Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Emperor’s New Bitters

August 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Spirits Events

Firstly, let me state that while most Tales of the Cocktail seminars are thoroughly informative, any of them put on by the likes of Jacob “Recovering Vodka Salesman” Briars, Sebastian “Molecular Rationalist” Reaburn, and Francesco “We’re not drinking, we are learning” Lafranconi will also be a hilarious floor show laced with as much good humor as information. Definitely catch these “gentlemen” at a future event.

That out of the way, let’s talk about *this* seminar…

For “The Emperor’s New Bitters”, we took a fairly deep dive into the history of bitters of all sorts, and into the fascination modern bartenders have with them. That last part they summed up succinctly with “Bartenders are fascinated with bitters because while they can’t make their own calvados, or tequila, they can easily make their own bitters”, and many do. Now whether those are good or bad, is another matter.

The survey of bitters that existed pre-Prohibition was brief, partly because there were too many to discuss, and also most of the recipes are long lost. The rest of the seminar focused on the history of some of the more widely available brands and styles available, and of course the botanicals involved.

Angostura, is the best known bitter, and is the world’s most widely distributed cocktail ingredient. Angostura’s enduring success is partly due to rigorous trademark protection. There had been other bitters labelled as “Angostura” because they actually used angostura bark. But between trademark enforcement, and American Prohibition killing (nearly) all of the American makers, Angostura came out clearly on top. Peychaud’s history is a little less storied, but without Peychaud’s we’d not have the Sazerac among a few other classic cocktails, so they rightly have a place in history. Time will tell if the Fee Brothers, Bitter Truth, Boker’s, Bob’s, Abbott’s, Bittermens, Brooklyn Hemisoherical, Mozart Chocolate, and the others discussed will gain the same historical prestige.

Hopefully we can continue to enjoy all of these bitters in their strange and wonderful flavors and effects, without another absinthe-ban/Prohibition-scale disaster to come along and make one particular ingredient so precious, again. I doubt any of us want to go through that again.

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  1. […] on the scene about 10 years ago. But this class was less on history (that’s what a seminar like The Emperor’s New Bitters at Tales of the Cocktail is for), and more about actually trying our hands at making bitters, so we […]