How About a Little Restraint with Your Bitter: The Bitter Padre

Bitter used to be my middle name. An order of brown, bitter, and stirred would have me rapt, watching the bartender like a hawk. Mere mentions of new amari online, had me scouring the city's back bars in search of a taste. And often this search would just lead to me procuring my own bottle. I experimented with adding bitters, digestive or aromatic, to every classic cocktails I came across, whether it was a daiquiri, the Japanese cocktail or even a Cosmopolitan. My obsession knew no bounds.

But then something happened. My girlfriend is not so into amari (shock and horror!). As I sought to make her cocktails that she liked, I found myself staring blankly at my liquor collection. Where would I even start? How could I make a cocktail without using a bitter ingredient? In trying to please her very developed palate, I had to think outside of my comfort zone. At first it was frustrating but I now believe that this was the best thing to happen to me. I was very far down the path to forgetting what a balanced cocktail tastes like. Just because a drink is strong and bitter, doesn't mean it is balanced.

Balance is the key factor in creating a successful cocktail. A great bartender can create a drink that is sweet and still balanced, tart and balanced, strong and balanced. Granted being able to make a drink to suit your audience is also important and should provoke creative individuals to think outside of their comfort zone. The hard part of this comes from the fact that your senses crave what you actually put in your mouth. Say you eat a lot of chocolate. You will then crave chocolate. If you eat bitter chocolate, you will crave bitterness. Too little awareness of this can create a palate that is hopelessly out of whack.

As I started thinking about this fact, it became a lot easier to make cocktails that were adjusted to my girlfriend's taste. The more I challenged myself to look beyond of the brown, bitter, and stirred category, the more I found that I liked different things. New flavor combinations came to mind easier. But most important, I regained my knowledge of where balance is.

Don't get me wrong, I still l love a big flavorful, and yes bitter, cocktail. It just has to ring with the right balance. Many go too far, and perhaps solely for bragging rights. The following drink may look like that on paper but it's not. Full of big flavor? Hell yes. But it is tempered, restrained. And it is in that restraint that success comes. Might it still make my girlfriend scrunch her face? Well yes, but even she agrees that it is balanced. And there is one secret ingredient that makes it all work: salt.

Bitter Padre (created by Nikki Worley, Witness)

3/4 ounce mezcal
3/4 ounce Cynar
3/4 ounce Campari
3/4 ounce Fernet Branca
pinch of salt

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist. 

Notes on Ingredients: I did not have Campari, so substituted Luxardo Bitter. I also used Fidencio mezcal. The original calls for del Maguey's vida.


A Madeira Link? Baker's Creole Contentment and the Creole Lady

It is always difficult to write about a Charles Baker cocktail that is actually tasty. While many more of his drinks come under the heading of barely palateable experiments from the past, the good ones have already been uncovered. Even if you've never heard of it, entering the cocktail name into a search engine will fill your screen up with links. But of course it makes complete sense--these are old recipes after all. The Gentleman's Companion has been in print for over 80 years. There are no secrets. So what is there to say about a cocktail that has already make the rounds. It sure is tasty, especially when you follow Baker's advice--but just this once.

Creole Contentment

1 1/2 ounce cognac
1 ounce Madeira
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 dash orange bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry if you must, though, as Baker says, this drink needs no adornment

Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, Broadbent Madeira, Angostura orange bitters and Maraska maraschino liqueur. 

Sometimes the most interesting part of the story comes where we aren't looking. For me this was the case with the Creole Contentment. Baker states that this tipple was birthed in the Big Easy. As any diligent cocktail nerd, I quickly took to the books in hopes of uncovering some hidden reference that would fill out this cocktail's lineage. I turned to Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Make 'Em by Stanley Arthur. As is my habit, I also grabbed a couple of other tomes as well. To sum up an afternoon, I didn't find any secret provenance for the Creole Contentment, but I did find something interesting--another "Creole" drink that is almost a mirror image of Baker's Contentment, the Creole Lady.

Creole Lady

1 ounce Bourbon
1 ounce Madeira
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with 2 brandied cherries. 

I found the Creole Lady while flipping through the Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. Sadly I could find a true correlation between these two drinks. They look like they are related. They have similar names. But perhaps this just comes from the fact that New Orleans was an important port during Madeiras heydey. Perhaps it is because a lot of Creole cooking has stayed true to the traditional recipes, many of which included Madeira. Or maybe it is because of the many Portuguese immigrants who ended up in the New Orleans region in the years leading up to the Civil War, when Madeira was incredibly popular. Regardless, both cocktails are delicious.