Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Cocktailing for beginners Pt 2:- Bitters

One of the first things that throws beginning Cocktailers strolling through a shiny new cocktail book is bitters. What are they, Where do they come from & who the hell has any.

What bitters are.
Primarily a vegetable tincture or Elixir, with no added sugars. They tend to be very alcoholic ranging from 40-80% abv. Unsurprisingly they are bitter in flavour. They belong to the class of ingredients described as aromatic, imparting a bitter, spicy or herbal flavour. They come in a range, most bottlers making their own formulation. The good news is unless you are making very specific high end cocktails they are reasonably interchangeable. The exceptions being fruit or vegetable bitters eg: orange bitters,celery bitters, and so on.

So where do they come from ?
Usually the ingredients are tropical, with Quinoa bark (a source of quinine) being quite common. Rather than roaming about for a bunch of barks & herbs though Angostura bitters are found in most UK supermarkets (occasionally on the baking aisle as they make a good addition to various cakes). They aren't expensive and a bottle will last you quite some time. Otherwise its the internet. ( The bitter truth have a good selection).

Who has any ?
Pretty much anyone who makes cocktails, especially if they are making the older classics (A lot of 80's cocktails do away with bitters completely). You can often see a battered bottle of Angostura hiding on back shelves in ordinary bars.

That's enough about bitters lets get down to making drinks.
Pink Gin
(Sorry its not a good photograph)
Pink gin, like a Martini is quite simple but you can spend ages fiddling about with it. Some people use the bitters as a rinse, and decide to either chuck any remaining out afterwards or leave it in, like an extra dry Martini.

We'll stick with a reasonably simple recipe though. Fill your mixing vessel with ice. give it a couple of dashes of bitters (its just like shaking out sauce or vinegar, but go easy we only want a couple of dashes for now) per person. Then add a glass of gin per person. Stir for 20-30 seconds. Strain the drink into serving glasses making sure the ice stays behind. You should now have a pale pinky-maroon drink. It won't taste like gin, and it won't be so bitter you end up pulling faces when you taste it (If it does, you've been a trifle heavy handed with the bitters). Once again when you've got a bit of a feel for it experiment. Here's a quick description of rinsing.

Put a drop or 2 of bitters in the bottom of your glass, swirl it, the idea is to get a film of bitters all over the glass. You can normally manage this and have bitters left over in the bottom. You can pour that drop away or leave it be, its up to personal taste (left in you have a Pink Gin "innie" poured off you have a Pink Gin "outtie") Then fill the glass with cold gin or cold lemonade (this makes a Campbell, not a bad non-alcoholic drink(*)).

We'll be adding another ingredient next week, but it'll be a bit more simple than bitters (the drink however will probably be more complex than the 2 we've made so far)

(*) If you are strictly tea-total, there is a minute percentage of Alcohol, but its diluted way down by the lemonade.

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