Lately I’ve been incorporating bitters into my drinks. When I was first introduced to the concept of deliberately making one’s cocktails bitter, I bristled at the notion. Nay I say. Bring on the sweet, the salty, the sour, but not the bitter. However, as I matured in my mixological development, I came across more and more drink recipes that call for bitters of various kinds, particularly one called Angostura Bitters.
I might be late to the party one this one but Angostura Bitters is pretty versatile. I decided I had to pick some up. I went to the liquor store to get some. They had lots of bitters. No sign of Angostura. No dice. I checked a couple of other liquor stores too. No dice. Why is it that tons of drinks call for the stuff, but it’s so hard to find. I did some internet research and discovered it can be found on amazon.com. I order a bottle. It arrives. Like any good scientist, I inspect the bottle. It’s tiny with a funny looking label that sticks up over the neck of the bottle. I pour a little into a small glass and taste it. Holy crap does it pack a punch. It took a while for me to kill the taste.
In every recipe I come across, bitters is measured by the dash. The stuff is so potent, a little dash’ll do ya. When I mix drinks I like to get pretty precise. I haven’t mastered the art of the free pour. I use a shot glass with little markings on it for 1/2, 1, and 1 1/2 oz. I usually take more time than is necessary to complete a drink. I sacrifice time for precision. That’s why the whole dash thing confounds me. How do you convert a dash into milliliters? Where can I find it on a graduated cylinder? Sometimes the recipe calls for several dashes. That’s just great. Let’s combine an inexact number with an imprecise measurement. Occasionally it will say to add bitters to taste. Egad! I’m a scientist, damn it, and I can’t measure that. Sometimes I add too much and Heather makes a face. Sometimes I add too little and I wonder why I even bothered adding it.
I will say this though. I’m glad that I had the wherewithal to pursue this bitters concept because along with making me a better bartender, I believe it has expanded my palate’s horizons. Bitters can be the perfect thing to take a drink as sweet as an Old Fashioned and make it a little deeper and more complex. In my opinion, you can add it to any sweet drink to give it a little class. It’s a way to add your own little personal signature to a drink. I am glad I got the small bottle though because I haven’t even made a dent in it. A little goes a long way. I’m relatively new to the concept of bitters in the bartender’s arsenal but the idea intrigues me to no end. If any of you in the culinary or mixological community have any advise, thoughts or insights, I’d love to hear them. What’s a good bitters to invest in besides Angostura?
As a post script to my search for Angostura, I realized later that you can just pick it up at the grocery store. I felt like a tool for getting it on the internet. It’s got a pretty high alcohol content but the taste by itself is so unpleasant and strong, it acts as a built in disincentive. That’s my take on it anyway. There's an interesting article that appeared online recently that further whet my interest in bitters. Check it out.