My first event of the 2014 Manhattan Cocktail Classic was Dale DeGroff‘s lecture on the history of bitters, titled “I’ll Take Manhattans!” at the Macao Trading Company in Tribeca.
Bitters were essential to the invention of cocktails. The first reference to the term, in a newspaper article from 1806, explained: “A cock tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” So without bitters, we don’t have cocktails!
Other tidbits from Dale’s talk:
- Bitters were patented as a as a digestive aid in 1690.
- They were sold as medicine, mostly because taxes were cheaper that way, but they also got sold as snake oil cure-alls.
- Angostura bitters are named after the town in Venezuela, not after the angostura tree.
And at each table there were five different kinds of aromatic bitters:
So we tasted each of them! Some notes:
- Angostura has a lot of baking spices – allspice and cinnamon notes
- Abbott’s is even more bitter, but with some hints of orange
- Bitter Truth has a licorice flavor
- Pimento is super-bitter! DeGroff joked that one bartender is using just a single drop of it in his Manhattans
- Fee Brothers had a sweet, cinnamon flavor, like a Red Hot candy
And then everybody got a full-sized Manhattan, each made with the bitters of their choice.
But really, my favorite part may have just been DeGroff telling stories about his life as a bartender. If you don’t know – he’s the founder of the craft cocktail movement. Basically, he was the first guy in the modern era to think “Hey – maybe cocktails should actually taste good!” But his vision of a bartender isn’t just a guy who knows drink recipes:
Posted in Bar Scrawl
Featherweight. 135 Graham Ave. between Johnson Avenue and Boerum Street in Bushwick. L train to Montrose. (347) 763–0872. www.featherweightbk.com. Open Sun, Tue–Wed, 7 pm–2 am; Thu–Sat, 7 pm–3 am.
(there’s also a door inside Sweet Science that connects to Featherweight).
Glorietta Baldy. 502 Franklin Ave. between Fulton Street and Jefferson Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant. C train/Shuttle to Franklin Ave. (718) 389–3904, www.502franklinbar.com. Open Mon–Thu, 4 pm–4 am; Sat–Sun, 2 pm–4 am.
Happy Fun Hideaway. 1211 Myrtle Ave. between Bushwick and Willoughby avenues in Bushwick. J/M/Z train to Myrtle Ave. No phone. www.facebook.com/HappyfunHideaway. Open daily, 4 pm–4 am.
Moonlight Mile. 200 Franklin St. at India Street in Greenpoint. G train to Greenpoint. (718) 389–3904. www.themoonlightmile.net. Open Mon–Thu, 4 pm–1 am; Fri, 4 pm–2 am; Sat, 3 pm–2 am; Sun, 3 pm–1 am.
Some of the other drinks weren’t quite as good, but quantity has it’s own quality.
Covenhoven. 730 Classon Ave. between Park Place and Prospect Place in Crown Heights. S shuttle train to Park Place. (917) 449–6793. www.covenhovennyc.com. Open daily, 4 pm–11 pm.
Dirck the Norseman. 7 N. 15th St between Franklin and Gen streets in Greenpoint. G train to Nassau. (718) 389–2940. Open Mon–Thu, 5 pm–midnight; Fri, 5 pm–2 am; Sat, noon–2 am; Sun, noon–midnight.
The beer is very German-influenced; their porter tastes more like a dunkel to me. But people who aren’t me might like it.
St. Gambrinus. 533 Atlantic Ave. between Third and Fourth avenues in Boerum Hill. B/D/N/R/Q/2/3/4/5 train to Atlantic. (347) 763–2261. www.stgambrinusbeer.com. Open Mon–Thu, 2 pm–10 pm; Fri, 2 pm–midnight; Sat, noon–midnight; Sun, noon–8 pm.
Bar San Miguel. 307 Smith St. between Union and Carroll streets in Carroll Gardens. F/G train to Carroll. (718) 855–2490. www.barsanmiguelbrooklyn.com. Open daily, 4 pm–2 am (kitchen closes at midnight).
Highbury Pub. 1002 Cortelyou Rd. at Coney Island Avenue in Ditmas Park. Q train to Cortelyou. (718) 908–1342. www.highburypub.com. Open Mon, 5 pm–2 am; Tue–Thu, 2 pm–2 am; Fri, 2 pm–4 am; Sat, 11 am–4 am; Sun, 11 am–2 am. Opens earlier for football matches.