For MxMo 9, I wanted to go a little crazy and make my own batch of bitters. My limoncello experiment worked well enough that bitters seemed a logical next step. Now, Darcy O’Neil reviewed the new book The Art of the Bar, back in September, and with his review, he included a bitters recipe from the book, Dr. Schwartz’s Cherry Vanilla Bitters.
You’re probably already thinking, oh man, cherry-vanilla bitters. Those would rock an Old Fashioned, especially if you leave out the cherry garnish altogether and let the bitters do the work. And you’re right. I tried them with both Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek, and they play well with both bottlings.
I also quite liked these bitters with a Rob Roy and a rye Manhattan. But I was surprised by the drink in which they really shine.
I won’t go in depth here about the process of making the bitters, since I’d rather you read Darcy’s original post and even perhaps pick up the book, too. But I will say I posted a photoset to Flickr showing the steps.
This recipe makes a damn fine batch of bitters — well-balanced between the bitter flavors (mostly from gentian) and the cherry-vanilla notes. The only really difficult thing about it was tracking down an herbalist for the more obscure ingredients. I already had cardamom pods and star anise because I use those to make spice rubs and curing salts to use in my barbecuing and cooking.
Once the bitters were finally done, I started experimenting with drinks. As I mentioned earlier, these bitters, with their cherry-vanilla notes, are a shoo-in for a bourbon Old Fashioned. But I wanted to try them in less obvious drinks.
I’ve recently acquired a couple of vintage cocktail manuals, 1939’s Just Cocktails, and 1922’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them. In the former volume is a recipe for a Chelsea Sidecar, which is really just a Sidecar made with gin instead of brandy.
I don’t know why it’s a “Chelsea” Sidecar, really. The only thought I have on that subject is that, as a gin-based drink, it might have arisen from London’s Chelsea neighborhood. But that’s pure supposition. I don’t even know whether Chelsea was a nightclub kinda place in the 1920s and 1930s.
The original called for equal parts gin, triple sec, and lemon juice, but that produces a drink that’s too tart for modern tastes. I used a classic 3-2-1 ratio of three parts gin, two parts triple sec, and one part lemon juice.
But I also gussied it up with a dash of the cherry-vanilla bitters. And here’s where the flavor of the bitters really opened up, with the vanilla notes fronting and the cherry dancing at back with the Cointreau’s orange.
I’m already thinking of making another batch and experimenting with other recipes as well.