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Flavorful cocktail trend: Cocktail recipes using bitters

Jen Karetnick's work also appears in Continental, Endless Vacation, MIAMI Modern Luxury, Wine News and other national publications. Her co-authored book, Born-Again Vintage, is forthcoming from Potter Craft (December 2008).

When bitter is good

When it comes to spirits, I've seen the future, and it's bitter. Bitters, that is. Beginning as medicinal concoctions, bitters have become increasingly popular in cocktails, particularly digestifs. If you are looking for a flavorful and unique drink, have a taste of one of the following cocktails featuring bitters.

Manhattan Cocktail

What are bitters?

Bitters, a category of beverages that, by way of distillation, dissolution or infusion, contain some type of bitter-to-bittersweet element. Common bitters employ aromatic herbs, barks, roots and even fruits such as yarrow flowers, wormwood leaves, goldenseal rhizome, quinine, gentian root, artichokes and unripe orange peel.

Bitters vary in strength and purpose from roughly 45 percent alcohol (Angostura Bitters) to 35 percent liqueurs and cordials (Jägermeister) to 15 percent fortified wines (Vermouth) to non-alcoholic (Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon).

Bitters are in

Oh, don't worry, you can still drink your pomegranate and blueberry vodkas with soda water and twist of lime if you like. No one will sneer. That is, your friends, who are probably still drinking cosmos, won't. But the trend of light, sweet and antioxidant is waning much like the 2-4-1 happy hour.

absintheInstead, in-the-know bartenders from Manhattan to Los Angeles, who gathered at the five-day Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans – the "most spirited event of the summer" – this past July, are pouring on the bitter dark side.

And that encompasses the entire creative range of medicinal digestifs: from the familiar Manhattan or Bourbon Old-Fashioned, both of which utilize Angostura Bitters, to something newfangled like mixologist Brother Cleve's The Ninth Ward recipe, which calls for Peychaud's Bitters, or bar chef Wayne Collins's The Garden Tonic, which adds a couple of dashes of The Bitter Truth's Celery Bitters and Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water to Plymouth Gin. And this is just the beginning.

You call also try absinthe, recently made available in the US, or you can make a more subtle, timeless impression on your palate with Lillet (pronounced lil-LAY). A blend of wines and fruit liqueurs, made in the Bordeaux region of France, Lillet comes in both red and white varieties.

Of all the spirits in bitters categories, Lillet (and fortified wines like it) is perhaps the most versatile. It can be enjoyed as an aperitif straight up, mixed together as a Lillet Cocktail, added to gin and vodka to create a Vesper Martini, and even employed to lighten the load – and inspire the name – of a Corpse Reviver.

Well, they don't call them bitters for nothing.

Bitters are in, and if you like your cocktails to follow the trends, mix yourself one of these fine bitter-kissed drinks. Then experiment with a few of the many bitters and create a delectable selection of your own en vogue spirits.

Trend-setting cocktail recipes using bitters

Please note: All recipes adapted courtesy of Tales of the Cocktail 

Manhattan

Serves 1

Ingredients:
3 ounces Rittenhouse Rye 100 proof
1 ounce Martini & Rossi Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Directions:
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Bourbon Old-Fashioned

Serves 1

Ingredients:
1 sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 ounces Wild Turkey Bourbon
Club soda

Directions:
In a rocks glass, soak sugar cube in bitters. Crush cube with muddler. Add a large ice cube. Pour in bourbon and top with club soda to taste.

The Garden Tonic

Serves 1

Created by Wayne Collins

Ingredients:
4 mint leaves
3 cucumber slices
2 dashes The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
2 teaspoons St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1-1/2 ounces Plymouth Gin
3 ounces Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water
Fresh lime wedge

Directions:
In the bottom of a sturdy glass, agitate the mint leaves and cucumber slices with the bitters. Add ice. Pour in the liqueur and gin. Top with tonic water and stir. Garnish with lime wedge.

The Ninth Ward

Serves 1

Created by Brother Cleve

Ingredients:
1-1/2 ounces Bulleit Bourbon
1/2 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
3/4 ounce Fee Brothers Falernum Syrup (substitute Orgeat Syrup)
3/4 ounce lime juice
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

Directions:
Shake all ingredients with cracked ice and strain into a 5-ounce martini glass.

Sazerac

Serves 1

Ingredients:
1 lump of sugar
1-1/2 ounces Sazerac Rye
3 drops Peychaud's Bitters
3 drops La Fée Absinthe
Lemon peel

Directions:
1. Take two heavy-bottom 3.5 ounce bar glasses. Fill one with cracked ice and allow it to chill.

2. In the other glass, place the lump of sugar with a bit of water to moisten it. Crush sugar with a bar spoon. Add Sazerac, bitters and a few cubes of ice and stir.

3. Empty the first glass of ice and add absinthe. Twirl briskly and dump out – enough absinthe will remain and coat glass to impart flavor. Strain the rye concoction into the absinthe glass. Twist a lemon peel over the glass but do not drop in.

Phil's Death at Dusk

Serves 1

Ingredients:
1/2 ounce Bluecoat Gin
1/2 ounce Crème de Violette
1/2 ounce Lucid Absinthe Supérieure
3 ounces Sparkling Wine
Cherry

Directions:
Build gin, Crème de Violette and sparkling wine in glass. Dash absinthe in as a float and drop in the cherry.

Lillet Cocktail

Serves 1

Ingredients:
1-1/2 ounces Lillet Blanc
1-1/2 ounces Lillet Rouge
Orange peel

Directions:
Build over ice in a rocks glass. Stir. Garnish with orange peel.

Vesper Martini

Serves 1

Ingredients:
1-1/2 ounces Absolut Vodka
1-1/2 ounces Plymouth Gin
1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc

Directions:
Shake and strain into a martini glass.

Corpse Reviver

Serves 1

Ingredients:
3/4 ounce Plymouth Gin
3/4 ounce Lillet Blanc
3/4 ounce Grand Marnier
2 dashes Pernod Absinthe
3/4 ounces lemon juice

Directions:
Shake and strain into a martini glass.

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