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Cocktails Bitters are back
November/December 2006 | Volume 57, Issue 6
Cocktails Bitters are back
Historically it was the addition of bitters to alcoholic beverages in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that defined a new category of mixed drinks called the cocktail. The word first appeared in print in 1806 in a New York periodical called The Balance, and Columbian Repository. Historically it was the addition of bitters to alcoholic beverages in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that defined a new category of mixed drinks called the cocktail . The word first appeared in print in 1806 in a New York periodical called The Balance, and Columbian Repository. In response to a reader’s inquiry about what it meant, the editor replied, “Cock tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” It was commonly known as a Bittered Sling.
Various types of aromatic bitters were once a popular ingredient in cocktails. Up until Prohibition there were numerous commercial brands and hundreds of proprietary brands of bitters in use.
During the latter half of the twentieth century the use of bitters declined to the point that they all but vanished. The running joke among bartenders was “Which will last longer: your marriage or your bottle of bitters?”
With the revival of the cocktail that clicked into overdrive with the new millennium, bitters are back. Many inspired bartenders have returned to classic recipes and searched out not just that bottle of Angostura but several of the lesser-known products like Peychaud’s and Fee Brothers bitters. The Fee Brothers company of Rochester, New York, has recently expanded its markets overseas and introduced two new products to its line. The writer and cocktail expert Gary Regan used to supply me with orange bitters that he made in his own kitchen. Just last year the Sazerac Company began producing them commercially under the name of Gary Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6. It’s good to see bitters finding their way back, not just in classic recipes but also by way of bartenders’ introducing them into their original and signature cocktails. Below are two recipes that include bitters; one is a modern martini using Gary’s orange bitters and the other is the Manhattan, which calls for Angostura, a tropical bitters that has been manufactured in Trinidad since 1830.
Cheers! — Dale DeGroff
- 2 ounces Finlandia vodka
- 1 / 4 ounce Stoli Vanilla
- 1 / 2 ounce orange curaçao
- Dash Gary Regan’s Orange bitters No. 6
Assemble all the ingredients in a Boston shaker glass and stir with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with flamed orange peel.
- 2 ounces blended whiskey
- 1 ounce Italian sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Pour all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir as you would a martini. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry. Note: If you prefer a dry Manhattan, use dry vermouth and garnish with a lemon peel.
Retro Snack: The Hot Dog Goes Haute
What’s the most fashionable nibble served by Manhattan caterers these days? It’s pigs in blankets, that martini-soaker-upper of the 1960s suburban cocktail party, which to me always was a perfect mix of elegant and homey. Hot dogs have gone trendy. In 2004 Danny Meyer, the owner of such fine New York restaurants as Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern, sensed that the exaltation of the hot dog was in the air when he opened his Shake Shack in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, a glitzed-up old-fashioned takeout place in Madison Square Park that serves beer, milk shakes, hot dogs, and hamburgers. People are lining up for juicy all-beef “Chicago-style” dogs served on poppy-seed buns and topped with a salad of relish, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, onion, celery salt, and mustard. These are designer hot dogs.
When I was a kid growing up in New York, my friends and I all associated street hot dogs, bobbing in the murky water of vendors’ carts, with mouse droppings. Not that that stopped us from eating them and loving them. Food fads come and go for no apparent reason, but I think the emerging fad for a more elegant hot dog is anchored in the baby boomers’ memory of a slightly tawdry childhood pleasure. Now boomers want a healthier, cleaner dog. Not only have franks long had a dirty and lowbrow reputation, there is also a possibly more serious issue. Sodium nitrite and nitrates may pose a cancer risk. Sodium nitrite is used as a preservative in hot dogs; it’s part of what gives a Yankee Frank or a Hebrew National its juiciness and pinkish color.