bitters

Home made cocktail ingredients

 

Over the last few years there has been a growing movement within the cocktail bar scene for using homemade ingredients. Creating your own infusions, bitters and tinctures can offer a chance to be creative and unique in the cocktails you’re making. But there can be a downside to this as well. I always think of the practice of creating your own ingredients as being similar to the way a chef works with new products, but the big difference is that a chef is (usually) trained as a professional to handle ingredients in a safe way. Often when a bartender starts working with exotic herbs, spices, barks and berries they are doing so as an interested amateur.

I was judging a cocktail competition last year and one of the competitors presented a homemade chorizo infused tequila. When the judges quizzed him about how he had infused it, he replied that he has simply added sliced chorizo to tequila and allowed the flavour to infuse over a period of several days. It occured to me that he was thinking about combining flavours that would work well, but hadn’t thought about how to handle these ingredients in a safe way. Leaving a meat product sitting at room temperature, or even more likely on a hot back bar, for several days has the potential to make your customers seriously sick. Even infused in a strong spirit there is a chance that bacteria cultures could grow and lead to food poisoning. Had the bartender researched the idea of infusing meat into a spirit he would have found that there is a safe way of doing this, through fat washing, and would have produced a product that was safe to serve to customers, especially if stored correctly.

The mysterious magic of bitters

It’s a familiar scene; you're sat at the bar watching your drink be made, the ingredients go in one by one, then the bartender reaches for a tiny bottle and dashes of few drops of bitters in before shaking or stirring it to perfection. Before I was in the drinks industry I remember being slightly mystified by these few drops of liquid and to be honest I wondered what so small an amount of anything could possibly add to my drink. Was this just for show or part of the magic of making cocktails?
 
 
Now more than ever bars have huge selections of bitters, often in unmarked bottles or with homemade labels on them. They have become one of the biggest fads in the drinks industry and more varieties are coming onto the market all the time. A few years back it was’nt uncommon to find that a bar had maybe two or three varieties of bitters, almost certainly Angostura, maybe Peychaud’s and maybe even an orange bitters. Now a bar isn’t complete without whiskey barrel aged bitters, celery, lemon, cardamom, liquorice, mole, peach, pineapple, and a selection of freshly brewed homemade flavours. So what is it about these mysterious liquids that make them so indispensible to the modern bartender and why do we use them in cocktails anyway?
 
 
I touched on the subject of bitters in a recent blog update and mentioned their origins as tonics for your health and in fact many early cocktails were designed to help the drinker deal with any number of different maladies. But over the years their health giving properties have become less of a focus however what they add to a drink is still indispensible. Ask any good bartender about bitters and they’re likely to tell you they are ‘seasoning for cocktails’ in just the way that salt and pepper are for food.
 

Take your medicine!

If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard someone say that they’re going to have a drink ‘just for medicinal purposes’ I’d use the money to buy myself a drink! While I wouldn’t dream of claiming that drinking is beneficial for your health, the saying almost certainly comes from the fact that alcohol and medicine have been linked for centuries.
 
 
Early remedies were often infused in an alcohol solution to make them potable, and in fact the process of distillation began as a way of concentrating the healing properties of herbs and plants. Even as recently as the 1930’s Whiskey was prescribed by doctors to people suffering from a variety of ailments including the common cold.
 
 

It’s a guideline not a recipe!

In my day job I spend a lot of time educating bartenders about bourbon, and this week during a tasting session I was asked to discuss how to adapt some classic recipes to suit different bourbons. All too often we are presented with ‘the recipe’ for making a certain drink, but just saying 20ml of vermouth or 50 ml of gin doesn’t always lead to creating a well balanced drink. The moment you change one ingredient the balance of the drink changes.
 
 
When it comes to making cocktails, everywhere you turn you are presented with recipes be it in blogs such as this or in cocktail books or magazines, but maybe we should be talking about guidelines not recipes. It probably seems like common sense to good bartenders that you would always just balance your drink depending on what ingredients you are using, but to the less experienced bartender or cocktail enthusiast it is easy to get caught in the trap of following a recipe blindly.

Drinking Chocolate

Well it’s Easter again, which of course means I have every excuse to over-indulge on chocolate, with almost no guilt whatsoever. This year though, I am not going to be having an Easter egg. No sir! I’ll be getting my chocolate fix in liquid form instead.
 
The idea of using chocolate in drinks is of course nothing new, and at this time of year especially there are plenty of drinks being posted on cocktail blogs and websites that are absolutely loaded with chocolaty goodness. But I thought it might be time for something a bit different; so grabbing all the chocolate I could find in the house, I set about making drinks that subtly celebrate cocoa in all its glory.
 
You see, when you add chocolate to a drink it can get pretty rich and sickly, and frankly I’d rather enjoy lots of chocolate drinks (responsibly of course!) than have one or two and then feel sick. So this Easter at b&t HQ we’ll be enjoying a few well-balanced drinks with just enough chocolate to tease the taste buds, but not so much that there’ll be a need to diet once Easter is over.
 

Day of the dead? more like month of the living-dead!

My God it's been a couple of busy weeks for us here at Bitters & Twisted HQ. We have been working closely with our web designers and they have done us proud so we are getting closer and closer to the launch of our full site. We have been to check out the Sipsmith distillery in London, then we went drinking tequila in Leeds, followed by Gin in London, not to mention making pineapple bitters as well as homemade syrups and we have been catching up with friends old and new. I am getting tired just thinking about how rushed off my feet I have been.

 

On the subject of Sipsmith I am not going to say too much as I am going to be including them in an upcoming blog about artesianal producers and small batch spirits. I will say this however, if you get a chance to try their gin, I can highly recommend it. Somehow it makes me think that this is how old fashioned gins might have been. Not overly rounded or soft, Sipsmith gin is full of character and flavour and is a lively gin that grabs you by the taste buds and takes you for a ride. Right, that's enough of that, before I get carried away and don't leave myself anything else to write about!

 

I was lucky enough to be asked to judge the 'Cazadores hunt' in Leeds last week, which for those of you who don't know is an ever evolving tequila event that Cazadores are starting to roll out. The idea is simple, get 20 - 30 top bartenders together in a city centre at lunchtime. Refresh them with loads of tequila and then set them a series of tasks to compete at in several bars. End it all with a cocktail comp (after 6 hours of drinking tequila this was the most rowdy comp I have ever seen!) and crown the winning team as winners of the Cazadores hunt... The experience actually got me looking at both tequila and brand run competitions in a whole new light, so much so that I am going to be dedicating a blog update to the subject very soon. Keep your eyes peeled or subscribe to our blog to be notified when it gets updated...