Cocktail Time and the Bitter Adventure

“Tales of the Cocktail”, an annual cocktail obsessed event is taking place right now in New Orleans. You know I’m there in spirit.  (Sorry, sometimes the urge to pun is irresistible.)

I can live vicariously thru this blog: “Blogging the Tales of the Cocktail”, but it’s making me too hungry. That’s not to say that I don’t keep reading it, like sneaking an extra potato chip or two.

Our own cocktail adventures have been somewhat curtailed. Not exactly curtailed, just leading us down unexpected trails.
First it was procuring the actual booze that proved more of an obstacle than we thought it would be. We have a fairly sizable British population in the area; I figured that we would have our pick of gins. And we do have our pick of gins: they come in cheap, cheaper, cheapest and rock bottom nasty. We’ve finally found a source for Plymouth gin and that works pretty well.   Our next hurdle has been rye, but I think that’s an impossible dream.  Mitch, my cocktail guru, has advised me to try Canadian Club which is 50% rye, but Jeff, in his formative years, had his first serious bout of over indulging with Canadian Club so he’s a bit skittish about Canadian Club. Even if I do remind Jeff that this happened roughly 150 years ago and he should just get over it, it seems this youthful mistake must have been pretty traumatic.

We’ve tried making a Manhattan with scotch, but that’s called a Rob Roy, and proved to be much too funky for our taste. Or course we used some fantastic old scotch that a friend had given us, and I’m sure it was total heresy and we will go to Scotch hell because of our blasphemy. We tried a second version with some Vat69 scotch and that was far more palatable.   Then again, it was missing that dash of bitters, that dash of ‘je ne sais quoi’.

Which leads us to now explore making our own bitters. Before we headed to Italy, I bought a whole stash of bitters to bring over: some Fee Brothers, Angostura, Regan Orange Bitters, Peychaud. However, I forgot to pack them and they’re still in NY and we’re bitterless in Umbria. To be honest, after baking the bread, making the pasta, the veal stock etc. etc, I was kinda hoping that I could buy some bitters, but it seems I need to whip out the witches cauldron and whip up some of my own toil and trouble.

Because I firmly believe one must know the basics before tinkering, I looked up Jerry Thomas’s recipe for bitters. Jerry Thomas is credited with being the original cocktail recipe writer and maybe even the inventor of cocktails. Check out David Windrich’s award winning book Imbibe for all sorts of intriguing cocktail history.  Mr Thomas’ recipe for bitters calls for: rum, raisins, cinnamon, snake root, lemon and orange slices, cloves and allspice. Damn, I am all out of snakeroot and if I can’t even find gin, what are the chances of me finding snakeroot?  Also, seeing as how snakeroot is seriously toxic, I thought I’d move on to other recipes.  Now I’m on the hunt for cassia, or quassia, and gentian, and quinoa root among other things.
I have a feeling that the ‘bitter adventure’ has just begun.

We did come up with a variation on the French Pearl (gin, lime juice, mint, simple syrup and Pernod), and we call it the Italian Pearl.Chilled_glass

Italian Pearl
2 oz gin
¾ of lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
¼ oz Pastis
Few mint sprigs

Combine ingredients and shake well. Mitch, we’re not pre-muddling the mint  because my windowsill mint is pretty fragile, so we’re just shaking. OK?


  1. mitch on July 10, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Anything’s OK, as long as it tastes good! After all, what is a cocktail if not a perfect way to get ethanol into your system? And just by shaking with the mint, you’re practically muddling it, so cin-cin on that.
    And, I like the name,too.

    What I’m really wondering is what kind of trouble Jeff got into with that CC – did he steal it from his dad’s bar or something? And if he wont bend, how about trying any of the other canadaians, like Canadian Mist, Black Velvet, or Seagram V.O.? None of them will be as nice in a Manhattan as a good old bottle of Rittenhouse or Sazerac, but, when in Rome…

  2. mitch on July 10, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Well, he certainly needs to get over that junior high thing from 20 years ago!

    With any luck, in Perugia, you’ll find lots of good things – I’ll keep my fingers crossed for ya.


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