If you've imbibed at any cocktail bar worth its Hawthorn strainer in recent years, you've no doubt seen dozens of small bottles and vials of various bitters, tinctures, gastriques, and other elixirs lining the bar. Some may be made in-house or by small-batch producers, while others carry classic names like Peychauds or Angostura. In Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, author--and former Seattleiite--Brad Thomas Parsons aims to stir up a bibulous tale using equal parts history, current cocktail trends and distinctive recipes.
Making homemade bitters is becoming a trend for many adventurous home cooks and cocktail enthusiasts. Making bitters may be to 2012 what home-cured charcuterie was to 2011. Bitters are the new bresaola. With a book like Bitters, it's easy to get enthusiast about the prospect of getting your hands on some gentian root, high-proof spirits and horehound to cook up an aromatic and tongue tingling brew. With Parsons' extensive research on the subject and his intriguing recipes, you are halfway to lining your home bar with little vials of homemade bitters.
The introduction of this book is part history, part memoir and part love story of Parsons' favorite cocktails, bars and bartenders. Lots of local names pop up in these pages from Parsons' years in Seattle. There are profiles of some of the top bitters brands, plus a paragraph or so on a dozen small-batch bitters producers. There are tips for how to buy, taste and use bitters, before Parsons gets into how to make your own bitters.
Parsons has included recipes for about a dozen different bitters ranging from milder, more accessible flavors like pear and key lime to unique concoctions such as coffee-pecan and charred cedar. While the ingredient lists sound exotic, Parsons includes mail order sources that make ordering herbs, barks and spices just a phone call or a few clicks away.
There are also recipes for over 70 cocktails, ranging from the essential bitters cocktails like the Manhattan and Sazerac, to old guard cocktails such as the Seelbach and Martinez and several new cocktails like the Red Carpet Reviver and The Bitter Handshake. In addition to using bitters, many cocktails also include syrups or tinctures, for which Parsons has included recipes as well.
The cocktail recipe section begins with tips for setting up your home bar, including what Parsons calls the "Ten Essential Bitters." Parsons writes recipe headnotes for each cocktail telling its origins or his own personal history with the drink. The recipes don't end with just bitters and cocktails. There are recipes for cooking with bitters as well. Things like vinaigrette, ice cream, and baby back ribs all get a healthy dose of bitters in the mix.
Brad Thomas Parsons will be in Seattle next week promoting Bitters. Meet him at Book Larder on Wednesday, November 16 from 6-7:30 p.m. for a free book signing. On Thursday, November 17 from 5:30-7 p.m., Parsons will be at Dahlia Lounge for a "Shop Talk at the Lounge" event. The $50 ticket price includes some signature cocktails from the book, bites incorporating bitters, tax and gratuity, and a signed copy of the book.