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Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas

by Brad Thomas Parsons

Other authors: Ed Anderson (Photographer)

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303688,659 (3.84)3
Gone are the days when a lonely bottle of Angostura bitters held court behind the bar. A cocktail renaissance has swept across the country, inspiring in bartenders and their thirsty patrons a new fascination with the ingredients, techniques, and traditions that make the American cocktail so special. And few ingredients have as rich a history or serve as fundamental a role in our beverage heritage as bitters. nbsp; Author and bitters enthusiast Brad Thomas Parsons traces the history of the world's most storied elixir, from its earliest "snake oil" days to its near evaporation after Prohibition to its ascension as a beloved (and at times obsessed-over) ingredient on the contemporary bar scene. Parsons writes from the front lines of the bitters boom, where he has access to the best and boldest new brands and flavors, the most innovative artisanal producers, and insider knowledge of the bitters-making process. nbsp; Whether you're a professional looking to take your game to the next level or just a DIY-type interested in homemade potables, Bitters has a dozen recipes for customized blends--ranging from Apple to Coffee-Pecan to Root Beer bitters--as well as tips on sourcing ingredients and step-by-step instructions fit for amateur and seasoned food crafters alike. nbsp; Also featured are more than seventy cocktail recipes that showcase bitters' diversity and versatility: classics like the Manhattan (if you ever get one without bitters, send it back), old-guard favorites like the Martinez, contemporary drinks from Parsons's own repertoire like the Shady Lane, plus one-of-a-kind libations from the country's most pioneering bartenders. Last but not least, there is a full chapter on cooking with bitters, with a dozen recipes for sweet and savory bitters-infused dishes. nbsp; Part recipe book, part project guide, part barman's manifesto, Bitters is a celebration of good cocktails made well, and of the once-forgotten but blessedly rediscovered virtues of bitters.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Gone are the days when a lonely bottle of Angostura bitters held court behind the bar.

A cocktail renaissance has swept across the country, inspiring in bartenders and their thirsty patrons a new fascination with the ingredients, techniques, and traditions that make the American cocktail so special. And few ingredients have as rich a history or serve as fundamental a role in our beverage heritage as bitters.

Author and bitters enthusiast Brad Thomas Parsons traces the history of the world's most storied elixir, from its earliest "snake oil" days to its near evaporation after Prohibition to its ascension as a beloved (and at times obsessed-over) ingredient on the contemporary bar scene. Parsons writes from the front lines of the bitters boom, where he has access to the best and boldest new brands and flavors, the most innovative artisanal producers, and insider knowledge of the bitters-making process.

Whether you're a professional looking to take your game to the next level or just a DIY-type interested in homemade potables, Bitters has a dozen recipes for customized blends–ranging from Apple to Coffee-Pecan to Root Beer bitters–as well as tips on sourcing ingredients and step-by-step instructions fit for amateur and seasoned food crafters alike.

Also featured are more than seventy cocktail recipes that showcase bitters' diversity and versatility: classics like the Manhattan (if you ever get one without bitters, send it back), old-guard favorites like the Martinez, contemporary drinks from Parsons's own repertoire like the Shady Lane, plus one-of-a-kind libations from the country's most pioneering bartenders. Last but not least, there is a full chapter on cooking with bitters, with a dozen recipes for sweet and savory bitters-infused dishes.

Part recipe book, part project guide, part barman's manifesto, Bitters is a celebration of good cocktails made well, and of the once-forgotten but blessedly rediscovered virtues of bitters.

I RECEIVED AN ARC FROM THE PUBLISHER. THANK YOU.

My Review
: This is a classic gift book for the Dad who drinks, has all his basic needs met, and still you need to hand him something under the Yule tree. The book won the 2012 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Beverages. It's not as much a history of the concept of "bitters" as it is a practical guide to using bitters in drinks and food, as well as lovely images of what they could look like.


the back cover with its celebrity endorsements

From my point of view this is the kind of gift that serves your need to acknowledge Dad/father-in-law, his need to expand or polish hs repertoire, and both of y'all to get a good drink.

There are several other food recipes, and the page layout...sorry, no samples are available online...has a column on the outside dedicated to ingredient lists with the illustrations and methods lined up on the inner page gutters. It works to make the usability of the recipes, whether for drinks or desserts, fine for use with book-stands. A nice touch, typical of the publisher; and it translates well to Kindle editions. ( )
  richardderus | Dec 11, 2022 |
Surprise

I'm not fond of bitter drinks, but this book makes me want to try again. I liked the history and the glance into someone else's world. ( )
  nmorandi | Jul 16, 2021 |
This was a bit disappointing for me. I hoped for some in-depth history on the subject of bitters; a few cocktail recipes with bitters as a focus; such as in the magnificent Trinidad Sour; and a lot of recipes and formulas for making bitters, including a thorough discussion of the flavors, aromas, bitterness level, and other qualities of the various ingredients that go into different bitters.

Instead, the book provides quite a brief history; merely a baker's dozen formulas for house-made bitters, all of which, as far as I can ascertain, are made using exactly the same technique (thereby padding out the book by a dozen pages); and a substantial number of cocktail and kitchen recipes. If you're somewhat of a cocktail novice, some of the recipes (such as the delicious Trident) might be new to you, but if you're an enthusiast, you won't find much that's new here. You will however find some things that will make you wince, or at least raise an eyebrow. Bitters in a Mint Julip? No. Just no.

The section on bitters in the kitchen is pretty interesting, however. While a few items in there seem gratuitous (bitters vinaigrette, compound bitters butters), others such as the Chinese-style spareribs or the bitters ice cream look interesting.

All in all, this seems more like a starting point for an exploration of the subject than the definitive guide I'd been hoping for. It'll stay on the shelf with my other booze-related books, but I'm not sure how often I'll pick it up. ( )
  JohnNienart | Jul 11, 2021 |
What a wonderful book on the use of "Bitters" with cocktails, recipes & formulas. Bitters are an aromatic flavoring agent made fro infusing spices, herbs, flowers, barks, roots & other botanicals in a high-proof alcohol or glycerin. They were long ago used for medicinal reasons: indigestion, cramps, headaches or constipation (Castoria?).

Most animals & humans shy away from bitters as historically BITTER usually signaled the presence of toxins, which could very possibly lead to death.

Contents of the book contain: Introduction; A brief history of Bitters; A bitters boom; Making your own bitters; Setting up your bar; Bitters Hall of Fame; 3 sections of recipes; Resources; Recommended reading; Acknowledgements; and Index.

Old Guard Cocktails: Abbey Cocktail; Angostura Fizz; Cuba Libra; Fourth Regiment Cocktail; Harvard Cocktail; Jersey Cocktail; Martini; Pink Gin; Rob Roy; Satan's Whiskers; and Vieux Carre.

New-Look Cocktails: 5th Avenue Cocktail; Bitter Handshake; Black Feather; Black Scottish Cyclops; Fernet & Coke; Gargoyle & Spire; "Michelada"; Shady Lane; Sorghum Flip; Tombstone; Trident; Woodland Sunset; and Zim Zala Bim

Bitters in the Kitchen: Broiled bitter grapefruit; Sweet & spicy bitter bar nuts; Compound bitters butters; Bourbon bitters holiday ham glaze; Hot & sticky bitter wings; Bitters sweet chocolate malted pudding; and Aromatic bitters ice cream

Very interesting and creative recipes...... ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Jan 18, 2016 |
This year for Christmas my wife gave me three books on cocktails. She knows that when I get interested in a subject I tend to go all in. I am not sure why I chose to read Brad Parsons’ “Bitters: a spirited history of a classic cure-all, with cocktails, recipes & formulas” but I am glad I did. Parsons covers a lot of territory in this book. The history of bitters, in cocktails and otherwise, turns out to be more interesting than I expected. Prohibition plays a big part in the story but bitters are much older than the cocktail hour.
Parsons includes recipes, to make your own bitters and for cocktails that use them. To demonstrate their importance, after all how much difference can a “dash” of something make in an entire cocktail? I found that it can make a lot of difference. Parsons offers a demonstration, make two of a simple cocktail recipe, one with and one without bitters. The difference between the two is more than noticeable.
A section titled “Setting up Your Bar” has the best advice I have seen for creating a home bar. It leads you through the tools you will need and those you might want, it discusses glassware, mixers, and even the spirits you might want to stock. Except for his endorsement of Mason jars for drinking I think the advice is sound. I was a little confused after looking up the word Amari, a subset used in his listing of spirits. It is just Italian for bitters. Sure they, mostly come in bigger bottles than the bitters pictured on the cover but I would have hoped for some discussion of them. I know it is always possible that I read over it so I checked the index. There was no listing. It is not a big problem but I have to wonder if something else was missed.
The recipes that I have tried were good. I have not tried to make my own bitters yet but the instructions were very straight forward. Parsons divided the cocktail recipes into three sections, Hall of Fame, Old Guard, and New Look. Often cocktail recipes suffer from demanding specific brand name spirits or exotic liquors that the home bar will only need once. That is not a problem here except for in the “New Look” section and needing a variety of flavored bitters. But then that, bitters, is what the book is about. The final section of recipes, Bitters in the Kitchen, looks very good. The Bitters Vinaigrette is on my to do list.
In appendices Parsons’ includes a list of web resources for spirits, liquors, mixers, bar supplies and the herbs to make your own bitters as well as a bibliography. I am hopeful that these will lead me to a source for mixers that are not syrupy sweet. I should also mention that the book won two awards, the 2012 James Beard Foundation Award and the 2012 International Association of Culinary Professionals (ICAP) Cookbook Award in their Wine, Beer, and Spirits category. ( )
  TLCrawford | Feb 25, 2015 |
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Epigraph
"If you took the SAT exams back in the twentieth century, you may recall the curious puzzle 'Salt is to food, as bitters are to [blank].'  What scholar had the bright idea that high school juniors knew how to mix a proper old-fashioned anyway?"

KURT B. REIGHLEY, UNITED STATES OF AMERICANA

"So drunk in the August sun, and you're the kind of girl I like..."

PAVEMENT, "GOLD SOUNDZ"
Dedication
TO HERBERT JAMES PARSONS

(1937-2008)
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Cocktail culture has come a long way since I last worked behind the bar, which was in the early 1990s at Harpoon Eddie's in Sylvan Beach, New York, a town optimistically billed as "the Coney Island of Central New York."
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Gone are the days when a lonely bottle of Angostura bitters held court behind the bar. A cocktail renaissance has swept across the country, inspiring in bartenders and their thirsty patrons a new fascination with the ingredients, techniques, and traditions that make the American cocktail so special. And few ingredients have as rich a history or serve as fundamental a role in our beverage heritage as bitters. nbsp; Author and bitters enthusiast Brad Thomas Parsons traces the history of the world's most storied elixir, from its earliest "snake oil" days to its near evaporation after Prohibition to its ascension as a beloved (and at times obsessed-over) ingredient on the contemporary bar scene. Parsons writes from the front lines of the bitters boom, where he has access to the best and boldest new brands and flavors, the most innovative artisanal producers, and insider knowledge of the bitters-making process. nbsp; Whether you're a professional looking to take your game to the next level or just a DIY-type interested in homemade potables, Bitters has a dozen recipes for customized blends--ranging from Apple to Coffee-Pecan to Root Beer bitters--as well as tips on sourcing ingredients and step-by-step instructions fit for amateur and seasoned food crafters alike. nbsp; Also featured are more than seventy cocktail recipes that showcase bitters' diversity and versatility: classics like the Manhattan (if you ever get one without bitters, send it back), old-guard favorites like the Martinez, contemporary drinks from Parsons's own repertoire like the Shady Lane, plus one-of-a-kind libations from the country's most pioneering bartenders. Last but not least, there is a full chapter on cooking with bitters, with a dozen recipes for sweet and savory bitters-infused dishes. nbsp; Part recipe book, part project guide, part barman's manifesto, Bitters is a celebration of good cocktails made well, and of the once-forgotten but blessedly rediscovered virtues of bitters.

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