Monday, May 9, 2011

MxMo LVII: Floral Bitters

The month of May's Mixology Monday host is Dave from The Barman Cometh. His theme is "floral cocktails" and he says:

"As the sun starts becoming more frequent and the temptation to play hooky mid-week gets stronger, nothing brightens the day better this time of year than the fresh blossoms hanging from the trees on the street and popping up in your neighborhood gardens. Goodbye cabin fever, hello springtime!"

Dave must not suffer from any sort of botanical allergy, but otherwise, I couldn't agree more. Despite that all the blossoms are here and green is everywhere to be seen, Washington, DC's long winter still lingers with temperatures that have barely broken the 70's (F) and constant rain. Looks like we'll need some liquid persuasion in order to change the mood...

I'm going to be "that guy" and make my post about a floral ingredient instead of a cocktail. Sorry, Dave. I've been waiting to post about my floral bitters for a while now, and surely you can understand how I wouldn't pass up this convenient and serendipitous MxMo opportunity.

As I detailed earlier in my homemade coffee bitters post, I make bitters using a conservative method; I make individual tinctures and combine them in various proportions until I find something that works. This is a method that surely showed its merits in the process of making these floral bitters, because it took me months of combining and testing to arrive at a first decent iteration. If I had done it via single compound infusions, I'd only be on my 2nd or 3rd try. I'd estimate that these floral bitters were made on the 30th or 40th try.

The star and major component of these bitters is pomelo. The pomelo is a cousin of the grapefruit. It's much larger, its peel is green, and its flavor is similar to the grapefruit, except that it's milder, sweeter, and less bitter. But I'm interested in the pomelo's peel, whose flavor can vary a bit... but I've found that especially among the smooth-skinned Israeli variety of pomelo which is available in the winter, the peel's flavor is mostly floral with just a bit of grassiness as well as grapefruit tones.

I made the pomelo tincture just like any other: by soaking its peel and pith in high proof alcohol. On the subject of citrus infusions, most people will advise you to remove the fruit's bitter pith from the peel, but in making bitters, it goes without saying that I'm perfectly ok with having plenty of pith. And pomelos are infamous for having a huge amount of pith between their peel and fruit.

To support the pomelo with a more straightforward floral note is simple rose water. Rose water is a distillation of a mixture of water and rose petals. The result is a strong solution that smells like perfume. Rose water is very common in cuisine (especially desserts) all across the world.

Once again, I'm using a tincture of wormwood as my primary bittering agent. It also has some sour herbal tones to it that I felt would be useful.

The final ingredient is one that I tinkered with for quite a while. I tried tinctures of black tea, green tea, jasmine green tea, hibiscus, and even of green bean and bell pepper. In the end, I went with a lime tincture. I didn't want to add much fruitiness to these bitters, but I feel that the bitter side of the lime really adds to this mix.

In the end, these bitters are less complex than I originally wanted, but I'm satisfied with them as a first version... a Floral Bitters #1, if you will. The pomelo mostly acts a bass while the rose water tends to sing the high notes. The lime and wormwood both add a bit of sourness while the lime also provides a dark vegetal "green" tone.

I essentially made these bitters for gin. I've had great luck with gin Old Fashioneds, Martinis, and Gin & Tonics. I'm still working on how these bitters go with other white spirits like light rum or pisco.

A week or two after I finished these bitters, I learned that the bartenders at The Gibson in DC have concocted a similar brew called "Angel Bitters", which uses chamomile and also rose water. I told them to make me a Martini with them, just for good measure. They taste very much like mine, except that they seemed a bit peppery. Overall, it was a great drink.

Thanks again to Dave for hosting this fun theme.

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