June 27, 2007

Martinez cocktail -- with Abbott's

Since so many people have been asking, here is the Martinez cocktail recipe I have been using:

1 1/2 oz Beefeater Gin
1 1/2 oz Carpano Antica
1/4 Luxardo Maraschino
2 dashes Abbott's bitters

Stir, serve up with a lemon twist.

June 26, 2007

Abbotts -- New York Times

From the July 27th, New York Times

LAST October, John Deragon began tinkering with a recipe for Abbott’s bitters, a cocktail ingredient that has beguiled drinks fanatics for years. Over the next two months, Mr. Deragon, the chief technology officer of Waterfront Media, an online health and wellness company in Brooklyn, tweaked the formula drop by drop, using single-spice infusions known as tinctures. After about 18 test runs, he had a version he thought he could work with, and by March he was aging his second batch in a five-gallon rye whiskey barrel purchased from a distillery in upstate New York.

His plan now, he explained recently, is to extract a small portion every two weeks to track the evolving interplay of wood and spice. All told, he has amassed enough tasting notes and recipe adjustments to fill four medium-size Moleskine notebooks.

The only problem is that Mr. Deragon has never tasted real Abbott’s bitters. The brand dissolved in the early 1950s, the original recipe is lost, and securing bottles of it on eBay can require a level of attention at odds with productive membership in society. His effort is based largely on the kind of techniques and experimentation usually practiced in a laboratory, not a home bar.

While Mr. Deragon’s quest to recreate a historical footnote is extreme, it speaks to a heightened interest in bitters, the generic term for the concentrated infusions of roots, herbs, barks, spices and alcohol called for in too many classic drinks to name. (You can start with the martini, the Manhattan, the Old-Fashioned, the Sazerac, the Champagne cocktail, the Martinez ...)

“It’s almost like glue that holds a cocktail together,” said Philip Ward, the head bartender at Death & Co., in the East Village, where 17 of the 37 house drinks include bitters. “Add a dash, and the other three or four ingredients in the cocktail are in some way going to be able to relate with at least one or two things in the bitters.”

The challenge is figuring out which bitters form the strongest bond in a given drink. “I think that’s why bitters are so cool,” Mr. Ward said. “You don’t really know what they do. You just find out what they do by using them.”

As new brands and flavors of bitters emerge, the equation becomes more complicated. Last August, a German company called the Bitter Truth started a line of lemon, orange, and aromatic bitters. (Orange bitters are infused with orange peel and an assortment of spices. Aromatic bitters tend to be richer and more complex, with heavier doses of cinnamon, clove and anise.)

Earlier this year, Marlow & Sons, a restaurant and gourmet market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, began selling house-made Abbott’s bitters (since sold out) and citrus bitters, and is now planning a run of peach bitters and another round of Abbott’s.

In March, Fee Brothers, a company in Rochester, N.Y., known for its extensive line of cocktail bitters, introduced a limited-edition aromatic bitters, aged for one year in old whiskey barrels. Last month Angostura Ltd. — better known as the company that makes the yellow-capped bitters found in seemingly every grocery store in America — unveiled its long-rumored orange bitters. And bitters aficionados can always browse the extensive selection, for $2 to $16, at LeNell’s, a wine and spirits shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

For some bartenders, the retail surge is not enough. Jim Meehan, a bartender at Gramercy Tavern and the beverage director at PDT, a new cocktail bar in the East Village, said he feels underserved by the current bitters market, which, depending on how hard one feels like looking, numbers more than a dozen products. He said he plans to age his own aromatic bitters in a used three-gallon bourbon barrel procured from Mr. Deragon.

At Vessel, in Seattle, the bar manager, Jamie Boudreau, starts his cherry bitters by combining separate bourbon- and rye-based infusions with a touch of honey-flavored vodka and the Italian digestif amaro. He then ages the bitters in an oak cask rinsed with shiraz, filters them, and packages them in small glass bottles bearing an old-fashioned-sounding word of caution: “Imbibing more than a few drops may cause man to see things as they are, rather than as they should be.”

The allure of antiquity might begin to explain the remarkable devotion that Abbott’s bitters inspire. Ted Haigh, a Los Angeles-based graphic designer and drinks writer and historian known to many as Dr. Cocktail, became intrigued with Abbott’s — which he describes as similar to Angostura but with a more pronounced flavor of clove, nutmeg and cinnamon, plus a hint of anise — in the early 1990s, when he lucked into several bottles from roughly 1933.

His curiosity led him to two descendants of the company’s founder; a copy of the first corporate minutes, circa 1907; a pilgrimage to the original Abbott’s production site in Baltimore; and a lengthy interview with the company’s final owner, who dissolved the brand in the early 1950s because of sagging popular interest in drinks with bitters. And yet: “To my knowledge,” he said in an e-mail, “not a soul has the original recipe anymore.”

Thanks in large part to the combined interest of Mr. Haigh and Robert Hess, a director at Microsoft in Seattle and the founder of, a Web site devoted to cocktails, debate about the lost recipe has been simmering online for years. (Mr. Hess, who owns 10 original bottles of Abbott’s, and whose personal digital assistant contains upwards of 4,000 cocktail recipes, has made what he calls House Bitters since 2002.)

Last fall, the conversation vaulted ahead when Kevin J. Verspoor, a perfumer at Fragrance Resources in Clifton, N.J., and a relative newcomer to the discussion boards, posted the results of a gas chromatograph test he conducted on an unopened, Prohibition-era bottle from Mr. Hess’s collection.

“He had things in there that I never would have guessed — like tonka beans,” said Mr. Deragon, who based his initial recipe largely on Mr. Verspoor’s findings. (Tonka beans, with a scent reminiscent of vanilla, contain the blood-thinning chemical coumarin, and were banned as an additive by the Food and Drug Administration in 1954.)

On a recent evening, Mr. Deragon was enjoying a cocktail at Death & Co. when Mr. Meehan dropped by with some Peruvian bitters that he’d heard were crucial for pisco sours. Mr. Deragon seemed skeptical.

“I don’t know,” he said, taking a deep whiff of the Peruvian bitters, which tasted like Kahlua. “I might be moving out of the bitters and on to the vermouths. I feel like the bitters market is already saturated in terms of people making their own. I’m going to move on to the next big thing.”

January 28, 2007

Grapefruit Bitters

So I have been playing around with some versions of grapefruit bitters recently and came up with a pretty good version. The big test will be of course if it is shelf stable, and won't cloud up on me.

Anyway, here is the recipe.

johnder grapefruit bitters

180 g grain alcohol
60 g Grapefruit zest (no pith -- in strips from vegetable peeler)
10 g Grapefruit zest with pith
10 g Lemon zest
4 g ginger (2 pieces)
5 g gentian
1 g dried spearmint
5 g dried lavender
30 g water

Combine all ingredients, let sit overnight (12 hours)

Strain solids and set aside.

In saucepan melt 3 tablespoons sugar until very dark brown, add 1/4 cup water, stir until dissolved. Add 3 teaspoons of burnt sugar syrup to strained bitters along with 1/4 cup water.

The end product is bitter -- definitely get some of the bitterness from the grapefruit, but the bitter from the gentian helps settle the pith like bitterness from the grapefruit.

The end result is very yellow and has a tremendous aroma of grapefruit. Now to see what I can use it in.


January 10, 2007

Abbott and me -- our journey begins.


Inspired by the recent ingredient analysis over at Drinkboy of a bottle of Abbott's Aromatic bitters, I decided I was going to get the ingredients to make up a batch per the findings.

After obtaining most of the dried aromatics and essential oils (one point that is still being debated is if the aromatics are of dried form or oils) I am going to start on a batch tonight.

Finding all the ingredients hasn't proven to be too hard, the biggest issue is obtaining a charred oak cask that I can use for this purpose. While I have found a few online places to order a 1 or 3 gallon barrel, the price for a charred barrel is around $100.00, while an un-charred barrel is $25.00.

Tonight I will start the batch and document the process with some photos.

October 20, 2006

Books about bitters

In my quest to find a usable tonic recipe I managed to spend a few days scouring the web for details. After a search that didn't produce anything usable, I remembered about Google's book digitizing program in which they made available for download numerous old books on a wide range of subjects. After spending a few more days combing through the archives I hit paydirt and found some amazing books about the essence industry as well as apothicary and formulary guides.

In order to save the same excruciating legwork for others, I am making them available here.

First we have "A Compendium of Modern Pharmacy and Druggists' formularly, circa 1886" Download here.

Next: "A cyclopaedia of several thousand practical receipts, and collateral information in the arts, manufactures, and trades including medicine, pharmacy and domestic economy" Download here.

Next: "Eichler's receipts for Fruit Syrups, Brandies, Whiskies, Bitters, Bay Rums, Gin, Cordials, &c, 1884" Download here

Next: "Beverages and their Adulteration, Origin, Composition, Manufacture, Natural, Artificial, Fermented, Distilled, Alkaloidal and Fruit Juices, 1919" Download here.

Next: "Dr Chase's Recipes on Information for Everybody: an invaluable collection of about eight hundred practical recipes for merchants, grocers, saloon-keepers, physicians, druggists, tanners..." Download here

Next: "Non-secret formulas: A collection of over four thousand formulas and one thousand prized prescriptions for the use of Physicians and Druggists..." Download here.

Next: "A book of Prescriptions, containing 3000 prescriptions" Download here

Next "The Standard Formulary, a collection of nearly five thousand formulas for Pharmacaeutical preparations, family remedies, toilet articles, veterinary remedies, soda fountain requisites..." Download here.

Finally, the best of the lot: "The manual for the essence industry comprising the most modern methods for making all kinds of essences from liquors, brandies, liqueurs and all alcoholic drinks, fruit-juices, fruit-wines and jams..." Download this gem here

July 2, 2006

Verbena Rum Cocktail


Today I was playing around with ideas that can help use up some of my lemon verbena plant that has decided to take over the garden. I came up with a new cocktail that I am calling at this point

It's frigging hot outside cocktail.

Lightly bruise 3 lemon verbena leaves
1/2 oz lime simple syrup
1/2 oz lime juice
2 oz rum (I used Plantation 1995 run for this batch)

Shake with lots of ice, double strain - up
Garnish with small verbena leaf.

It was very tasty. I made up a big batch of lime 1:1 simple syrup today that I was going to use for some daiquiris and used some for this drink. It really worked well.

I am going to try another round with some Rhum Agricole later tonight.

April 17, 2006

Martinez Cocktail

martinez.jpgTonight's cocktail was from Gary Regan's most excellent "Joy of Mixology" book.

The original version was credited to Jerry Thomas' who in 1863 wrote the Bartenders Guide. In his version the gin was 1 oz and the sweet vermouth was 2 oz. Gary switched the proportions in his version which I like slightly better. Also Gary's version called for Angostura, I used my homemade Hess House Bitters

Continue reading "Martinez Cocktail" »

April 16, 2006

Queen's Park Swizzle


Last night for a cocktail I made an awesome drink called a Queen's Park Swizzle. This cocktail originated at the Queen's Park Hotel in Trinidad, although specifics around the date are vague. Regardless it is an amazing drink, especially for warm weather.

Combine in tall, 12-16 oz glass:
3 oz dark rum -- I used Plantation Barbados rum
1/2 oz lime
6-8 mint leaves roughly torn
1/2 oz demerra simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters.

In the bottom of the glass put the mint leaves, the lime juice and the simple syrup and muddle slightly to release the mint oils. Add the rum and with a swizzle stick mix the rum/lime/sugar/mint mixture for at least 30 seconds. Pour in about a cup of shaved or very finely cracked ice and swizzle between your palms until the glass frosts.

Top it off with the bitters which will result in a slightly layered drink, rum/mint on the bottom, ice in the middle and a layer of bitters on the top. Garnish with a lime slice and a big spring of mint.