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Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons, an Adventure

May 16, 2014 , , ,




I bought  a hard cover copy of Bitters by Brad Thomas Thompson after reading about the history of this elixir and the revival of its popularity today.  I have always enjoyed cooking with bitters and had only ventured out from Angostura to a couple of other flavors until recently.  I saw some sampler sets and bought chocolate, key lime  and lavender in small bottles to try.  I also bought a fancy one from Scotland that I adore.  Experimenting with these flavors in cocktails and in food (I always put some is soups) has piqued my interest in producing some of my own with ingredients from my garden.

The medicinal use of bitters has a very long history of curing headache, indigestion, stomach cramps and more.  The herbs and fruits used create both the flavor profile and the curative values.  Bitters and soda is the classic companion for rich foods and an abundance of alcohol.   There are two kinds, potable and cocktail bitters.  Potable are sipped straight up as a digestif, like Campari or Fernet Branca. Cocktail bitters are used to marry flavors in drinks or cooking.  They balance and enhance the other ingredients to create a complex synergy.

The book is very well written and researched.  The history, the prominent producers today, and opinions from bartenders are covered in the opening chapters.  The complete recipes and instructions to create 13 different kinds of homemade varieties follows.  Most contain gentian, others calamus root, hops and cinchona bark (the main taste in tonic water) as the bitter element.  Fruits and spices such as ginger, allspice and cardamom are used.  Since I have ripe calamondins on my tree I plan to follow the orange or the lemon recipe to make my first batch using the citrus I have.  The technique is simple, involves vodka and soaking for a month, and seems pretty foolproof.  The exciting part is that I have a new way to use my garden herbs and fruits that preserves their flavor and creates a unique product not available on the open market. Mr Parsons suggests a bitters exchange party at which friends gather, make the mixture, and return after a month to finish the process and bottle.  I am happy I have just met a neighbor how wants to be my bitters buddy.  We are going to make one that includes turmeric for inflammation.  I don’t think it will take very long to become expert bitters makers, and since a small amount is effective it will be great to share batches of new concoctions.

The greatest part of the book is dedicated to cocktail and cooking recipes.  Beautiful pictures, detailed instructions and a wide variety of new and old make this section of the book really fun to own in hardcover.  I have read more of the drinks than I have tried, but am fascinated with some of the non alcoholic drinks like smoked lemonade in which the lemons are smoked for up to an hour before the preparation.  There are some flavor ideas that will spark your imagination and creativity.  It is the complete guide to the adventure of making and using these curative combinations. Santé!

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Bitters — really great for cooking and especially cocktails. I would love to know how you do with creating your own bitters! I love their reaction to the bitters in the video!


It is so simple I am sure I can’t fail..the question is which will be the favorites and then how best to employ them.



May 17, 2014

2 notes

  1. Calamondin | mermaidcamp reblogged this and added:

    […] flavoring in fizzy water, or use it in cocktails.  I am experimenting with new combinations, using a book to guide me about the proportions.  Next I will whip up a batch of calamondin bitters, for which I […]


  2. Little Old Ladies, Laughing, and Lunch | mermaidcamp reblogged this and added:

    […] two years ago some friends and I were gathered at my house to taste homemade bitters. Bitters making is kind of complicated, yet once you make a batch it becomes easier.  Even though we only […]


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