a bottle of Stirrings Blood Orange bitters in the fridge for making Stoli Orhanj martinis, as well as some Peychaud's.
I'm sure there is a bottle of Angostura, which is the most commonly found brand, around here also.
Bitters are basically alcohol strongly infused with herbs, roots, bark - basically it seems just about anything. They have a very strong flavor, which is why they are used in very small amounts, usually just a few dashes, when making a cocktail. Originally concocted for medicinal purposes, they eventually became a staple of mixology and many famous cocktail recipes specify certain types of bitters.
Here is a very brief article on the history of bitters - http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/food/2012/03/history-of-cocktail-bitters/
So what exactly do bitters do? It's kind of hard to describe. They don't really change a cocktail in any major way. They sort of give a little extra sumpin sumpin, a little oomph. I like to think of it as adding some depth to a drink. Not very clear? Well like I said, it's hard to describe but something you subtly realize as you are drinking a well made cocktail.
I already had ideas of how I would use these bitters. The lemon bitters I intended to use in a straight up Stoli martini. Needless to say it proved an excellent addition. Bitters will stand out more in a simple drink made with a neutral spirit like a vodka martini, which won't have other strong flavors. I figured the celery bitters would make a nice addition to a Bloody Mary. However, with all the strong flavors in a good Bloody I feel the bitters got lost and didn't really add any significant. I'll keep experimenting with the celery bitters in some simpler concoctions. The dark chocolate bitters I added to a White Chocolate Russian, which was made with 360 Double Chocolate vodka, almond coconut milk. I really think the bitters added something. Really took a little edge off the creaminess.
I'm not quite sure what to do with the rhubarb bitters. I made a Stoli martini with them to get a feel for the flavor. While quite nice, it's not a martini bitters. I'll have to give that one some thought on how to properly use them.
So, if you enjoy mixing a cocktail at home and don't have any bitters go grab yourself a bottle next time your shopping. Start with a bottle of Angostura, the original, and add it you mixology. Get a feel for it and what it will do to your drinks and then move on to other types and keep experimenting. Your cocktails will improve in surprising and subtle ways.
Posted by G