Ode to Bitters: Stormy Mai-Tai

I have emptied three bottles of Angostura bitters during this summer alone! We once had a bottle of Angostura last us a couple of years when we lived in NYC. Now that we drink so many classic cocktails, we definitely go through Angostura faster, but it can still take a year to get through a bottle. Partially that is due to the sheer number of bitters that we own—so many options. On Saturday night, as I was collecting ingredients, I noticed that my bitters bottle was only half full. So, off I went on an impromptu jaunt to the local market for bitters. Tracy didn't even think a little market would have them. But there they were next to the Rose's Lime and bottled margarita mix.I think I am the only person who brings a photo ID to buy bitters. But since Angostura has a higher proof than most vodkas, you never know. Of course most people don't realize this.  Alas, the cashier didn't either and I didn't get carded.

Stormy Mai-Tai

1 1/2 ounce Angostura bitters
3/4 ounce orgeat syrup
1/4 ounce curacao
1 ounce lime juice

Preshake. Pour in to a double rocks glass and top with crushed ice. Swizzle lightly. Float light rum. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Notes on Ingredients: Plan ahead: if you are making two drinks you will use 3/4 of a bottle of Angostura. I used a 1/2-ounce float of Cruzan white rum. As we had no mint, I skipped it. Also I  substituted triple sec for the curacao.

Of all the ingredients, the rum is the most readily detectable when nosing this embittered tipple. This makes sense since it was right under my nose, being a float after all. It makes a very subtle clear rim that contrasts with the bright rusty redness underneath, though you can't tell in the picture. The smell of bitters was also apparent. But then again, I would be surprised if they weren't detectable. When sipping I first tasted the light rum, the nice lightness before falling through the citrus into the depths of cinnamon, allspice, cloves. Each sip began with the brightness of citrus coupled with a hint of almond. The end was equally the same: the complex, spicy bitters, with their unique dryness, though here for the first time, a sort of sharpness that wasn't at all unpleasant. The complexity definitely meant that this was a drink to be sipped. Weighing in at around 89 proof, the Angostura worked well as a base spirit over crushed ice. The higher proof means that Angostura can stand up to the dilution better than a lower proof spirit would. And true to form, this drink retained its strong flavor and depth even as the night wore on and the ice melted. (I am sure that the extreme flavor of the bitters contributed to this as much as the proof.) All in all this drink was very refreshing and complex with a lot of substance in each sip. It completely highlights what a heavily bittered cocktail is all about.

Now that we are at the end of our tribute to bitters, we must have a recap. What have we learned, besides the fact that heavily bittered cocktails are yummy? One thing we noticed was that heavily bittered cocktails have a unique texture. They are smoother and thicker than most cocktails but in a totally new way. Egg whites or jam when added to a cocktail also create a smooth, thick texture, but the mouth feel of a heavily bittered cocktail is quite different. These cocktails are not velvety smooth, and luscious, but instead they start off smooth and thick, and then, because of the bitters, they immediately become dry and astringent, like when you drink a wine that has a lot of tannins. These cocktails are very complex and the flavors are layered. By using such a hefty amount in an environment tempered with water, citrus, and a sweetener, the full taste of the bitters can really be appreciated. We also noted that all of these cocktails were quite foamy, as if half of an egg white had been added. Conclusions aside, what fun we have had pushing our expectations and boundaries and tasting something new and different. For me, at least, that is part of the joy of drinking cocktails.