Everyone’s got a few movies or books that they go back to again and again. These don’t even have to be your favorites, just an old friend that’s worth revisiting from time to time. For me, The Spanish Apartment (L’Auberge Espagnole in French) is one of those films.
To say that the Sazerac is a classic American cocktail is not entirely accurate. Though inevitably some drink historians disagree, for the most part the Sazerac is considered the oldest known cocktail created in the New World, making it the classic American cocktail. Invented in New Orleans sometime before 1830, the Sazerac is also considered one of the several official cocktails of the Crescent City.
We’ve seen some recipes that call for bourbon, but for historical accuracy nothing but rye will do. Also, if you have it on hand, always opt for Peychaud’s bitters.
4 oz rye
1 tsp simple syrup
1 tsp absinthe
2 dashes of bitters
Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice and add rye, simple syrup and bitters. Pour the absinthe into a rocks glass and swirl until the absinthe coats the inside of the glass. Stir the rye, simple syrup, and bitters and strain into the rocks glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.
The Diplomat is a bit of an unusual cocktail in that it’s vermouth-based. Vermouth, whether dry or sweet, is a fortified wine as opposed to a distilled spirit like gin, vodka, whiskey, etc. This gives the Diplomat a much lower alcohol content than many other cocktails, which may be a hint at its name.
3 oz dry vermouth
2 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp maraschino liqueur
4 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass half filled with ice. Stir thoroughly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a wedge of lemon.
Before we delve into the final and long delayed installment in the Wedding Gift Booze Review series, let’s take a moment to talk about bitters. Though the recent cocktail revival has spurred a subsequent revival in use of bitters, it’s still an element of cocktail culture that is often overlooked. Produced through distillation and infusion of various flavors, bitters generally have a similar alcohol content by volume as most liquors. However, the intensity of flavor is such that most drink recipes call for no more than two or three dashes per cocktail.
The first bitters were invented in the early 1800s by Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German who served as Surgeon General under Bolivar in the fight to free Venezuela from Spanish control. Siegert originally developed the potent distillation as a medicine and it was marketed as such when the Doctor established his distillery in the port town of Angostura in 1830. To this day, Angostura is still the dominant brand and de facto choice for any recipe that calls for bitters.
So when did medicine make its way into cocktails? Conventional wisdom tells us that it happened in the early 1900s. In the early days of the cocktail, the primary function of a mixed drink was to serve as “hair of the dog” the morning after heavy drinking. Mixing fruit juices, sugar, and other ingredients with your booze helped to make it more palatable first thing in the morning and while you’re at it, why not add some medicinal bitters to help your headache and nausea? A century later, the medicinal properties of bitters have long been dismissed, but we can still appreciate a well-crafted Old Fashioned.
The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters are very similar to Angostura (which are also aromatic bitters, as opposed to orange, mint or other flavored bitters) though the flavor is slightly different. Both brands, on their own, have an herby, woody flavor to them. The flavor is not unlike sucking on a tea bag – in a good way. Tasted side by side though the difference between the two is marked and will affect the taste of your cocktails. While Angostura is overtly citrusy, The Bitter Truth has a more floral, botanical flavor to it.
I’d be hard pressed to say that one is better than the other. They’re different animals and will throw a different cast on the cocktails you make with them. At the very least, exploring these differences is a wonderful excuse to drink twice as many Manhattans.
For more on bitters:
While current cocktail trends have veered away from this classic ingredient, bitters (whether aromatic, orange, or others) are still an important part of many classic drinks. See: the Negroni, the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or the Bernardo. For most drinks that require bitters Angostura is the standby, with Fee Brothers putting up a fight. But recently there’s a new contender in the bitters market, and he’s a small-batch artisanal scrapper. Earlier this year Benjamin Harrison, a videographer based in New York used a Kickstarter to – well – kick start his new boozilogical venture, Hella Bitter.
Currently Hella Bitter offers three varieties: Citrus, Wormwood Aromatic, and Vanilla Kumquat. At present there are only a few retailers in New York City that offer Hella Bitter, but there is a way for those of us outside the NYC to get our hands on a bottle or two. Harrison has launched a new Kickstarter campaign to fund a bitters and soda cart. He can explain it better than I can though, so check out his video over at Kickstarter. Better hurry if you want to get in on this though, at the time of posting there are only 6 days left in their campaign.
If the Martini is perfection through simplicity, then the Manhattan is the pinnacle of sophistication. Dating back about as far as any cocktail, the Manhattan was invented sometime around 1860. Like any old recipe, stories conflict concerning its exact origins, but general consensus agrees that the drink is named for The Manhattan Club in New York City.
2 oz whiskey (traditionally rye)
½ oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes bitters
Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice and add the whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Stir thoroughly and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the maraschino cherry.
Older recipes stipulated the use of American whiskey which, as we mentioned in our review of (ri)1 whiskey, was predominantly rye whiskey before the onset of prohibition. Hence the Manhattan is traditionally made with rye, though bourbon or Canadian whiskey are also acceptable.
You may notice that this recipe yields a rather small drink at 2 ½ oz (most recipes we post here yield around 4 oz). This is characteristic of older recipes and many modern boozehounds will scale these up to more generous proportions. For the Manhattan though, I generally find it best to keep volume small. This drink has a lot going on both in alcohol content and flavor.
The Manhattan is a drink that demands an appreciation for whiskey, especially when made with rye. It is a cocktail that should be sipped slowly, thoughtfully, and with the veneration due to our elders.
One of the most classic and downright manliest drinks out there is the Old Fashioned. This drink is like a Whiskey Sour with a beard. Not only is it kick-your-ass strong, but you get to muddle most of the ingredients together, which is violent. A muddler is one of those fancy bar tools that most of us will never bother buying, but look really cool if you do. It’s essentially a pestle (usually made out of wood) and it’s used to mash garnishes and ingredients together in the bottom of your glass. If you’re not going for showmanship though, I’ve found that the back of a bar spoon or ice cream scoop works just as well.
2 1/2 oz whiskey
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 orange wheel
1 lemon wedge
1 maraschino cherry
1 sugar cube
Toss the orange wheel, lemon wedge, maraschino cherry, and sugar cube into a double rocks glass and then splash your Angostura bitters on top. Muddle all these together until the sugar dissolves into your pulpy, juicy mass of fruit. Fill your glass with ice, top off with the whiskey, and stir.
Some people like to add a splash of soda water to help dissolve the sugar, but bear in mind that this will demote your drink’s beard down to a goatee.
Side note: In the process of conducting a rigorous and highly scientific study, I have discovered that a Gin Old Fashioned is also quite delicious.
In an attempt to defend the good name of bitters as a cocktail ingredient, I present now the Bernardo.
2 oz Gin
1/2 oz Triple Sec
2 tsp Lemon Juice
2 dashes Bitters (I used Angostura)
Pour all four ingredients into a cocktail shaker three-quarters full of ice and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.
Angostura bitters are the most commonly available brand and can be used in almost any recipe that calls for bitters (unless it calls for orange bitters which Angostura and a few other companies do produce). This drink has a lot of lemon juice in it compared to most other cocktails and that along with the triple sec give the Bernardo a very strong citrus flavor. Even if you don’t taste the alcohol too much, this is still a bold cocktail and not for the faint of heart.
Recipe courtesy of the Webtender.
This dark red gin cocktail can be made sweet or bitter. The Negroni, as an official IBA (International Bartenders Association) cocktail, is made with equal parts bitters, gin, and sweet vermouth. If you can actually drink that amount of bitters, make sure it’s the quality stuff (like Campari). I, however, have a weaker palate than Count de Negroni.
1 oz Gin
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Extra Dry Vermouth
Stir over ice and garnish with citrus fruits or those cool little cocktail monkeys.
Can also be topped off with your favorite cola for a classy replacement for your rum and cokes. Just leave the bitters at your bar.