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Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas Hardcover – November 1, 2011


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Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas + The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks + Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580083595
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580083591
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 9.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review


Featured Recipes from Bitters


The Horse's Neck

Called "the great what-is-it of the Highball tribe" by David A. Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, the Horse's Neck started as a nonalcoholic drink in the 1890s, but the addition of whiskey, bourbon, rye, brandy, scotch, or even gin brought a spirited kick to this refreshing highball. The drink, per Embury, "degenerated" into a nonalcoholic beverage once again during Prohibition. Bourbon and ginger ale is one of my favorite marriages of spirit and mixer, so that is recommended here.

The garnish is achieved by positioning one continuous spiral of zest from a whole lemon so that it is flapping over the glass's edge, invoking the silhouette of a horse's mane. Personally, the lemon corkscrew puts me in the mind of a pig's tail, but I suppose the Pig's Tail isn't as elegant a name as the Horse's Neck.

Makes 1 drink

  • 1 lemon
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Ginger ale

Carefully peel the zest from the lemon in one continuous spiral with a channel knife. Coil the zest around a barspoon or chopstick to encourage a bouncy spiral.

Place the lemon zest in the bottom of a chilled highball glass, hanging the end of the coiled garnish over the side of the glass. Fill the glass with ice.

Add the bourbon and bitters and top off with ginger ale.



The Autumn Sweater

We could slip away
Wouldn't that be better?

The bittersweet lyrics of "Autumn Sweater," from Yo La Tengo's 1997 album, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, serve as the source material for this melancholy change-of-season shoegazer. Serve it over a large block of ice, or over an ice sphere--even better to evoke a fat harvest moon hanging in the nighttime sky.

Made in Sicily since 1868, Averna is a syrupy, bitter herbal liqueur. It isn't overpowering, though, and is a great gateway amaro if you're interested in exploring potable bitters. Amaro Nonino is another mild Italian digestif whose caramel color and warm, spicy burnt orange notes round out the full fall flavors here. Wrap yourself in an Autumn Sweater and embrace what the season has in store for you.

Makes 1 drink

  • 1 ounce rye
  • 1/2 ounce Averna
  • 1/2 ounce Amaro Nonino
  • 1/2 ounce maple syrup
  • 1 dash Urban Moonshine maple bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • Garnish: thick clove-studded strip of orange zest

Combine all the ingredients except the garnish in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled. Add a large sphere of ice to a chilled double old-fashioned and strain the drink into the glass.

For the garnish, use a paring knife to slice a thick strip of zest from an orange. Twist it over the drink to release the essential oils and rub along the rim of the glass. Stud the orange zest with two whole cloves and drape it over the ice sphere.



Champagne Cocktail

Is there anything more festive than hearing the soft pop of a cork coming out of a bottle of Champagne? That's an aural cue for celebration in my book, and while Champagne is wonderful on its own, adding a sugary, bitters-soaked kiss to the equation elevates the experience tenfold. Four to six dashes of bitters should do the trick, but you really want to soak the sugar cube, which, once the Champagne is introduced, will leave a fizzy stream of bitters pushing up through the glass.

Makes 1 drink

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 4 to 6 dashes Angostura or other aromatic bitters
  • Chilled champagne
  • Garnish: lemon twist

Place the sugar cube on the bottom of a champagne flute or coupe glass. Douse the sugar cube with the bitters and fill the glass with champagne. Garnish with the lemon twist.




 

Review

Winner, James Beard Awards 2012- Beverage Category 
Winner, IACP Awards 2012- Wine, Beer or Spirits Category

“Finally, here is an entire book devoted to the history, culture, and uses of the herbal elixir.” 
—BonAppetit.com "Best Cookbooks of 2011"

“Gorgeous and fascinating… highly recommend for those interested in spirits.”
—Michael Ruhlman, 12/2/11
 
“Engaging…gorgeous….The book practically begs for a dark leather chair, a roaring fireplace, and a Manhattan…a nearly ideal gift.”
Serious Drinks, 12/1/11
 
“Stylish, engaging, geek-attack-inducing…The beautiful art in Bitters invites readers to touch, open and browse, and the prose is as intelligent as the photography is beautiful. Whether it's found on the coffee table, in the kitchen or behind the bar, this book incites readers to explore, create and share.”
—Shelf Awareness, 11/22/11

“This is graduate-level stuff and would be a welcome addition to any cocktail geek's library.” 
—Wall Street Journal, 11/19/11

“Brad Thomas Parsons tracks the bitters boom in his new book Bitters, and manages to elevate herbs to an art form.” 
—Newsweek, 11/14/11

“Fascinating…Parsons offer[s] techniques for making bitters at home as well as a great collection of unique cocktail recipes.” 
—The Washington Post, 11/8/11

“The literary apotheosis of the bizarre and undeniably beautiful artisanal and historic cocktail trend.”
—The Atlantic, 11/4/11

“Cocktails are very much in again and bitters are the belle of the ball. We are totally ready to geek out with this one.”
—The Huffington Post, 8/25/11

“Brad has not only written the definitive volume on bitters, but also proven himself a bartender of the highest order: an inspired mixologist and a gifted storyteller whose generous, engaging voice makes you want to order round after round.” 
—Matt Lee and Ted Lee, authors of The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern

Bitters turns a potentially esoteric topic into a breezy read, packed with recipes for the bar and kitchen that we will certainly be adding to our repertoire. Brad’s witty, generous storytelling and excellent historical research, paired with the handsome visuals, set this book apart.” 
—Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, authors of The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual and chef/owners of Frankies Spuntino and Prime Meats 

“I love bitters! Brad’s book is a must-have for all booze nerds. The history is fascinating and the recipes are awesome.”
—David Chang, chef/owner of Momofuku 

“Thanks to Brad Thomas Parsons’s inquisitive detective work, readers can discover how cocktail bitters rose from the ashes of Prohibition to become an indispensable ingredient for the country’s top mixologists.” 
—Jim Meehan, managing partner at PDT and author of The PDT Cocktail Book

“Similar to the mysterious and storied elixir it documents, Bitters is bright, refreshing, complex, and essential. It will also cure your gout. Any fan of cocktails will desire it, but so will any fan of fascinating history, good writing, or gentian root.”  
—John Hodgman, author of That Is All


More About the Author

Brad Thomas Parsons is the author of "Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All," which was the winner of the James Beard and IACP Cookbook Awards, and a finalist for the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. Parsons received an MFA in writing from Columbia University, and his work has appeared in "Bon Appétit," "Food & Wine," and "Imbibe," among others. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit www.btparsons.com.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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A fun and informative read.
Event
Brad Thomas Parsons does a wonderful job explaining the historical rise, fall, and renaissance of bitters in this book.
C. Carnevale
Good book for amateur bartenders and cocktail makers.
Shakernut

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By T. Harty on January 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The title of the book is a bit misleading, because so much more than just some history of bitters and bunch of recipes. Everything from history to setting up your bar and mixology basics. This book is able to cover a wide variety of topics in a way that is surprisingly well focused and concise. The majority of the book is recipes (Bitters, Drinks and Food) and I can't help but to be impressed about the care taken with the them. Each one has a small introduction, with a little bit of history, a personal anecdote, or a little bit of whimsy that really helps the reader connect with the text. Nothing in this book is an afterthought or out of context filler like you see with so many drink books.

The book does go into comprehensive detail about the bitters available on the market today. The list is very comprehensive, even talking about fairly obscure Bitters such as BitterCube (Wisconsin). Brad goes out on a limb and makes a recommendation of the 11 comercial must have bitters for your cocktail bar. Once you have the feel for the commercially produced bitters you move on to how to make your own. The book breaks down the recipes into a very approachable format. If I were to have a criticism it's would be that there's only 13 actual Bitters Recipes in the book. However, I think overall the book leaves the reader with more than enough information to continue down the road of making bitters.

Who Should Read this Book: Drink Nerds, High Functioning Alcoholics with standards, Home-brewers.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Matthew B. Rowley on April 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
From Rowley's Whiskey Forge:

It has become a cliché of modern bartending that bitters are to cocktails as salt is to soup. They are the seasoning, the ingredient that can turn merely acceptable drinks into stellar ones. Or, as one Filipino friend explained to another in a turn close to my heart, "Bitters are to cocktails as bay leaves are to adobo." You may or may not be able to pinpoint the taste, but without it, everything has a certain flatness.

If you already make your own cocktail bitters, chances are that Brad Thomas Parsons' recent book on the subject holds little new for you. On the other hand, if you're just starting to dabble or don't know where to begin, Bitters conveniently brings together a lot of material in one place. With no other bitters manual in print, one might even call it indispensable for the DIY cocktail enthusiast.

After some introductory remarks and history, Parsons dives into the meat of the matter with short profiles of some two dozen players in today's bitters boom: Fee Brothers, Bittermans, The Bitter Truth, Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters, Bar Keep Bitters, Scrappy's, and more. Not a bad lineup considering that a decade ago, Angostura, Fee Brothers, and Peychaud's were the three remaining bitters producers that survived Prohibition. He includes recipes for thirteen bitters such as apple, orange, rhubarb, coffee-pecan, and root beer bitters. A substantial collection of cocktail recipes using bitters -- more than half the book -- rounds out the pages.

Parsons clearly has spent much time obsessing over bitters; he interviews appropriate authorities and booze pundits, he includes the right companies and products, and he hits the high points of history. He's done his homework. Yet there's a clumsiness about his writing.
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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Scott Etter on April 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
For a book that bills itself as "A spirited history..." this book is woefully short of interesting historical information. You do get a little, around a dozen pages worth, but even if you discount the early use of bitters in or as patent medicines or tonics, their place in cocktail culture deserves far better research and story telling that this book provides. Taking the case of Abbott's Bitters, which ceased production in the early 1950s, cocktail geeks far and wide have obsessed about the product for years, going so far as performing gas chromatography on samples and talking to surviving relatives of the producers. But the author apparently did none of that and only gives a couple of half-hearted paragraphs about a 1907 trademark lawsuit between the makers of Angostura Bitters and Abbott's before launching into a two-page personal anecdote about a bartender friend making him a Manhattan with the last of his antique Abbott's.

In a nutshell, that is either the strength or downfall of the entire book depending on your preference. The book is essentially a collection of recipes for several flavors of homemade bitters and an abundance of cocktails that make use of bitters. But most of the text of the book is a memoir of the author's personal experiences with and paean to the modern speakeasy (high-toned cocktail bar) and its place in today's foodie subculture. On that count, this book is reasonably well done. There is a lot of attractive photography of bartenders making beautiful looking cocktails. The writing isn't bad although it feels more like reading someone's blog than a professionally produced book.
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