I love bitters for the complexity they bring to any drink, or situation in life for that matter, and I use them with a heavy hand in cocktails. One of my favorite cocktails is the Old-Fashioned (see below), so simple, so satisfying: whiskey, sugar, bitters. But what exactly are bitters? You don’t really know until you make some yourself. Bitters are simply flavor extractions. Happily, our neighbor Tobin Ludwig is one of the founders of Hella Bitters, which makes a variety of splendid bitters (about 1500 bottles a month), and he gave me a quick lesson in their making. “I totally encourage people to make their own bitters at home,” Tobin told me this summer. “It’s a fun experiment.” There is a single key to bitters: the bittering agent itself, most commonly angelica root or Read On »

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Taking up part-time residence in New York City last month, I was delighted to meet a downstairs neighbor, Tobin Ludwig, who makes the lovely Hella Bitters. What good karma for our new old building! “What is your favorite use of bitters?” I asked. For someone who makes bitters, he struggled. I pushed. He relented and said, “A rum old fashioned.” What a splendid idea, I thought. Last night a tweet asked me for a cocktail with a good rum. And so there it was. The rum old-fashioned called. The weather has cooled, I have some most excellent rum, and the sweetness and the bitters combine for a great summer rum cocktail. But lo—there was more, karma-wise. I returned to my original old-fashioned post and noticed that I’d used Hella bitters, long before I’d met Tobin! Read On »

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My inclination is to simplify. And with this, one of the oldest and sturdiest of cocktails, the old fashioned, should be just that, as Brad Parsons notes in his excellent book Bitters, and in my original post on it. Sugar muddled with bitters, ice, American whiskey, and a twist. Brad laments that it’s too often gussied up and over-muddled with orange and overly adorned. Brad also notes a nostalgia for the gritty undissolved sugar, but nevertheless recommends simple syrup in his. I am like-minded on all counts. Except. I splurged on these awesome cherries, “original” maraschinos. Also I really wanted to feature rye whiskey, here Bulleit rye, a whiskey on the upswing in America. And this great, great cocktail, the old fashioned, is perfectly suited to it. I’m doing what Brad suggests, only I’m adding a twist Read On »

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Phew! I’m exhausted from all the amazing and powerful energy generated by the food fascism post! Oy! Time for a cocktail! (Figuratively—I’ve got long hours to go before I earn mine.) Today’s Friday cocktail hour is one the oldest and simplest on record. In this era of high-end mixology and complex recipes involving expensive aperitifs and liqueurs, well unless out in the stratosphere at Aviary, I like my cocktails simple. The Old-Fashioned is just that: American whiskey, sugar, bitters, over ice with a twist. All there is to it. With the range of bourbons and bitters now available, the drink itself can vary wildly and well. So even though this is every bit as simple and satisfying as a martini, it’s infinitely more complex. A martini is clear and clean, an ice pick. The Old-Fashioned is complex, caramelly, Read On »

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