Rachel Wharton of Edible Manhattan traveled to The Red Cat in Chelsea to learn how bitters make a better drink and then filed the following report.
Bitters are made by infusing alcohol with a secret blend of spices, citrus and other botanicals for weeks. As a result, they’re intensely flavored, and you only need a drop or two to take a cocktail to the next level.
“It’s sort of like adding red wine to a tomato sauce or maybe some lemon zest to an apple pie,” says Trace Conway, bar manager at The Red Cat. “What you’re doing is really accentuating the flavors that are already in the cocktail, but really bringing them to life.”
Bitters have long been used in classic drinks like the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned, but a rainbow of new flavors mean bartenders like Conway can get even more creative.
“One of my favorites would be the Whiskey Barrel Bitters from Fee Brothers,” Conway says. “This is actually aged in whisky barrels. It gives it a really pronounced flavor of spices, of baking spices predominantly, so cloves and cinnamon. We have used this in the past for a winter Manhattan, which would be rye whiskey. We would do a Chai-infused vermouth and a little bit of this and adds a nice bit to the dark spirit with some layers of some fun spices and little punch at the end. We’ve also used the peach bitters in a Peach Basil Old Fashioned. We use a corn whiskey, which was unaged in the summertime to add a brighter flavor, some fresh muddled peaches and basil and just a dash of the peach bitters, as I said, to add a layer into the cocktail.”
“We also have cranberry bitters,” continues Conway. “This is a new product from Fee Brothers that we picked up pretty recently. We use this in our Elixir No. 1, which is a cocktail we created based on two different kinds of bitters and an amaro with some dark rum and lime juice.”
“We do things seasonally here,” she says. “We change the cocktail list four to six times a year, based on what’s available in the market. So, I’m not using grapefruit now, but we’re using cranberry and the whiskey barrel and cherry bitters and things that match with cocktails on our program right now."
“It’s always at a time in the middle of a shift when I am like,’ oh, we need to try this,’” says Conway. “We’ll be talking about something or reading something, or somebody eats something or mentions something and the next thing I know cocktails are born.”
For more on bitters and latest in food and cocktails, go to EdibleManhattan.com.