bitters

the jam-hattan

A few weeks ago I mentioned that my dearest husband Russell had conned me into doing the Whole30 diet with him.

the "jam-hattan" | Brooklyn Homemaker

Thank god that’s over!

the "jam-hattan" | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re not familiar with it, the Whole30 is sort of like a cross between the Paleo diet and Atkins. It’s super protein heavy, focusing on calories from fat rather than grains or sugar. Alcohol is also strictly forbidden.

While we did feel a bit “better” after it was all over, we didn’t really have that OHMYGODI’VENEVERFELTSOAMAZINGINMYWHOLELIFE feeling that the internets promised us. It didn’t really seem all that bad at first, but a week in it felt like cruel and unusual punishment, and by the end it just felt like too much of a sacrifice and waaaaay too much work for the payoff. I also didn’t feel like it really was all that “healthy”, because while it does encourage you to eat a lot of fresh produce, it also encourages overconsumption of fat and protein and salt at the expense of the grains and carbs and sugar.

The biggest takeaway that I really hope to stick with is to read ingredient lists for everything I buy, and to avoid sugar in savory foods where it doesn’t seem to belong. Once you start paying attention, you’ll realize there is added sugar in basically every packaged food on the market, and a lot of it really is easy to avoid if you know what to look for.

When it comes to avoiding grains and sugar all the time though…
Nah…
You and I both know that shit just ain’t gonna happen.

the "jam-hattan" | Brooklyn Homemaker

Same goes for booze.

I wouldn’t really consider myself a heavy drinker, in fact I usually go weeks without drinking and don’t even think about it. I do enjoy a good stiff cocktail or tasty glass (or bottle) of wine from time to time though, and to be honest, it’s when I try to deny myself alcohol that I tend to crave it most.

Believe you me, after this crazy diet I fully needed and deserved a good strong drink.

the "jam-hattan" | Brooklyn Homemaker

Lucky for me, Drizly just invited me to join their Top Shelf Blogger Program.

I mentioned back in November that Drizly is basically just like seamless.com or delivery.com, but instead of burgers or sushi, Drizly delivers booze! I mean, how freakin’ amazing is that? We’re officially living in the future y’all!

Once I’d hatched a little plan for my first cocktail as a top shelf blogger, I had to get started with recipe testing. I was out of rye though, and nearly out of vermouth, so I went online, searched Drizly for what I needed, and had the bottles delivered to my front door in under an hour!

Magic!

the "jam-hattan" | Brooklyn Homemaker

The classic Manhattan has always been one my favorite cocktails, and I especially love when I reach the bottom of the glass and get to eat those dark jammy little Luxardo maraschino cherries. It dawned on me one day that if one of my favorite things about a Manhattan is the jammy cherries, what was to stop me from just making a cocktail with cherry jam?

When making a drink with jam, it’s important to shake it rather than stirring like you would a classic Manhattan. The jam needs to be shaken in to fully dissolve into the alcohol, and once shaken it needs to be strained into the glass to hold back any chunks of fruit that didn’t incorporate.

The jam does make the cocktail a bit sweeter than it would traditionally be, almost more like an Old Fashioned, so I think it’s important to use rye whiskey rather than bourbon. Bourbon is sweet and mild on it’s own, while rye has a bold, dry, almost spicy quality that holds it’s own against the sugary jam.

the "jam-hattan" | Brooklyn Homemaker

To add just a little something extra, I thought that a touch of rose water could compliment the sweet fruitiness of the cherry. Rose water is seriously strong stuff though, and a little goes a looooong way. It took me quite a while to work out exactly the right amount that would come through without overpowering the whole drink. We had to do a whole lot of recipe testing to get the ratios just right, but luckily this drink is seriously tasty and Russell was a willing guinea pig.

In the end I realized that it’s almost best if you can only smell the rose when you put the glass up to your lips, but don’t really taste it much in the drink. The difference between a 1/4 teaspoon and a 1/2 teaspoon can mean the difference between a interesting cocktail with an elegant floral undertone, and taking a swig from an old perfume bottle you found in your grandma’s bathroom.

With the jam to whiskey to rose water ratio just right, this drink is a freakin’ masterpiece. I’ve gone ahead and gilded the lily y’all, and I think we’re all going to be better for it. I mean, maybe it’s the hooch talking, but this is seriously one of the best cocktails I’ve ever made for you guys. Strong and serious like a good Manhattan should be, but with a hint of sweet delicate elegance from the floral fruitiness of cherry and rose. Masculine and feminine. Yin and Yang. Tracy and Hepburn.

Now that I’m a Drizly top shelf blogger, you can expect at least a handful of equally “intoxicating” (har har) recipes from me every year. To help you take full advantage of everything Drizly has to offer, I even have a nifty promo code that you can use on your first visit to their site! If you follow this link to refer a friend, you’ll both receive $5 off your first orders with the promo code: bkhoochmaker

Bottoms up y’all!

the "jam-hattan" | Brooklyn Homemaker

The Jam-hattan

  • Servings: makes 1 cocktail
  • Print
2 oz good rye whiskey (I used Bulleit)
1 oz sweet vermouth (I used Carpano Antica)
1 tablespoon cherry jam *see note
1/4 teaspoon rose water **see note
2 to 3 dashes aromatic bitters
garnish with 1 or 2 Luxardo maraschino cherries, if desired

Combine the whiskey, vermouth, jam, rose water, and bitters in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice.
Shake shake shake until the shaker is ice cold and frosty on the outside, a good minute or so. Strain over ice into a rocks glass, and garnish with a skewer of Luxardo maraschino cherries.

Bottoms up!

Notes:
*Different jams have different sugar to fruit ratios, so your drink may come out sweeter than mine if you use a jam with more sugar than the “Bonne Maman” Cherry Preserves that I used. If your jam is very sweet, you may want to use a little less.
**Some rose waters are more powerfully flavored than others, so if yours doesn’t come through enough you can add a drop more, one drop at a time, until you’re happy with it. Just be careful! Rose water is STRONG stuff and can easily overpower your drink.

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Scrappy’s Bitters giveaway

UPDATE: CONTEST HAS COME TO AN END. WINNER WILL BE CONTACTED VIA EMAIL

Even more good news everyone!

scrappy's bitters giveaway | Brooklyn Homemaker

I have another amazing set of bitters to giveaway to one lucky reader! (Contest rules below)

When I first started getting into bitters and building my own little collection at home, Scrappy’s was one of the first companies that I was really drawn to. They use mostly organic ingredients, and their commitment to quality means that their bitters are strongly concentrated with great pure flavor. Their single note flavors are perfect for true cocktail enthusiasts, and are easily understood by people new to the world bitters.

spiked lavender lemonade & a scrappy's bitters giveaway | Brooklyn Homemaker

From their website, ” Our focus (is) to create bitters using nearly all organic ingredients of the highest quality with no artificial flavors, chemicals, or dyes, all while respecting sustainability, and contributing to our communities in the process. These values and beliefs are what set us apart from other brands and make our bitters shine even brighter in your drinks and your dishes.

We draw our inspiration from the Old World, utilizing small-batch, handcrafted techniques that allow us to control the quality of our product on a level not yet achievable by robots. We know this because in our quest to make the best bitters possible, we have tested almost every modern-day commercial production technique and consistently discovered that there is no substitute for our original methods. Every component of our bitters has been thoroughly considered and developed by us, by hand.

At Scrappy’s, we believe that by making bitters with the finest ingredients, a touch of love, and a meticulous attention to detail, you’ll be able to taste and smell our commitment to excellence.”

scrappy's bitters giveaway | Brooklyn Homemaker

The winner of this giveaway will receive two of their gift set sampler packs, for a total of 8 half-ounce bottles. You’ll get one each of their 8 flavors; aromatic, lavender, orange, lime, cardamom, chocolate, grapefruit, & celery. This way you’ll get to taste each and every flavor they have to offer. Think of all the fun and creative things you can do with all of these great bitters flavors! If you’re ever at a loss, they have a bunch of delicious recipes on their website for all the different flavors.

I have a few favorites when it comes to the flavors they offer, and one of them is definitely their lavender bitters. One of my favorite ways to use them is to add some complexity to a vodka lemonade. It’s total heaven, especially on a lazy sunny day. It’s perfectly light and summery, with just enough lavender flavor to add depth to the lemonade without overpowering the drink or making it taste perfume-y.  Seriously delicious.

spiked lavender lemonade & a scrappy's bitters giveaway | Brooklyn Homemaker

Spiked Lavender Lemonade

  • Servings: 2 cocktails
  • Print
12 oz lemonade (recipe below)
4 oz vodka
4 dashes Scrappy’s lavender bitters
sliced lemon wedges

In a cocktail shaker, combine lemonade, vodka, & lavender bitters. Shake well and pour over ice in a large glass.
Garnish with lemon slices if desired.

*****************************************************************************************

Homemade Lemonade
makes about 6 1/2 cups of lemonade

3/4 cups of sugar
5 cups of water, divided
1 cup of lemon juice

In a small saucepan make a simple syrup by bringing sugar and 1 cup of water to a boil, stirring frequently. Once all sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and let cool. In a pitcher, combine remaining water, lemon juice, and cooled simple syrup; and stir until well mixed.

spiked lavender lemonade & a scrappy's bitters giveaway | Brooklyn Homemaker

Contest rules:

Entries will be accepted until, and contest will end on, Friday June 13th, at 6PM EST.

To enter, please follow these links and “like” both Brooklyn Homemaker and Scrappy’s Bitters on facebook. Then come back and leave the comment “Gimme Some Scrappy’s!” on this post, and tell me which flavor you’re most excited about winning and how you think you’ll use it.

Only one comment per entrant, please.  Sorry, but immediate family is excluded. The winning bitters can only be shipped within the contiguous United States, so entrants must live or have a mailing address within the lower 48. Winner will be chosen, using a random number generator, from the total number of comments when the contest comes to a close. Winner will be contacted via email for shipping information.

bitters for beginners, part II

Last week I talked a bit about the history of bitters; what they are, where they come from, how they’re made, and how they’re used.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

Today I’d like to go into some specifics about a few of the different styles and how you can use them at home. There really is no end to what you can do with bitters, but I thought it might be helpful to give you a few basic ideas.

Aromatic:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
The best known and most frequently used style is still the old standard “aromatic” bitters. This is what most bartenders reach for when creating many of the old school craft cocktails popular today. Everything old is new again, amiright?

The most iconic maker of aromatic bitters is, of course, Angostura. Before the bitters renaissance, if you found any bitters at all behind your local bar, odds are these were the ones. Angostura bitters were named for the Venezuelan city where they were created, but they’ve since moved production to the Caribbean. They’re actually not made from the bark of the Angostura tree, and since the recipe is a tightly guarded secret, no one knows for sure if they ever were.

Perhaps the second most popular producer of aromatic bitters is Peychaud’s, which were originally developed by pharmacist and Creole immigrant Antoine Amédée Peychaud in New Orleans. His family would dispense his curative bitters in Cognac from his pharmacy in the French Quarter, and it wasn’t long before people started asking for Peychaud’s bitters by name at bars throughout the city. Today Peychaud’s are synonymous with the Sazerac cocktail, named for a now defunct brand of cognac, Sazerac de Forge et Fils, that used to make up the Peychaud’s toddy. When phylloxera almost wiped out France’s wine and brandy production cognac was replaced by rye whiskey, which remains the main ingredient in the Sazerac cocktail today.

Each brand of aromatic bitters has their own proprietary blend of ingredients, but they all share a similar flavor profile. For the most part, true to their historic roots, aromatic bitters have a slightly medicinal flavor which, in small doses, pairs really well with a variety of libations and cocktails. Most get their flavor from an infusion of bitter roots, especially gentian root; a blend of warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, or cloves; and a proprietary mix of herbs and other botanicals such as tamarind, wormwood, or barks. Peychauds has a slightly sweeter flavor than Angostura with hints of anise and licorice, while some other brands have a stronger herbal presence.  If you’re looking to try something new, look for aromatic bitters by Hella Bitters, Scrappy’s, or Fee Brothers.

Aromatic bitters can be used in any number of applications from whiskey drinks to champagne cocktails. They’re the key ingredient in many classic cocktails like the Manhattan and old fashioned.

Orange:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
The next most popular style is orange bitters, which primarily get their flavor from the dried zest of bitter-oranges. Orange bitters have been popular as far back as the 1800s. One fact that I found really interesting in my research is that they used to be very popular for flavoring dry martinis. In the 1800s a dry martini referred to the type, not the amount, of vermouth used, and the recipe was usually a half and half mix of vermouth and vodka or gin with some bitters to taste.

Depending on the brand, the flavor of orange bitters can range from dry and aromatic to sweet and fruity. Seville bitter oranges are the most commonly used, but to get a sweeter flavor Fee Brothers uses West Indian orange, the same variety used to make triple sec and curaçao. Traditionally orange bitters feature a healthy dose of spice too. Common ingredients used both in the 19th-century and today include gentian root, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, caraway, or coriander.

Generally, Fee Brothers is considered the sweetest and fruitiest, and the least complex; while Regan’s are zesty fresh and bright, with hints of pepper and honey and a mild spice background; and Angostura Orange has the strongest orangey scent and flavor, but still with a bit of spice in the background. If you want to experiment further, be sure to try Scrappy’s orange, Bittercube’s orange or whiskey barrel aged blood orange, or Fee’s gin barrel aged orange.

Personally I think citrus bitters are a great option if you’re looking for something that goes with everything. Orange are the most common, but you can mix most citrus flavors with almost any alcohol and come up with a great tasting and enjoyable cocktail.

Other Citrus Bitters:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
Beyond the traditional orange, there are tons of other citrus varieties to choose from. Hella Bitter’s citrus uses 9 varieties of citrus, and adds spice to give them a traditional “orange bitters” feeling. Lemon bitters are almost as versatile as orange and pair well with whiskey and vodka alike. Fee Brother’s has a lemon variety, and Brooklyn Hemispherical makes both lemon and meyer lemon options.
Grapefruit bitters are a great option if you’re looking to expand your collection, and they pair especially well with tequila drinks. Check out these choices from Scrappy’sBittermens, or Fee Brothers.
Bittercube’s Jamaican #2 is a warm and tangy blend of grapefuit, hibiscus, & island spice, and one of my coworker swears it’s the best way to dress up cheap beer.
Another great citrus option that would pair well with tequila, vodka or gin would be Scrappy’s lime.

Fruit Bitters:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
The fun doesn’t have to stop with citrus flavors either. There are fruity bitters out there for every taste. Cherry bitters by Fee Brothers, Cherry Bark Vanilla by Bittercube, or Spiced Cherry by Woodford Reserve would all be great with bourbon, mixed in a rum and coke, or even on their own with soda water.  In the fall try Bar Keep’s apple bitters, or Brooklyn Hemispherical’s apple cider bitters. Also look for plumpeach, or rhubarb by Fee Brothers.

Herbal or floral bitters:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
If you’re looking for something a little more delicate, a great option would be some of the single note floral or herbal flavors. Fee brother’s makes a mint flavor that would be great if you don’t feel like muddling fresh mint for your juleps or mojitos. Bar Keep and Scrappy’s both make lavender flavors that are heaven in a vodka lemonade. Bittermens makes a citrus and chamomile flavor they call their Boston Bittahs

Spicy Bitters:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
If you like a drink with a bit of kick then look for some of the hot and spicy bitters out there. Brooklyn Hemispherical’s Sriracha & Bittermens hellfire habanero shrub would add considerable heat to a bloody mary, or would be great with tequila cocktails like a margarita or paloma. If you’d like to add another layer of flavor with your heat consider Memphis bbq bitters, Thai Bitters, Or Moroccan Bitters by The Bitter End.

Warm Spices and Baking Flavors:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
If you like the idea of warm spice but don’t necessarily want the HEAT of a spicy bitter, try something in this category. Bittercube’s Jamaican #1 has allspice, ginger, & black pepper and is ideal with rum. Their blackstrap molasses bitters are excellent in hot cocktails and pair well with rum or whiskey. Fee Brother’s black walnut bitters or Scrappys cardamom bitters would both add a hint of autumnal warm to whiskey cocktails, and would be great in a spiked hot cider. Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters contains cacao, cinnamon, and spices and is perfect with aged tequila, rum or bourbon, and would add a hint of warm spice to a spiked hot chocolate. Fee Brother’s Aztec chocolate, and Scrappy’s chocolate bitters have a purer cocoa flavor and would be perfect in a white russian.

Celery Bitters:
bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker
If Caesars or Bloody Marys are more your style, or if you want an unexpected addition to a gin and tonic, try celery bitters by Fee Brothers or Scrappys. Bittermens also makes a celery shrub that blends the flavors of celery with apples and vinegar, almost like a pickled celery that would, again, be perfect for bloody marys.

 

This is just a small sampling of the huge variety of bitters available today, with just a few ideas on how to put them to use. Once you find a flavor you like go ahead and experiment trying them in new ways.  Many people even use bitters for cooking and baking, not just cocktails. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination.

 

*This post was written in collaboration with Whisk, a store with an extensive cocktail section and one of the largest collections of bitters in NYC.

bitters for beginners, part I

So, I’ve developed a little obsession with bitters lately and I thought I might share it with you.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re not familiar with bitters, they’re basically a bitter or bittersweet infusion of botanical ingredients, usually in a mix of water and alcohol, and sometimes, glycerine. Although many varieties were originally created for medicinal purposes, the main function of bitters today is a flavoring agent for cocktails. Much like adding spices to a meal, bitters serve to add depth, complexity, and flavor to drinks.

There are actually two kinds of bitters on the market today. First, there are digestive (or potable) bitters that can be consumed on their own, some of the more popular varieties being Campari, Aperol, or Fernet. What I’ll be discussing today though are cocktail bitters, which are what most people think of when they hear the word. These are usually used as a flavoring agent for alcoholic drinks, but can also be mixed with soda water, or any number of liquids. Some people even like to use bitters to flavor dressings, sauces, or baked goods. I myself have had great luck flavoring creme anglaise with lavender bitters.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

Bitters may have been around as long ago as ancient Egypt, but they were further developed from the middle ages through the renaissance when the practices of alcohol distillation and making plant-based medicines were both widely practiced. Many brands of bitters sold today still reflect herbal remedies and tonic preparations that can be traced back to renaissance era traditions.

One of the most well-known brands, Angostura bitters, were created in Venezuela in 1824 by a physician who originally intended them as a cure-all for sea sickness and stomach ailments, and as a stimulant to keep malaria patients active and healthy. Many people still swear that a few dashes of these bitters in soda water is a great way to settle an upset stomach.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

No one knows for sure when bitters made the leap into cocktails, but it may have all started with people adding spirits and sugar to medicinal bitters to make them more palatable. It seems that they really did need just a spoonful of sugar (and booze) to help the medicine go down.

By the 19th century, the practice of adding medicinal bitters to fortified wine was so widespread in Britain that it made its way across the Atlantic to the American colonies. As early as 1806, publications were referring to bitters as one of the essential ingredients in a new alcoholic beverage called a “cocktail”. The recipe, as printed in Hudson, New York’s Balance & Columbian Repository, called for four ingredients, “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” The popularity of bitters grew steadily through the early 20th century, and certain varieties of bitters became synonymous with specific cocktail recipes.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

The popularity and availability of bitters came to a screeching halt when prohibition launched with the passing of the Volstead Act in 1919. A few bitters were able to survive this dark age in American history though, because some manufacturers were based outside the US; while some others, like Fee Brothers, used glycerine instead of alcohol to keep from being shut down. Speakeasies even started using bitters as a way to mask the off flavors of home-made bathtub gin and bootleg hooch. When prohibition was repealed many of the old bitters companies started producing again, but things took another turn for the worse as consumer tastes and drinking habits changed in the 1950s and 60s. This was too much for many companies who were still having a hard time recovering from prohibition and the depression, and most bitters varieties all but disappeared in this era. There are only a few brands left today that have lasted straight through since the 1800s under the same name.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

Many people credit revered mixologist and author Gary Regan with helping move the recent bitters renaissance forward. After researching and experimenting with century-old recipes for long-gone styles of cocktail bitters, he introduced his Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6 in 2005. In less than a decade, the popularity of bitters (and old school craft cocktails) has exploded, and there are now hundreds of varieties of bitters on the market. Many of the current brands got their start with bitters enthusiasts experimenting with their own speciality bitters at home, and now some companies, like Hella Bitter, are working to develop DIY bitters kits for home use. Many brands are reviving old styles and “lost” recipes, while others are using old techniques to introduce new varieties like mole, grapefruit, black walnut, and sriracha.

Traditionally bitters are made by infusing alcohol with different botanical ingredients, but some companies also add glycerine to their bitters. Glycerine is a simple sugar alcohol compound that is colorless and flavorless. Bitters made with glycerine are generally cheaper because you can use inexpensive extracts, thin them out with water and alcohol, and use the glycerine to hold the flavors together and keep them shelf stable. It’s a much quicker process but produces a flatter, less complexly flavored bitter. While glycerine based bitters do have some alcohol in them, they have significantly less than traditional “craft” bitters. Glycerine can also add a bit of a waxy mouthfeel to a cocktail if too much bitters are used. This is not to say that glycerine based bitters are not as good as traditional bitters, it’s just that there’s a significant difference in their intensity and utility. Craft bitters tend to be more expensive because they’re usually made from higher quality ingredients and have a stronger, purer, more concentrated flavor. Since they’re made from alcohol they don’t affect the mouthfeel of your drink, and their highly concentrated flavor means they’re used very sparingly and will last longer.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re new to the world of bitters, and you’re curious about them or would like to start building a collection for your home bar, the best way to find out what you like is to taste some. Aromatic and orange bitters are the most commonly used styles and, along with many of the newer citrus flavors, they’re the most versatile when it comes to their utility. There are plenty of brands and styles to choose from, so if you’re not sure what you’d like, go to your local bar and see if they’ll let you taste what they have. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to have a store in your area, like Whisk, that will let you sample bitters before taking the plunge, all the better. That way you can familiarize yourself with a variety of different flavors, taste the differences between certain brands, and choose what will work best for you.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

There is no end to the different styles and  varieties on the market today, so experiment with them and have fun. Just think of what you normally like to drink, and odds are that someone out there is making a style that corresponds to your favorite tipple or mixer. Get creative! That’s what building a collection of bitters is all about. You can play with flavors, throw things together, see what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s all about personal taste and there’s no rules that dictate what you can and can’t do. It’s just like building a collection of liquor for your home bar. Just go with what you like.

There are far too many varieties of bitters on the market for me to list them all, but check back next week for part II of bitters for beginners, and I’ll outline a basic guide to a few popular styles, and give you a few simple ideas on how to use them.

bitters for beginners | Brooklyn Homemaker

*This post was written in collaboration with whisk, a store with an extensive cocktail section and one of the largest collections of bitters in NYC.