…But I’m not bitter

One of my wife’s co-workers just gave her a bottle of Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters to pass along to me.  I did a little bit of cursory research and couldn’t find too much information on them, or any drink recipes to use them in.

I decided to try the bitters out on their own to get a sense of what they might bring to a cocktail.  They’re very dark, like a good porter or stout, and I found they smell quite strongly of vanilla and oak, with a hint of walnut coming through in the end.  On tasting them, my first thought was “cough syrup”, which quickly turned into a strong and lasting walnut flavour followed by intense bitterness.

I’m embarking on an ongoing mission to find the perfect mix to use these in.  My first attempt is chronicled below (it’s clearly influenced by yesterday’s delicious whiskey sour):

Experimental Black Walnut Cocktail #1

  • 1 1/2 oz amber rum
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz amaretto
  • 2 dashes black almond bitters

I combined all ingredients and shook with ice, then strained into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass rimmed with vanilla sugar* and garnished with half an orange slice.

My first sip tasted quite strongly of rum, with noticeable walnut coming through in the finish.  As the drink went on, the rum and walnut flavours subsided fairly quickly and the lime really started to overpower everything else.  While this was certainly drinkable and went down quickly enough, it was definitely not the right vehicle to make use of the bitters.

How would you audition this unique ingredient?  Suggestions will be greatly appreciated, and any resulting masterpieces will get their own post (with full credit given, of course).


* Vanilla sugar is very simple to make at home, but requires time to mature.  It provides a wonderful aroma and just a hint of vanilla on the tongue.  To make it, simply toss a whole vanilla bean (or two) into about three cups of sugar, throw on the lid, shake it up, and leave it in the cupboard for a few weeks (at a minimum; I have a batch that’s four years old and only gets better with age).  Just take it out and shake it every now and then to keep it from clumping.


Classic Cocktails: The Manhattan

A Perfect ManhattanOne of my favorite cocktails is an old classic:  The sweet, smoky, and slightly spicy Manhattan.  It’s simple to make and can be easily modified in a number of ways to suit individual taste.

Like many classics, the true origin of the Manhattan is unclear.  One of the most common explanations is that the drink was invented at New York’s Manhattan club in the 1870s for a banquet hosted by Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill), Winston Churchill’s mother.  There are reports that the Lady was pregnant in France at the time, so the story is likely untrue.

The traditional recipe calls for only three ingredients (four if you include the garnish):

  • 2 parts rye whiskey
  • 1 part sweet vermouth
  • a dash of Angostura bitters
  • maraschino cherry for garnish

Simply combine the first three ingredients and gently stir* them with ice for 15 to 20 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with the cherry in the bottom of the glass, and enjoy.

Variations include changing the whiskey (I prefer bourbon) or the bitters (try orange bitters, or chocolate if you have them), using different vermouth (replace half the sweet vermouth in the basic recipe with dry to make a Perfect Manhattan), or adding some cherry juice for extra sweetness (making it a Sweet Manhattan).  Many versions change the spirit to something entirely different than whiskey, such as port (a Ruby Manhattan), dark rum (a Cuban Manhattan), or Anejo (aged/vintage) tequila (a Tijuana Manhattan).  The possibilities are endless.

How do you like yours?


* Shaking or over-stirring your Manhattan will introduce air bubbles, causing it to not be as smooth as it should be (i.e.: like silk).  It will also “bruise” the alcohol (a small amount of ice will melt, diluting your drink).  Both of these are bad things, and you probably don’t want them.