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01.24.11 by  

Found: New Balance

Add bittering agents to your cocktails for a new twist on balance.

There’s something to be said about balanced cocktails … not too sweet, not too spirituous, not too strong. So how does a master craftsman perfectly proportion drinks each time you sip? Bittercube scoops us on the very delicate art of incorporating bitterness (without you having a clue) in this third part of a 5-part series.

Balance your cocktails with bitters.

served raw: what types of bittering agents are most common in cocktails?
Nick & Ira: Bitterness comes from a lot of places, most commonly from liqueurs, bitters and citrus peels. Campari and Angostura Bitters come to mind. With the emergence of the classic and neo-classic cocktail, people are discovering again the importance of a bitter note in well-executed drinks.

Besides Campari and Angostura there is a plethora of liqueurs and bitters that help add depth and dimension to cocktails. Various types of Italian amari differ in levels of rich bitterness and depth to bring unique notes to cocktails. Hand-crafted bitters are becoming more readily available, both in retail stores and online, and can turn even the most mundane of highballs into interesting libations.

Vermouths are another way to incorporate bitterness. They’re an amalgamation of herbs, roots and barks including wormwood — vermut in German — steeped in white wine with a bit of sugar, burnt sugar in the case of sweet vermouth. Cocktails like the manhattan attest to the ability of vermouth to perfectly balance a drink.

Expressing a citrus peel or disc over a cocktail brings a burst of bright bitterness and aroma to a cocktail. When left in the cocktail, the bitter notes from both the oils and the pith will further the bitter experience in as the drink is being enjoyed.

what role does bitterness play in a well-balanced cocktail?
Bitterness is a playing field upon which sweetness and acidity duke it out. We’ve already discussed sweetness and acidity in cocktails and how the balance of those two can bring out true flavor. Bitterness changes the way sweetness and acidity are balanced together and adds a dimension to both the acidity and sweetness of a cocktail. This is to say, once a cocktail is balanced with sweetness and acidity, a bittering agent cannot simply be added to accentuate that balance. Often, the acidity might need a boost and the sweetener might need to be drawn down, but the opposite may be true in certain instances. Bitterness is it’s own creature that needs to find balance with the other elements of a cocktail. Bitterness adds complexity and uniqueness when used properly.

bitterness can be tricky in cocktails, are there rules to help keep a cocktail balanced that utilize bittering agents?
A little goes a long way. When crafting cocktails with a bittering agent it’s important to use these products sparingly. At Bittercube, we bottle our bitters in small bottles with eye dropper tops so that they can be added to cocktails by the drop or the squeeze. Bitters and amari are concentrated in flavor and are meant to be diluted in other liquids to expose hidden flavors.

There are a few occasions where we might use ¾ or 1 ounce of an amaro and balance out its bitterness with egg white, citrus and sugar or flavor from another liqueur, but for the most part using ¼ ounce or less is a good place to start. The idea of adding bitterness to a cocktail isn’t to make something unpleasant but to incorporate a bitter note, which helps with digestion and excites the senses.

what are some examples of classic cocktails where bitterness is a highlighted ingredient?
A recognizable classic cocktail using bitterness is the negroni. It’s made in various ways, but classically speaking, it’s equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. We’ve definitely had a negroni concocted that way that we’ve appreciated, but it’s not a cocktail we would regularly drink or serve — we find it too bitter and somewhat off-putting. We prefer the step down method: 1 ½ parts gin, 1 part Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and ½ part Campari. The Campari is still very present, even with only ½ ounce. The vermouth softens both the gin and the Campari and brings balance to the proofy gin and the bitter Campari. The Boulevardier is a cocktail that predates the Negroni by a few decades and is a similar recipe with bourbon replacing the gin.

do you have a signature cocktail that fits this profile?
The copper dagger is a great example of how the true flavors of a bitter liqueur can be exposed when balanced correctly with acidity and sweetness. It also breaks the rule we established earlier in that in contains a whopping 1 ½ ounces of Averna Amaro!

The Valentino is a Bittercube riff on the classic blood and sand cocktail and uses a bittered sweet vermouth called Punt e Mes, created by the same company that makes the best and original sweet vermouth in the world, Carpano Antica.

The Valentino

  • ¾ ounce Balvenie Doublewood
  • ¾ ounce Cherry Herring
  • ¾ ounce Carpano Antica
  • ¾ ounce fresh oranje juice
  • ⅛ ounce simple syrup, only if the OJ isn’t on the sweet side
  • 9 drops Bittercube Orange Bitters
  • 7 drops Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters
  • Sour French cherry, for garnish
  1. Shake ingredients with ice, pour into a coupe and garnish with cherry.

Bittercube’s Negroni

  • 1 ½ parts gin
  • 1 part Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • ½ part Campari
  1. Stir over ice and strain into a lowball glass.

Boulevardier Cocktail

  • 1 ½ parts bourbon
  • 1 part Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • ½ part Campari
  1. Stir over ice and strain into a lowball glass.

Copper Dagger

  • 1 3/4 ounce Averna Amaro
  • 1/4 ounce El Dorado 151 rum
  • 1/4 ounce St. Germain
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  1. Mime shake, then shake vigorously with ice. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a smile.