26 October 2012

Bitters: strain and boil

After two weeks of daily shakings, it was time to open the jars of bitters. With each jar, the process was the same: strain the solids out of the liquid, add the solids to a pan of water, and boil.  The pots are cooling now, and when they cool completely, I'll put them in two more jars for a week of sitting and filtering.

The charred cedar jar smelled more like cedar than char when I opened it today, and while I was filtering it, the cheesecloth grew black and gunky with the ash from the char. I suspect that when I finish this process and get rid of the wood, the charred aroma will take primacy over the cedar.

The coffee pecan bitters smell amazing!  More like coffee than pecans, actually.  I suspect that is because coffee has more of a natural aroma than pecans, but once I throw the solids away and am just smelling whatever has seeped into the whiskey, the aromas will balance out.

12 October 2012

Chop de Wood

My precaution got the better of me tonight when I got home from work, and I pulled out the long pieces of charred wood and chopped them smaller.  It didn't seem to make a difference in terms of how much wood was covered by whiskey, but at least it made me feel better.

After reviewing the recipe, I'm confused at how it's all supposed to go together. That much charred wood, plus other dried herbs, only covered in two cups of bourbon? Seems highly unlikely.

This is my skeptical face.

Then again, I tripled the amount of whiskey and still only cover half of the wood.  Maybe I'm doing something wrong?

Bitters: a side project

I like cocktails. Whiskey drinks, mostly. Bourbons, ryes.  Manhattans, Old Fashioneds. Sazeracs.  Knowing my affection for booze concoctions, S gave me a book on bitters for my birthday. The book is divided into three sections: part I is a history of the bitters, a discussion of the social impact of bitters, and a survey of the more significant bitters, both historically and current.  Part III is a collection of recipes for cocktails and foodstuffs that can be made (or enhanced) with bitters.  The middle section of the book contains some discussion of barware, equipment, and a number of recipes for bitters themselves. There are perhaps a half-dozen recipes, each with a complex list of unusual ingredients (cassia? wild cherry bark?) and an alchemical creation process (store in dark place. shake daily. repeat for two weeks. filter. boil.).

Over the past few days, I’ve motored around LA collecting the ingredients and materials needed to make a couple of these recipes. I also cut and dried some orange peels (they're downstage center in the photo).  Here’s everything, nicely laid out and ready to get made:

Bet you can't identify everything!

I chose two recipes to start with: Charred Cedar Bitters and Coffee and Pecan Bitters.  The basic process to make each is basically the same: combine ingredients and booze, let sit, shake daily, filter, boil, refilter, skim. Today, we combine ingredients.

The Book
I ran into some trouble yesterday when the shop I went to for herbs didn't have wild cherry bark. This was the second shop I tried, so I punted and thought I'd combine a few different herbs as a substitution.

This morning, I got up early to fire up the grill and char the cedar planks. Once those were cooled, I scraped off the ash and broke them into pieces. Into the jars went spices, herbs, peels, wood, beans, nibs, and nuts. Then, the bourbon!  You need to add a high-proof bourbon so that it can soak up the flavor without losing too much potency.

Here are the jars, ready to go:

So, moving forward, I have two concerns.  The first is that the cedar chips are not fully immersed in the whiskey.  In fact, I've had to triple the suggested amount of whiskey in the cedar chips jar, and there's still a lot of wood sticking up. I may go back after a few days and cut the wood smaller so that it can be fully immersed in the boozy boozy goodness.  The second is whether the bitters will be useful without the wild cherry bark (my guess is it will).  Stay tuned!