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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Feb 21, 2013

A Bitters Cocktail Party

Back in the spring, my friend and I hosted a whiskey tasting, where we walked our buddies through the differences amongst bourbon, whiskey and scotch, and also taught them how to make Old Fashioneds and Gold Rush cocktails.  It was a huge hit and we vowed we'd do another similar gathering.  Well, it took us nearly a year, but this past weekend, we hosted a Bitters Cocktail Party to teach our friends about the beauty of bitters.  If you frequently read this blog, you'll know my passion for bitters - they're to cocktails as finishing salts are to food.  I'm fascinated by the history and also make my own line of bitters called Bitter Revenge.

For those who aren't big cocktail enthusiasts, bitters are still a bit of a mystery and most are only familiar with the major brands like Angostura and Peychaud's.  The bitters boom really started a little after the vintage and artisanal cocktail movement happened.  As bartenders started looking through old recipe books, they discovered all of these flavors for bitters that no longer were on the shelves, or even just created new ones.  Some enterprising cocktail lovers either tracked down old recipes or bought antique bottles of bitters with a few drops left so they could reverse-engineer the recipes.  Now, when you go into a liquor store, gourmet foods market or scroll through the menu at your favorite fancy cocktail joint, you'll see all sorts of flavors: orange, lemon, grapefruit, apple, celery, cucumber, lavender, coffee, chocolate and more.  It can be a little overwhelming to figure out how to accent cocktails with different flavors, so that's what we sought to teach.  

Rather than just throwing our friends blindly into pairings, we gave everyone a little direction by providing some basic cocktail recipes that highlight bitters, the best being an Old Fashioned because of it's simplicity and ability to really highlight the bitters.  We also had recipes for each kind of base spirit, so non-whiskey drinkers could have some options as well, and we kept them fairly simple.  Nothing had more than 3 or 4 ingredients and left room for experimentation.  Writing out the recipes on little cards (laminated are even better) encourage socializing amongst your guests without you having to explain recipes each time someone wants to make a drink.  We offered up Manhattans, Sazeracs, Martinis, Rob Roy's, Pink Gin (just gin and aromatic bitters), a Horse's Neck (bourbon, bitters and ginger ale) and Champagne Cocktails (we all agreed lavender was the best).

My friend and I didn't want to break the bank on alcohol, so we told everyone to bring their favorite base spirit, which could be whiskey, bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin, rum or champagne.  We provided mixers such as lemon and lime juice, tonic and soda water, ginger ale, sweet and dry vermouth, Pernod (for the Sazeracs), oranges, lemons and limes for garnish peels, maraschino cherries, white and brown sugar cubes and a bunch of flavored simple syrups.  Because I'm the Lush Chef, I always have a bunch of simple syrups stocked in the fridge.  In addition to plain and rich simple syrups, I also provided honey syrup, ginger, lemongrass and spiced.  Also make sure you set out enough mixing glasses, shakers, jiggers/shot glasses, stirring spoons and citrus peelers for people to make drinks.  Besides regular ice, we also had some King Ice Cubes and whiskey stones on hand.

When trying the bitters, I recommend that people put a drop or two on their top of their hand to smell and taste it, so they really understand what the flavor is on its own and how it would best accent a cocktail.  Darker spirits tend to go best with the more aromatic and warmer flavors and clear spirits go best with the citrus and floral flavors, but a lot of times you can cross the line.  I've had many a good Old Fashioned with orange or lemon bitters.

We had the following bitters out for folks to try: Angostura, Peychaud's, Fee Brothers' West Indian Orange, The Bitter Truth's Jerry Thomas, Bar Keep's Lavender, my Bitter Revenge bitters in Blood Orange & Rosemary, Coffee Pecan, Meyer Lemon and Apple Cinnamon.  There's also a new company called Napa Valley Bitters, and the founder was gracious to send a dozen samples for all of us to try in unique flavors such as Cucumber, Tamarind-Lime-Chili, and Love Potion (aromatic).  I would even encourage your guests to bring their favorite bitters as well.

Here are some of my favorite brands if you're looking to stock your home bar:
Fee Brothers - One of the oldest brands out there, after Angostura and Peychaud's.  Their Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters are known for selling out as soon as they're stocked on the shelves.
The Bitter Truth - Their Jerry Thomas Own Decanter bitters are an aromatic homage to one of the most important bartenders of the 19th century.
Bittermens - They have fun names and flavors for their bitters like Xocolatl Mole, Boston Bittahs and Elemakule Tiki.
Bar Keep - They're organic and delicious.


Unknown said...

Love this idea. I just made black tea bitters, but can't wait to try some listed here-especially the lavender ones.