Living in a small town limits the drink recipes that can be created somewhat as the selection available to a admixture drink mixer is limited. While many items can be made with a bit (or a lot) of work if the basic ingredients are available this is not true of every item used in cocktails and some of the basic items are worth considering a trip to the big city or the shipping to have them sent to you.
One of my most missed ingredients is bitters. Virgin drinks are mostly juice, syrup or pop based. This leads to many being sweet and if one blends too many sweet items together – well it becomes unpalatable. One can use infusions – tea like creations made with water and flavouring agents without the sugar, to help cut the sweetness and I continue to experiment with teas and fruit, but sometimes one needs a strong concentrated hit to enhance or add interest to a drink without adding volume.
Bitters in cocktails play the role of seasonings in food, adding an element of interest but also toning down the sweetness in the drink and bringing the more subtle flavours to the front. (For the non-virgin drink makers bitters are a must in old-fashioned or manhattan cocktails.)
There are loads of great websites that teach how to make your own bitters, which I used when first starting out in October – creating a bitters from thyme and grapefruit appropriate for the apple cocktails I was creating. Lately I have found that bitters are not a one fits all ingredient, and that a selection of flavours is necessary to expand my drink making options.
Most bitters recipes call for grain alcohol and a selection of herbs, spices and botanicals. If you are interested in making your own, it looks like you can order a “build your own custom bitters kit” through Etsy and then use one of the great online sites to make your own.
Some suggested sites to check out are listed at the end of this blog but three types of bitters stood out as must haves for me in 2015: Orange, Chocolate and Angostura Bitters.
Orange Bitters are a bit more complex than simply infusing orange rind in liquor. The orange bitters recipe from chow.com is fairly straight forward, and most ingredients can be found in your grocery store: Orange peel, fennel, coriander, cardamon all are pretty accessible. Gentian extract is more challenging to come by. I found the product at Mountain Rose Herbs and on amazon.com. but have been deliberating about dealing with shipping costs for the one, and as a Canadian am not privy to purchasing from the other.
Chocolate Bitters according to the recipe on howsweeteats.com is fairly complex with 14 ingredients. Wow! Adventuers in cooking hot chocolate bitters recipe calls for extracts – which are fairly hard to find in small towns such as mine. After my experience making my own cacao syrup with mixed results,I have been hoping for a true chocolate flavour to add to drinks and trying to decide how to best go about this.
According to instructables.com Angostura Bitters calls for 13 ingredients. HooBoy! That 7 dollar prepared bottle is looking like a really good idea about now, if it were not for the extravagant shipping! Fortunately that is not the end of the (Bitter) Story.
This year, Christmas holidays included a trip to big city (Vancouver) and led to a fruitful shopping extrusion to Gourmet Warehouse where I picked up these three bitters as well as some other additions (floral flavoured waters) to my drink making kit. So, while at some point I will experiment again with making my own bitters and infusions (which from all research can often be far nicer)… for the time being I am going to explore what can be done with these fabulous additions and take some of the guess work out of virgin recipe making.