Lush Life

To be a lush chef, does not mean to drink in excess - this can result in scary fires and bad dishes. A lush chef is one who enjoys gourmet cooking/baking, often with fresh ingredients and the smart use of one's home bar. If there happens to be half a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or a sip of brandy left over...well, one cannot be wasteful. I give you permission to imbibe.

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The Lush Chef
Twitter: @thelushchef Provenance: Santa Monica Dish: Coq au Vin Spirit: Whiskey Wine: Malbec Beer: Hefeweizen Farmer's Market: Santa Monica on Main Street
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Dec 15, 2011

My Bitter Revenge

I normally don't get personal on this blog, but my journey in making cocktail bitters ended up being a rather personal one...and now that I look back upon it, somewhat positive and funny, in that it pushed me to really take this project on.

I had purchased Brad Thomas Parson's beautiful book on Bitters a couple of months ago and was so excited to start making my own batch.  Some people make jam and pickles, but I decided I was going to take a different route on the DIY highway.  I started leafing through all of the resources listed in Brad's book in obtaining obscure ingredients such as gentian root, cassia chips, schizandra berries and devil's club root.  In olden times, would I have been considered a witch?  I realized that if I was going to throw myself whole-heartedly into this endeavor, I was going to have to find a local purveyor.  The spices weren't a problem, as I'm a frequent customer of Silver Lake's Spice Station.  But these darn roots and barks...was I going to have to go foraging through the forest or have them consistently shipped from Tenzing Momo in Seattle?  I knew there just had to be a place in Los Angeles where I could source this stuff, so I tweeted the author and he was kind enough to put me in touch with Louis from LA-based bitter company Miracle Mile.  Louis pointed me towards Herbs of Mexico, an herbal shop in East LA, that had everything I would need, including some inexpensive amber dropper bottles.

Bitters take about a month to make—there are 2 weeks where you have all of your roots, barks, fruit peels, herbs and spices fermenting in 100 proof bourbon or vodka, then some straining and separating, another week of fermenting, and then 3 days where a sugar syrup settles into your mixture.  I knew I had to start early if I wanted to give a bottle of orange bitters to American Trilogy—they were a crucial ingredient in his favorite cocktail, and what better Christmas gift than a basket of everything he needed to make that libation?  I was just stepping out of yoga and getting my coffee before embarking on my Saturday morning Eastside adventure when I got the call...things were ending with American Trilogy (but not my love affair with the actual cocktail).  It felt like a scene out of a bad romantic comedy—the rain, my hair a mess from yoga, copious tears streaming down my face.  It was a rather unceremonious way of being dumped and it came totally out of left field.  I look back and I still don't see any real signs that would have indicated what was coming.  Was I in a cocktail haze and food coma for 3 months? 

After an epic cry over the phone with my parents, I was determined I wasn't going to let this get in the way of my bitter making.  I hopped in the car with a box of tissues and proceeded to drive around LA for about 6 or 7 hours making the various stops in East LA, Silver Lake, Century City and Santa Monica.  Where's Ryan Gosling when you need him?  I grabbed various supplies (cheese cloths, mason jars, high-proof bourbon, funnels) in between texting friends at every stop and crying over the phone.  I walked into Herbs of Mexico teary-eyed and red-faced (quite the unusual sight amongst the locals of this area), where a kind saleslady helped me gather all the ingredients I would need.  Strangely enough, they didn't have two essential ingredients for making orange bitters.  Frick.  Well, I didn't want to make orange first anyway!  I already had a bottle of Fees sitting happily on my shelf.  What I really wanted to make was coffee pecan, and now that I was doing this for me, I took it as a sign...

I'm a strong believer in everything happening for a reason.  When things aren't so hot in the Lush Chef world, I throw myself into projects and activities to keep me busy and take my mind off of things.  It's partly why baking and cooking is so therapeutic for me.  You're turning that negative energy into something positive—a tasty treat or dish for yourself or someone you care about.  When I had first purchased Brad's book, the only thing on my mind was to make a couple batches of bitters and say that I at least tried it.  But this horrible experience with American Trilogy made me think of it as more of a catalyst for something bigger.  Perhaps this was meant to happen so that I'd be inspired and pushed to try something new?  Perhaps I could eventually create my own cocktail bitters line?  It may still end up being just a home project, but maybe these little bottles of love/anger could end up in bars or boutique stores across the country.  I'll just follow this road and see where it takes me...

So here's the debut of Bitter Revenge with the first flavor—Buzzkill.  That's right.  I'm literally bottling up my anger and frustration, letting it ferment, and creating something slightly bitter, but delicious out of it.
Here are the crazy ingredients that it contains:
  • toasted pecans
  • whole coffee beans, lightly crushed
  • cocoa nibs
  • minced dried orange peel
  • black peppercorns
  • cassia chips
  • wild cherry bark
  • high-proof bourbon (I used Wild Turkey)
  • sorghum molasses
Here's the mason jar that I took my aggression out on every day. It's the end of the fermentation process so all the solid pieces have been strained out.

And voilà!  Aren't these bottles of Bitter Revenge pretty?

In the recipe description, Brad says that The Patterson House (my fave bar in Nashville), uses their coffee-pecan bitters to make a Bacon Old-Fashioned with bacon-infused bourbon and maple syrup.  A future Lush Chef post, perhaps?  I'll also welcome any cocktail recipe suggestions in the comments below, so put those thinking caps on.  I'm also already plotting my next flavor.  And if Bitter Revenge becomes a success?  I'll raise an American Trilogy (the cocktail, not him) to all the fabulous friends, family, colleagues and readers who have shown their support.  To sweet revenge...


Jen H said...

I think it's way better to make your very first bitter all for yourself anyway :) What a project! I may have tackle one myself in the new year!