Bitters, Old Men

April 4, 2012

I'm sitting in front of an array of bitters.  But not just any bitters, these are remarkably eccentric.  The name of these bitters are oblique- yet they are very expressive of the passion in each little hand labeled bottle.  They go by names like Prickled Pink Bitters, Smoke Gets in Your Bitters, Gangsta Lee'n Bitters, Great in '28 Bitters, Isaan Another Level Bitters, Bunyan Bitters, and many others.  I especially enjoy the restorative Tonic.  This herbal scented liqueur is meant to heal you from the inside out... Perhaps after overindulgence?  I'd think so.  Underberg in Germany does a restorative tonic that is world famous.  I brought a supply to Tales of the Cocktail last year to ward off evil spirits.  I think this one (the Bitters, Old Men) is better.  It tastes hand crafted and my headache is evaporating immediately.

I love the craft of cocktail bitters.  Our industry of cocktails are evolving on a daily basis.  As many of my readers know, I've written about many of the players in this flavor driven field of cocktail augmentation.  They have real personalities!

Last Wednesday I participated in the #Foodistachat.  I wanted to dig a bit deeper on cocktail bitters, but there is only so many ideas you can throw out to the "Tweeters" in 140 characters or fewer while in REAL TIME!

Here at least I can add a bit more color to the equation of adding bitters to cocktails. 

Bitters, Old Men Tasting Notes:

I used a highly unscientific method of tasting these bitters sitting in front of me.  I took a mere thimble full of Atlantico Platino Rum Artesanal and placed it in my favorite Murano shot glass.  Then I added exactly three drops of the bitters.  From right to left here are my impressions:

1. Papaya- You're on an ocean going sailboat.  The water supply that makes fresh water from salt is not working properly.  Sure it's making water for washing, but not for drinking.  You cannot drink sea-water, so you drink the rum that is on board.  

The  Rum is safe to drink.  The water in the tanks is not, so Rum it is.  Yesterday while on shore, you scored a few ripe Papayas from that guy who fixes water-makers at the boatyard.  He said Papaya and Rum, really good together.  Now I know what he meant.   Three drops of Bitters, Old Men in a short glass of Rum?  I'm thirsty for another. If you want to really blast your brain into submission, try these bitters with a healthy dose of Rum (your choice) and Tenneyson Absinthe.  Add a splash or two of fresh seltzer water and a sprig of lemon thyme.  MMMM!

2. Isaan Another Level Bitters.  On board the yacht, there is much in the way of tea.  Tea just tastes good when waves are crashing over the dodger.  A blast of cold seawater in the face is humbling to say the least.  That's why tea tastes so good when you're out at sea. Often times I get sea sick when waves are crashing into my face.  I've found that lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, hot chilies and fish sauce taste otherworldly in a cocktail with rum.  Now, squirted into my little glass of Platino Rum, I'm being transported to Charleston, SC. The cooking of the Low Country mixed with the flavors of Southeast Asia are predominant in my memory.  This little bottle of bitters transports me back to this place in an instant.  Try these bitters with Tuaca and Ginger Beer.

3. Bunyan Bitters.  I'm not quite sure what these bitters remind me of.  When splashed over a small glass of white Rum, I'm struck by the flavors of the forest.  But not the forest of this country,  I taste a very lush aromatic forest.  This forest exists in the Ivory Coast of Africa where I spent a couple of months in 1976 with my family. The forest is filled with exotic fruits, some ripe with the exotic aromas of fruits and nuts.  Rum takes to this type of cocktail bitters in a magical way.  It's dreamy in the 100 degree heat with 100% humidity.  A couple of drops of the Bunyan Bitters in a glass of light Rum are a trip to the tropics.  Try these bitters in a Rum punch made with JM Rhum.

4.  Gangsta Lee'n Bitters pays homage in a liquid driven sense to movies like Shaft.  There is bacon sizzling away over there on the stove.  Someone is smoking a hand-rolled cigarette over there on the couch. It's smoky and sweet in the glass.  A peel of orange is no mistake.  A crush of toasted almonds is a cool reminder of the 1970's.  I can dig it. Can you? Try these bitters in a glass of Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth.  No ice needed!  Ok, you can make some ice from coconut water.  That's exotic enough.

5.  Toasted Macadamia Bitters: I'm suddenly in a Tiki Bar.  But not just any Tiki Bar.  The name of this place is PKNY.  You may know it as Painkiller.  Whatever you know it as, a healthy squirt of the Macadamia Nut Bitters in a glass of white Rum will send you to a tropical island without a plane ticket.  Try these bitters with some Siesta Key White Rum and some of my signature coconut water ice. 

6.  Krangostura Bitters.  This is way out stuff. You cannot buy this on a supermarket shelf.  I crushed some ice and squirted a couple of drops over the top.  Of course you could say there was some Rum in the equation.  Sure you could...  I might not be telling the whole story.  More to follow with the proper juices.  Try these bitters in a glass of JM Rhum. 

7.  Gator Glenn's Citrus Bitters.  I'd like to know why he'd called Gator Glenn.  Then again, maybe not.  This is Citrus exemplified.  Added to a fresh glass of Rum the Gator is not an American Alligator.  No, it's a Saltwater Croc.  Very dangerous beast in the wrong hands.  Two, maybe three drops that's all it takes.  It's like rubbing the zest of an orange on the side of a glass of dark Rum. That and smoke.  Lots of fire.  Swoon.  Try these Citrus Bitters in a glass of Striped Pig White Rum from South Carolina.

8.  Prickled Pink is prickly pear.  Finally I put a face on a name.  I want this in a glass of Del Maguey, but that's downstairs and I'm upstairs.  I'll just have to dream about the flavors a bit more.  It's groovy stuff.  A spot of crushed lime ice, some prickly pear bitters and Del Maguey.  Perfection.

9. The aptly named Great in '28 Bitters is deeply rooted in a hallucinatory dream where the Gin in the bathtub is spiked with grapefruit and East Asian Spices like Cardamom.  I'm impressed.  In a glass of sweet iced tea, spiked with Botanical Gin, it's truly dangerous stuff.  Try these in a glass of Bulldog Gin.

10.  I adore Lapsang Souchong Tea.  The smoke element reminds me of Scotch Whiskey or even Mezcal.  This exotic drop by drop of cocktail bitters transforms your cocktail into one that is exotic and mysterious all at the same time.  In my glass of Platino Rum I'm transported to the tea growing plantations of the Far East.  The Rum and tea combine to create a whirlwind of activity in my mouth.  Smoke and tea added to Irish Whiskey?  Why not.  Bourbon?  Now we're cooking with smoky charcoal.  Ah, I almost forgot.  There is a certain charred element in these bitters.  Try them in a short glass of Jack Daniels Single Barrel or a glass of Buffalo Trace.  I'm finally sated.