Bitters

IF THE BITTER CUP CANNOT BE PASSED, DRINK IT AND BE STRONG

Jeffrey R. Holland

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November has arrived and we need a little restart here on the blog.  September and October were surprisingly busy and I am trying like heck to keep up with my life.  I am also noticing that a different sort of drink is calling my name these days.  As the leaves turn and fall off the trees, one of the warm-ups I relish is a lovely, mixed cocktail.  This is a bit of a departure for me, as in the past I would have called myself a wine or beer drinker, but last winter I discovered rye whiskey and a fabulous cocktail from Zig Zag Cafe, called a Blessed Event.  And it is just that… I was inspired to look at this drink a bit more closely and try to recreate it at home.

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Over the last twenty years, both wineries and breweries experienced a surge in popularity and now it appears to be the distillery’s turn for a time in the spotlight.  Distilleries are popping up all over the Pacific Northwest, as well as a revival of prohibition-style speakeasy bars, specializing in the “craft cocktail”.  As we enter the season for entertaining, I recommend adding classic cocktails to your party menus.  A well-stocked bar is easy to pull together, as long as you have a few ideas of what cocktails you are ready to make for your thirsty guests!

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Bitters are an ingredient in many of these classic cocktails that I had never spent much time thinking about, but they are an intriguing element to be sure.  With only a dash or two, bitters can transform your craft cocktail, adding warmth, complexity, and dimension.  For a full description of bitters, head over to The Kitchn for their conversation on All About Bitters.  Last winter it came to my attention that it is possible to make bitters.  My curiosity was immediately piqued and I tried it.  Over the course of a couple of weeks, I made my own bitters using wonderfully aromatic ingredients like orange peel, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and cloves.  Although I made this during the summer months, I kept thinking how perfect it would be come autumn.  (Scroll down to see the recipe for orange bitters and the accompanying photos).  But, if a cocktail is what you seek, we’ll start there…

As I mentioned above, this fall has been a crazy one.  We have been getting used to the schedule of kindergarten, and this has been admittedly tougher than I thought it would be.  I’d like to raise a glass to the fact that we are two months into this new elementary school gig and all members of the Poole household are here to tell about it.  Sometimes it is just important to celebrate the fact that you are surviving.  So, without further ado… three “bitter” cocktails that you can raise your respective glass to:   

Part 1: Cocktail Recipes

1)  The Classic Manhatten

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This classic cocktail was my grandmother’s favorite.  Listing it here is a nod to her and how eminently hip she was.

1 3/4 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon

2/3 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica formula is my favorite)

dash of bitters (homemade orange bitters, recipe below, was used)

maraschino cherry or twist of lemon (my grandmother always drank hers, “Up with a twist.”)

2)  Blessed Event

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As I mentioned above, this is my current fave.  The renowned bartender, Erik Hakinen, at Zig Zag Cafe is credited with its creation, as a twist on the classic Boulevardier.

1 ounce rye whiskey

3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica formula)

3/4 ounce Campari

1/2 ounce lemon juice

3)  Soda with Bitters

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I loved the article written about the refreshing nature of this simple beverage found here on The Kitchn.  Bitters are known to have a medicinal quality and they add a light and refreshing, yet complex addition to a glass of soda.

Dash or two of bitters (Peychaud’s brand preferred)

Soda water

Wedge of lemon or orange

Cheers!

Part 2:  Making Orange Bitters

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Orange Bitters

  • 2 oranges 
  • 1 bottle (750 ml.) Everclear* (grain alcohol)
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (each 2 1/2 in.)
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 cup sugar 

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 250°. Remove zest from oranges with a vegetable peeler and put zest on a baking sheet (save fruit for another use). Bake until zest dries, starts to curl up, and begins to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool.
  2. Put all ingredients except sugar in a 1-qt. glass jar and seal tightly. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks.
  3. Strain liquid through cheesecloth into a 1 1/2- to 2-qt. glass jar (save spice flavorings) and set aside. Put flavorings in a small saucepan with 2 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Cook sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, lifting and shaking pan occasionally, until sugar caramelizes and turns deep amber, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour caramel into liquid in pan (it will bubble furiously and may firm up). If needed, return pan to medium heat and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until caramel melts again.
  5. Set pan in a bowl of ice water until liquid is cold, about 10 minutes. Pour into jar with first infusion. Seal and let stand in a dark place 5 days.
  6. Strain final mixture through cheesecloth into a glass measuring cup and discard flavorings. Divide bitters into small jars and seal tightly.
  7. Make ahead: Up to 1 year, chilled.
  8. Bottle it: 7.5-in. clear glass bottles
I am so excited to have tried this DIY recipe.  It turned out beautifully and some of you will be receiving it this winter for Christmas.  Now, you will, potentially, know what to do with it!!

Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Bitters

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