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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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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.
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.
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.”
“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
Top customer reviews
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Against that backdrop, the second section really offers what I came for. It provides recipes for a range of bitters, and demonstrates common proportions of the least familiar ingredients. Given these as bases, and given the strongly stereotyped procedure for preparing the bitters, I'm eager to try a few, then go off on my own. (Maybe I'll try the cranberry bitters, alluded to but without recipe or suppliers.) The third section provides not just cocktail recipes from different eras of the American cocktail history, but a glimpse into the world of cocktail culture and community. Wow - some people take their tipple incredibly seriously. I can't complain too much, though, because these bold and dedicated explorers have made it possible for dabblers like me to get started. The book's fourth section interested me only a little, as the non-beverage culinary uses of bitters.
Outside of the recipes, the lists of common (and uncommon) ingredients in bitters were very helpful, as were lists of suppliers. The latter might not be very useful years from now, but will help readers contemporary with the book's publishing. This brings together information from a wide range of sources, many of them historical, personal, and otherwise difficult to access. For someone like me, interested in the topic but not dedicated to it, this represents a unique resource for this very specialized corner of the culinary world.
-- wiredweird, a bitters old man
Update: Tested the orange bitters recipe. It has a fresher orange taste than any commercial product I've tried. Next time, I might boost the minor flavors and bitterness - not complaining, it's just that I mess with almost every recipe I try.
The historical information was nice, but the actual "reading" portion of this book took me about 30 minutes.
If you are looking for recipes for bitters and bitter containing drinks, get this book. If you are looking for a fascinating read about bitters or for in depth explanations of various techniques to make your own bitters, you will find more information in 30 minutes on the interweb.
Great history of Bitters and its origins.
Really enjoyed this book.
I really love the history of bitters, with some general history of mixed drinks in general. At first I couldn't understand why there was a list of companies and their primary flavors, but once I began poking around online for bitters I understood. It's actually very valuable. The recipes are as well.
Overall an excellent book. The physical quality of the book is also very nice. I hate dust covers and they didn't make me deal with one. They created a very nice, colorful, hardback book.