The road to El Dorado Part 2 - A bitter sweet symphony

8th January 2024

So after some careful consideration I have decided to create my very own aromatic bitters to incorporate into my cocktail for the upcoming El Dorado Swizzle competition.
The base of a bitter is usually a high strength alcohol that has been steeped with various weird and wonderful spices, botanicals, seeds, peels, flowers and just about anything else you can think of giving a highly concentrated flavor. The most well recognized brand is undoubtedly Angostura bitters and no bar is complete without at least a bottle of Angostura. These days you can find a myriad of flavors from chili to rhubarb, and everything in between.

Bitters started life many years ago as a cure all tonic or medicine. Originally bitters would have been taken on their own or with some other spirituous drink as early as 1700 in Briton. Later bitters were added to alcoholic drinks and helped to hide the foul taste of the cheaply made booze; there use flourished during prohibition. In 1806 the first recorded reference to the word cocktail was in a news paper called The Balance, and Columbian Repository where in response to a reader question of “what is a cocktail” the editor’s reply was as follows: “a potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar”. So bitters are a big part of cocktail history and go back even longer than the cocktail it’s self most likely.

When I start to create a new cocktail I look at a few things, where is my base spirit from? What is the history attached to it? What ingredients are native to the home of the spirit? And what are the traditions surrounding the spirit and its origin? All of these things help me to establish a foundation for what will work best. I always start with the base spirit and work backwards. You want the drink to be a sum of its parts and not over powered by any one flavor, the base spirit should shine through and the other elements of the drink should compliment it. Adding balance with sweet and sour ingredients, and drawing out individual flavors from the spirits with juices, bitters or liquors will give you a great complexity within the drink.

As we will be using a swizzle stick to prepare this cocktail I have decided to make a swizzle stick and cinnamon bitters. This will give a great back note to the cocktail and leave an explosive bust of flavour.
It’s this history with spices that interests me most as rum and spices are best friend when married into a cocktail.

So here is my recipe for swizzle stick and cinnamon bitters
You will need:

A 300ml Kilner jar
Cheese cloth or muslin to filter the finished bitters
1 tsp of crushed swizzle stick adds bitterness and spice
2 tsp dried gentian root
2 small strips of lemon zest for flavor
1 cm cinnamon stick for a sweet spicy note
250ml El Dorado 8yr, I choose the 8year old as it is reasonably robust rum with will work with these strong flavors that I’m introducing to it.

And the last thing you will need is lots of patience!
Add all of the ingredients into the jar and leave for 2 weeks in room temperature, I know that seems like ages but all good things come to those who wait. Of course it would only be right to give it a try every day, just to see how it’s doing. Also give it a little shake every now and then.
After the two weeks strain out the botanicals through the cheese cloth and squeeze out any rum remaining within. Add the botanicals to 250ml water and boil until the liquid has reduced by half and then leave to cool. Once cool strain the botanicals out again and add the remaining water to the filtered bitters from the first stage. And that is it! You should end up with a flavor packed bitters that will keep indefinitely. Just a few drops should transform any cocktail.

In my final part in this series of three blogs I will share the final cocktail with you and let you know how I did on the big day! Wish me luck!

For more information on bitters grab a copy of the book, it’s full of more in depth information and ideas.

To purchase and pre-made bitters check out Gerry’s:

Pardon the interruption

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