At some point, we've all left bitters out of a cocktail recipe, right?
Well, all of us except for Cardinal bar manager Logan Hunter. He wouldn't ever skip bitters, and he doesn't think you should, either.
The case for bitters is simple, he says: they magically perk up and bring balance to a cocktail.
Bitters are high-proof alcohol that is intensely infused with botanicals: herbs, spices, bark and roots. Aromatic bitters — known as a bartender's salt and pepper — are steeped with fall and winter spices and are found in classic cocktails like Sazeracs, Singapore Slings and Manhattans. Because it's usually called for in such small quantities — a dash or two at a time — bitters might seem like a throwaway ingredient. Poor bitters! Do not make them feel sad.
"Bitters are so strong and so concentrated that a few drops can make a big difference," Logan says. "It's packed with so much flavor."
Angostura is the quintessential brand of aromatic bitters, but there are dozens of options out there. At Cardinal, Logan and the rest of the team make a slew of bitters in-house to use in cocktails. Varieties include walnut, lavender, cinnamon, orange and aromatic.
If you're wondering why the drinks you make at home aren't tasting like the ones you get at the bar, bitters might be your answer. A bottle is a home-bar essential. It won't go bad. It doesn't need to be refrigerated. And, if all else fails, you can use it to cure hiccups.
Alright, let's practice with bitters. At Cardinal, we make a cocktail called the Cardinal Sling, which was by far our most popular drink when we first opened. Its delightful sweet and sour balance is achieved with — you guessed it — bitters.
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 1/2 ounces Cardinal Spirits vodka
1 1/2 ounces club soda
Lemon wedge, for garnish
- In a shaker with ice, add simple syrup, lemon juice, sweet vermouth, bitters and vodka.
- Shake vigorously, then strain into an old-fashioned glass.
- Add ice and top with club soda. Garnish with a lemon wedge.