Ode to Bitters: Alabazam

You know that you are a confirmed cocktail geek--a state beyond that of mere cocktail enthusiast--when you hear yourself repeatedly saying, "You should add bitters to that." (I am sure Tracy can tell you the other warning signs, but this is my personal benchmark.) Any spirit and tonic, add bitters. Seven and Seven, add bitters. Club soda with a slice of lime, add bitters. They have become my go-to garnish! Bitters are wonderful and can enhance the other flavors in the glass like nothing else. In celebration of all things bitters, I will post recipes for cocktails that are all about the bitters, where the bitters gain standing as a real ingredient as opposed to being relegated to a trifling dash. So on with our quest to find drinks with heaping amounts of bitters.

The Alabazam is a drink that was rediscovered by Jamie Boudreau in late 2008 in response to a Mixology Monday where the theme was nineteenth-century cocktails. It was the original creation of Leo Engels, an American expatriate from New York City who tended bar at the Criterion's American Bar in London when it first opened. The recipe is collected in Engel's American and Other Drinks, published in 1878. And though Engel liberally lifted many drinks from Jerry Thomas's tome, How to Mix Drinks, this recipe seems to be an original. This drink has traveled the cocktail blogging circuit, but not a lot more has been introduced about the man behind this wonderful little tipple. (On a side note, William Schmidt, the Only William, also includes a drink by the name Alabazam in his book, The Flowing Bowl: What and When to Drink, published in 1891. His Alabazam, though remarkably similar, does not contain that one ingredient that sets Engel's drink apart, the aromatic bitters. His drink contains a jigger of brandy and 2 dashes of curacoa that have been stirred with a lemon/sugar mixture. )


1 1/2 ounces cognac
2 teaspoons Cointreau
1 teaspoon Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon simple syrup
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Shake ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

As you can see, those bitters make the drink quite a deep shade of red and it is almost opaque. It is incredibly luscious looking, kind of like liquid velvet. The Angostura's cloves dominate the aromas, though a hint of citrus is barely detectable through the fog of spice. A drink with an amazing nose is always a good sign, and the taste does not disappoint. The cloves surge through the other flavors almost threatening to blanket them completely. It is only with subsequent sips that the cognac, lemon and mild orange flavors appear. But as my mouth became accustomed to the effervescent taste of the bitters, I noticed the other flavors were layered on top, waiting to be unearthed. This drink is wickedly complex and challenging for the palate. I even thought I detected a slight taste of cherries that I think might have been yet another flavor that the bitters contributed. The texture is smooth, and perhaps is due to the copious amount of Angostura. (As we explore other heavily bittered cocktails, maybe this will come up again.) The drink is very dry at the end, another consequence of the bitters, and the cinnamon and clove flavors linger long after the swallow. All in all this is an awesome cocktail.