Bitters Guide Part 2 – Drinks Made With Bitters
In Part 2 of the Cocktail Bitters Guide, we are taking a look at some classic drinks made with bitters. Most of the recipes have been previously published elsewhere on the site so we are going to post links to those recipes here.
If you missed the first part of the guide you can find background information on bitters here.
Drinks Made With Angostura Bitters
The Manhattan is one of my favorite classic cocktails. This classic is a delicious mix of whiskey and sweet vermouth married by bitters. This drink is an elegant blend that is held together by the bitters. Without the bitters, this is just a murky overly sweet drink. Angostura is the go-to choice. To take it in a slightly different direction you can add a dash of orange bitters as well.
You can find the classic Manhattan cocktail recipe here.
People were mixing drinks long before the Old Fashioned became a thing, but this drink holds the distinction of most closely matching the earliest known definition of a cocktail.
The earliest recipe is a study in beautiful simplicity. Bourbon, sugar, bitters and water. Add a chunk of ice and bit of lemon peel for garnish. To put this drink together is to participating in a ceremony that has been going on for more than two centuries.
The classic choice of bitters here is Angostura, but there is no reason to try any of your favorite bitters in the drink. Some of my favorite bitters in an Old Fashioned are Fee Brother’s Black Walnut Bitters, Regan’s Orange Bitters or Scrappy’s Cardamom Bitters.
The simplicity of the Old Fashioned also lends itself to creating new variations. This drink can be used as a foundation for building new recipes. Take a look at our in-depth post on the Old Fashioned for inspiration on building your signature take on the classic.
The Martinez is another one of my favorite cocktails. One of the reasons I love it is because it is such a surprising take on gin for so many people.
This may or may not be a precursor to the martini. Or a variation on a Manhattan. Or a derivative of the martini. Questions abound.
What we do know is this, the Martinez is an amazing blend of Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters. The recipe was first published in the 1887 edition of Jerry Thomas’ book How to Mix Drinks. So we can also be assured that generations of people have enjoyed this drink.
The pop of the Champagne cork is sure to invoke a Pavlovian response in anyone who is keen to celebrate life’s big moments. There are those rare special few people who take great pleasure in bubbles on an ordinary Tuesday night. To those few, I raise my glass.
To flout convention in the name of pleasure is a character trait I can respect. The Champagne Cocktail was invented for those people who, rather than rising to the occasion, choose to make the occasion rise to them.
Like every one of the cocktails we have listed so far, it makes three simple ingredients far more than the sum of their parts. A lump of sugar soaked with Angostura bitters and topped with Champagne and garnished with a lemon twist.
If you’re looking for a drink made with bitters Pink Gin is an interesting choice. Sounds dainty, but it is anything but. I’ve had a couple older gentlemen tell me they drank it way back in their Royal Navy days. It was popular as a potent cure for seasickness with those chaps. These days you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has even heard of it, much less tasted it.
It is nothing more than gin and bitters. The pink color comes from the Angostura bitters. The recipe is simple. Put six good size dashes in a glass and swirl it around. Fill the glass with 2 ounces of Navy strength gin and you’re good to go.
It’s probably good idea to chill this one a bit to make it more palatable.
Drinks Made With Peychaud’s Bitters
For some reason, every time I have ever ordered a Sazerac the experience has been memorable. My first also happened to be the first time I set foot in Milk & Honey. That was the bar I’d been looking for all my adult life and the drink was perfect.
The Sazerac is an amazing drink from a structural standpoint. The scent of fresh citrus oil from the lemon rind build anticipation. The absinthe rinse seems to both hold the flavors and lengthen them. The whole experience is a roller coaster of flavor that reveals itself over time.
You can take a look at the classic Sazerac recipe here. It is basically an Old Fashioned made with Peychaud’s bitters and rye served in a glass that has been rinsed with absinthe and topped with oil squeezed from a wide swath of lemon zest.
The Vieux Carre is another New Orleans classic that like the city itself is an exercise in baroque excess. Like the French Quarter’s ornate wrought-iron work entwined in wisteria, this drink is not known for its subtle minimalism.
It is rye, Cognac, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine. Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters tie it all together. A squeeze of lemon zest is the bow on top. This drink is a brass band of flavor marching right down the middle of the boulevard.
This drink isn’t easy to pull off given its considerable ingredient list. Done right, it is the perfect way to sit on the porch and melt into a sultry summer night.
A roundup of classic drinks made with bitters would be incomplete without a mention of the Pisco Sour. Amargo Chuncho bitters from South America play a starring role in this classic cocktail. The bitters are dropped on top of the frothed egg white and become the garnish, often being swirled into elaborate patterns on top of the drink.
Amargo Chuncho bitters are lighter and more floral than Angostura and they don’t have the same spicy notes. They are a little harder to get your hands on in North America, but if you’ve got them and authenticity is your thing you should definitely use them.
Speaking of authenticity, both Peru and Chile claim this as their national drink. And they both make it a little differently. So play around until you find your favorite combination of lemon or lime and Pisco.