Bitters : A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas
Gone are the days when a lonely bottle of Angostura bitters held court behind the bar. A cocktail renaissance has swept across the country, inspiring in bartenders and their thirsty patrons a new fascination with the ingredients, techniques, and traditions that make the American cocktail so special. And few ingredients have as rich a history or serve as fundamental a role in our beverage heritage as bitters.
Author and bitters enthusiast Brad Thomas Parsons traces the history of the world's most storied elixir, from its earliest "snake oil" days to its near evaporation after Prohibition to its ascension as a beloved (and at times obsessed-over) ingredient on the contemporary bar scene. Parsons writes from the front lines of the bitters boom, where he has access to the best and boldest new brands and flavors, the most innovative artisanal producers, and insider knowledge of the bitters-making process.
Whether you're a professional looking to take your game to the next level or just a DIY-type interested in homemade potables, Bitters has a dozen recipes for customized blends--ranging from Apple to Coffee-Pecan to Root Beer bitters--as well as tips on sourcing ingredients and step-by-step instructions fit for amateur and seasoned food crafters alike.
Also featured are more than seventy cocktail recipes that showcase bitters' diversity and versatility: classics like the Manhattan (if you ever get one without bitters, send it back), old-guard favorites like the Martinez, contemporary drinks from Parsons's own repertoire like the Shady Lane, plus one-of-a-kind libations from the country's most pioneering bartenders. Last but not least, there is a full chapter on cooking with bitters, with a dozen recipes for sweet and savory bitters-infused dishes.
Part recipe book, part project guide, part barman's manifesto, Bitters is a celebration of good cocktails made well, and of the once-forgotten but blessedly rediscovered virtues of bitters.
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Ten Speed Press
November 01, 2011
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Adobe DRM EPUB
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Excerpt from Bitters by Brad Parsons
Cocktail culture has come a long way since I last worked behind the bar, which was in the early 1990s at Harpoon Eddie's in Sylvan Beach, New York, a town optimistically billed as "the Coney Island of Central New York." During college summer vacations I spent most of my shifts whipping up rum runners and strawberry daiquiris (by pressing a button on a constantly whirring machine that was eerily similar to the Slurpee station at a 7-Eleven), pulling endless pitchers of beer, and mixing innumerable Cape Codders. Our sour mix came out of a sticky soda gun, there was no such thing as simple syrup, and citrus juices were delivered to us in oversized cans from Sysco. I do remember a rarely reached-for bottle of Angostura bitters, with its distinctive yellow cap and oversized label, which was tucked away behind the house copy of Mr. Boston: Official Bartender's Guide. The only time I reached for the bitters was when Maurie, one of our regulars, ordered the occasional Manhattan, which I served in one of the four cocktail glasses we kept hanging on the rack (most of the beach-bound drinks were served in plastic cups). Granted, slinging drinks during your college years at a popular beach bar has its allure: 25-cent hot wing Wednesdays, beach volleyball tournaments, a prime seat for Fourth of July fireworks, plenty of bikinis, and decent tips. I try to make it back to Harpoon Eddie's at least once a summer when I'm back home, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the same bottle of bitters might still be behind the bar.
Most college students will drink whatever they can get their hands on--often to disastrous results (think grain alcohol holiday punch served from a Hefty bag-lined trash bin, spiked with peppermint schnapps and stained red from the box of candy canes the host dumped in as a garnish). In those days, my experience with what is now considered "speakeasy chic" was limited to the evenings when I would swing by the bar at the local members-only American Legion to ask my dad a favor (usually to borrow the car or twenty dollars; sometimes both). There the bartender would peer through the mirrored glass window to see who was at the door and buzz you in.
After several semesters of these ill-advised punches, fake IDs, and an excess of drinks that will never touch my lips again (I'm talking to you, Kahl�a and cream--and to any other cream-based drink that was pressed into my hands), it took me a long time to come to appreciate and understand the balance required of a proper cocktail. After college I cut my teeth on vodka martinis and vodka gimlets, but eventually I embraced brown spirits, especially bourbon and rye, and then, as a fully formed adult, I moved onto the pleasures of aperitifs and digestifs flavored with bitters, herbs, and botanicals.
* * * *
Aromatic cocktail bitters--the kind you don't sip but add in dashes to enliven a drink--were an essential ingredient in classic cocktails, and are now back and bigger than ever. Just as restaurant menus herald the local farmer who grew the heirloom carrots featured in that night's special, cocktail menus increasingly single out house-made bitters and those made by artisanal producers. And indeed, seeking out the best bitters can become as much of an obsession as finding the freshest locally sourced ingredients. The same DIY ethos that made growing tomatoes on your apartment's rooftop, making your own seasonal preserves, curing charcuterie on your fire escape, and all sorts of other hands-on kitchen projects so popular over the past five or so years has rolled out to bars. Today listing house-made bitters on the menu and displaying dozens of homemade tinctures is a benchmark for most serious bar programs. Once I've sized up a joint, I'll ask the bartender, "Do you make your own bitters?" More often than not the answer is yes: orange, grapefruit, coffee, barley, cherry-vanilla, plum, rhubarb, rosemary, and lavender, to name just a few.
Asking that simple question makes me feel connected to an ongoing conversation about the history of the American cocktail. And it's not just because the bartender is decked out in his nineteenth-century best and most likely sporting a Civil War-era beard or artfully waxed mustache. It's because that simple old-fashioned--the one made with rye, simple syrup, bitters, and a lemon twist--is practically what you would be holding in your hand if you walked into a bar in the late 1800s and Jerry Thomas served you himself.