I drank the occasional cocktail through college and my early adult years. I continue to have strong opinions about my drinks of choice during that era, the Martini1 and the Gin and Tonic2. These are fantastic drinks that are worth imbibing on occasion, but I am now drawn to other drinks.
I got serious about cocktails after having a Chocolate Mint Sazerac at the lounge at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I know that sounds questionable. In some regards, “Chocolate Mint Sazerac” seems like it would be in the same league as “Caramel Apple Martini.” Served over a two inch ice cube, it’s clear this was not a Sazerac per se, but that’s not what was important. What matters is that this cocktail worked. It was fascinating.
This cocktail started me on my journey to work through Ted Haigh’s vintage cocktail book. It has been a slow journey, in large due to difficulty acquiring ingredients. Incidentally, I recommend not living in Connecticut for people that enjoy alcoholic beverages. Progress is also slowed by distractions that have appeared along the way. Bitters are one such distraction.
Bitters don’t seem to be a well-understood topic. Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas by Brad Thomas Parsons aims to change that. The book starts with an introduction to the use and history of bitters. It provides practical guidance on method and equipment for the modern bartender. There is less of this sort of advice out there than there should be. There is healthy advice on the basic bitters a cocktail enthusiast needs. From there, the book explores the topic of making bitters, discusses many of the inputs, and provides several example recipes. A collection of well-curated and exceptional cocktails follows, along with some food recipes tacked on at the end, perhaps more for gimmick than use.
I’ve made several cocktails and about half a dozen batches of bitters using the recipes in the book so far. All have been excellent; it’s clear that the cocktail recipes are not an afterthought. The “PDT House Bitters” at first struck me as having far too much cardamom flavor until I compared with Angostura and Bitter Truth Aromatic bitters. Sure enough, cardamom is a big part of those ones too. More than anything, the book gives me enough understanding of the basics and techniques to start experimenting, which is awesome. At the same time, it offers an awful lot of varieties of bitters to get started, which will take some time to get through. Looking forward to it!
This is a book for the enthusiast. It’s unlikely to make a hobbyist out of the casual cocktail drinker. With that said, folks that appreciate what bitters add to the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Sazerac can use their experience as a jumping off point into the wild world of bitters and cocktails that use them with this book. So, if you’re into cocktails or considering getting more serious about them, this is probably a book you should own and study.
with a julep strainer; a Hawthorne shouldn’t be necessary. Shards of ice should not be present in the final product. Use fresh dry vermouth. Don’t chill the gin ahead of time. Mix between 4:1 and 5:1; more vermouth is necessary for highly aromatic gins. Add a dash or two of orange bitters. Garnish however, but rinse anything that’s not a twist. Express the twist if used. Pick gin according to mood.
over-thinking. Don’t chill the tonic; a little ice melt improves the balance. Garnish with a lime wedge. Prefer homemade tonic water, but use Q or Fever Tree in a pinch. For me, plain old Tanqueray is the gin for this drink. Add a quarter part St. Germain if you want to soften it up a bit.