04.02.10 by Shirley
Bar Party 101: Bitters
School yourself in the art of blending science with your sideboard, courtesy of the cocktail masters at Bittercube. Part 2 of 5 in the mixology series.
Our mixology mentors, Partners Nicholas Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz of Bittercube, turned textbook schooling on its head in the second part of our bar party series.
we like to think of bitters as “cocktail seasoning” — is that a view we should embrace or change?
Nick and Ira: We’ve never used those words exactly, but is not a bad way to explain them. We’d hate to compare our bitters to Emeril’s Essence, but basically that’s what they are — Essence of Bittercube — a blend of ingredients designed to add flavor, aroma and depth to a cocktail. Like seasoning, bitters are often used as a component in the making of a cocktail as well as a garnish.
what are bitters?
Since many bitters recipes are held quite close to the hip we can really only share what they are to us. Many bitters makers use extracts, oils and flavorings of ingredients that can speed up the production process. We prefer to use all-natural ingredients and time. Even if we’re using extracts or tinctures, we’re usually making them ourselves. Basically, Bittercube Bitters are an amalgamation of seeds, herbs, barks, roots, flowers, leaves and fruits or vegetables combined together in high-proof spirits.
We often explain them by first explaining what a tincture is and then talk about combining a multitude of them. Plants generally share similar components like roots, bark, seeds, fruit, flowers, leaves, etc. When we make bitters, we try to make a Frankenstein plant-like organism by using oranges, gentian roots, cherry bark and lavender or other flowers from all different plant sources. We’ve already said too much!
how are they used in cocktail mixing?
Bitters are used in cocktails vary sparingly due to their concentrated flavors. In fact, we think bitters need the cocktail just as much as the cocktail needs the bitters. When diluted, their true flavors are exposed. A great experiment would be to take 8 ounces of water and divide it in two 4-ounce glasses. Add 2 dashes of bitters to one glass and not the other and notice the flavor nuances. If you just dash the bitters in your mouth you’re not going to pick up as much because they’re bitter. Bittercube sells ours in eye dropper bottles because we believe the dropper method to be more accurate than the dasher. A dash is a different amount at the beginning and end of a bottle of bitters, but a drop is always a drop. We think this is important because just as much as it can enhance a drink, too much of a good thing can ruin a drink by making it too bitter.
In some cocktails we’ll use one type of bitters and then garnish with a different type. Having a dropper bottle is imperative to garnishing with bitters.
Put all your bitters in dropper bottles, even Angostura and Peychaud’s. Gently lace a few drops of bitters on top of a cocktail for garnish.
One thing to note is that there are classic and neo-classic recipes that call for bitters in larger quantities, upward of 2 ounces in some cases. Take the Angostura Fizz for instance, a cocktail built around the flavors of Angostura itself.
can bitters be created at home?
Yes they can, but like we’ve said before, recipes for bitters are generally a tightly guarded secret. For instance, only five people in the world know the recipe for Angostura Bitters. When one of those five dies, the four elect a new member and reveal the secrets. We aren’t going to pass along the recipe to our Blackstrap or Bolivar Bitters, which you can buy from us [by email] but we are more than happy to share a recipe for a basic batch of aromatic bitters. Each one of our bitters have flavor profiles that work with certain spirits more than others. For example the Jamaican Bitters are rooted in high-proof rum and Caribbean flavors therefore they work great in rum-based cocktails. The Cherry Bark Vanilla Bean Bitters are based around rye and bourbon, therefore they do wonders for a bourbon cocktail, like a Manhattan.
would every cocktail benefit from the addition of bitters?
We’re not saying every cocktail needs bitters, certainly there are some that are great without bitters, but look back to the original cocktail, published in 1806. It was said to be “a mixture of spirits, sugar, bitters and water, a type of bittered sling.” The first true “cocktail” had a requirement for bitters. Put a dash of our Orange Bitters in a light beer and see what happens.
what types of bitters are you currently making?
Currently Bittercube has six types of bitters: Orange, Cherry Bark Vanilla Bean, Jamaican, Blackstrap, Blood Orange, and Bolivar. We are working on a few more for the summer months.
Bittercube Basic Bitters Recipe
- 2 cups 100 proof bourbon
- 2 cups neutral grain spirits
- 3 teaspoons cardamom pods
- 2 teaspoons coriander
- 3 teaspoons caraway
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon whole clove
- 1 whole nutmeg, crushed
- 1 star anise pod
- Peel of 1 each: lemon, orange, and lime
- Combine all ingredients in a large glass jar with a sealable lid and shake vigorously everyday for 3 weeks.
- Strain the liquid through cheesecloth and squeeze as much liquid out of the mesh as possible.
- Add 1 cup simple syrup to bitters and shake vigorously everyday for 1 week.
- Strain through a cheesecloth one more time and then let any sediment settle before transferring into smaller jars.
- Enjoy and impress friends.
The Fall of Temperance
- 1 1/2 ounces Appleton White Rum
- 1/2 ounce Cruzan Blackstrap Rum
- 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
- Fat 3/4 ounce simple syrup
- 5 drops Bittercube Jamaican Bitters
- Garnish with 5 drops Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters
- Combine first five ingredients in a pint glass, top with ice and shake vigorously. Strain with a tea strainer into a coupe and garnish with five drops of Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters dispersed evenly over the cocktail.
Try this recipe without the bitters and then with to see what it does to the cocktail.
- 2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon
- 1 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
- Garnish with Griottine cherry
- Stir with ice and strain into coupe. Garnish.
- Or try this experiment with a Perfect Manhattan: 1/2 ounce Carpano and 1/2 Noilly Prat dry vermouth and 1 dash each of Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. Garnish with a lemon disc or peel.