Photo: Jonathan Kamouris
My piece on cocktail bitters for Out magazine is up at Out.com here with lots of killer recipes from some of my favorite ace bartenders, most of whom we've featured here on Embury before. My original intro for the piece was a bit too long and the bits about the history of bitters were cut for space. Below is the original draft of the piece, but do head over to Out.com for lots of bitters extras, including 9 recipes in which bitters play an integral part.
Along with the global rebirth and reinvention of the craft cocktail over the past twenty years, revivals of classic cocktail bitters and a host of new bitters are amplifying layer to this drinking revolution, one that fuses historical arts with cuisine sophistication. Bitters can add a crucial additional layer, or layers, to a flavor profile of a drink without significantly altering it’s basic make-up, transforming it from flat to dynamic, from plain to bewitchingly complex and lively with just a few dashes; they are a highly effective flavor delivery system. They're often called the salt and pepper of cocktailing, but they can be even more: an incredibly well-stocked spice rack for the bar.
Bitters, essentially, are complex blends of roots and herbs mascerated in high proof spirits and then filtered, leaving a sediment-free (generally) dark distillate, rich with vegetal and herbal flavors and aromas.Their origins date back as the 1600s, when hundreds of varieties of bitters were made and used across Europe as very old school DIY homeopathic remedies, employing the epoch’s profound understanding of roots’ and herbs’ medicinal qualities. They first crossed over from the medicinal to the recreational around 1806, when some clever fellow, in a brilliant bit of re-purposing, realized that the intense flavors of bitters could not only mask the flavor of dubious-tasting spirits, but could make something quite new and delicious, with the addition of just a few dashes of the flavor-rich potions. The earliest definition of a cocktail from 1806 actually describes a combination of spirits, water, sugar and bitters. Over the centuries bitters have ebbed and flowed in cocktailing, falling to the wayside after Prohibition. For decades the old reliable Angostura Bitters were about the only kind you could find, but a new wave of inventive and surprising artisanal bitters are afoot, both commercially and privately, as a wave of mad scientist-style creativity taking place in bartenders’ kitchens and garages across the world. J.R.
And here are a couple videos featuring 2 of the 9 recipes in the article.