When I made my first visit to The Dorchester Bar I was delighted to see they had their own range of bitters, including lavender and cardamon ones they serve for you to add to your G&T, and a Bokers recreation used in some of the classic cocktails they serve. I was also intrigued to know more about them, and after a few questions and a hastily scribbled down company name I managed to get in touch with these mysterious bitters creator, “Bob”.
A few weeks later I met up with him to have a chat about his bitters and sample the various different flavours available. Bob isn’t a bartender by trade, nor was he originally involved in the booze trade until he became fascinated with sake some years ago. Interested in the possibilities of infusing the Japanese spirit with fresh fruits he began experimenting, and after overcoming the shelf-life issues of introducing fresh fruit to a relatively weak, pasteurised alcohol, Nijizaki Wines was born.
Aware of Bob’s infusions Giuliano Morandin, bar manager at The Dorchester Bar, got in touch with the idea of creating a grapefruit bitters. Using the knowledge gained while developing his sake Bob developed a simple bitters using fresh grapefruit as the base ingredient along with the usual alcohol (grain neutral spirits, in this case), bittering agent and caramel.
Over the years this recipe has been tweaked using feedback from Guiliano and other bartenders, and the range has been expanded to include cardamon, coriander, ginger, lavender, vanilla and liquorice flavours, the later developed specially with Ago Perrone of The Connaught Bar for use in cocktails using the newly reformulated Galliano L’Authentico. I’m looking forward to spending some more time to experiment with them, but my initial impressions are generally very positive…
Grapefruit – Incredibly fresh and natural tasting with a decent bitter background edge. Far superior to the sweeter, more artificial tasting Fee Brothers, this works great with tequila and cachaça. Every recipe I’ve tried that calls for grapefruit bitters has been improved by using these.
Cardamon and Coriander – These will be familiar flavours to anyone who has played with making their own bitters before, the spices coming through sharply and strongly, with a decent bitterness and a slight hint of sweetness in the background. I like the idea of being able to work with these flavours individually, rather than rely on them together as with a normal aromatic bitters.
Lavender – Intensely floral and one of the least bitter, this has a wonderful fresh lightness. The lavender bitters have become a favourite of mine in a Gin and Tonic.
Vanilla – A lovely vanilla flavour which has hints of chocolate, before descending in to a deep bitter chocolate and aromatic vanilla finish. The idea of these with something containing Chartreuse is very exciting.
Ginger – A newer flavour which comes across as less assertive than the others on its own, though in a Dry Martini with Plymouth gin it does work rather nicely adding a subtle ginger hint.
Liquorice – A very interesting, slightly sweet and earthy liquorice flavour. I’m not the biggest fan of liquorice, but I’m sure the flavour has a lot of potential within a cocktail.
Bob produces these bitters from a culinary perspective, aiming to concentrate on single ingredients that can then be used by bartenders in a controlled fashion to add specific flavours to drinks. This is a very different approach compared with traditional bitters, which usually combine many spices and botanicals to create a complex ingredient that adds an intricate mixture of flavours to a drink.
While those classic elixirs clearly have an important place I think this approach to bitters is an interesting and valuable tool for bartenders seeking to add specific flavours, rather than the intense mixture of flavours most bitters offer. Indeed in many ways this approach is more similar to creating tinctures than bitters, though the addition of the bittering agent ensures that strange, wonderful rounding effect on a cocktail that bitters provide and tinctures fail to produce.
Bob is constantly adjusting the recipes for the bitters based on feedback from bartenders who use the products, and is also currently working on a recreation of Bokers bitters – one of the most famous traditional bitters that has long been unavailable. The possibility of an orange bitters is also under consideration, and I look forward to seeing what other unique and interesting flavours come out under the Bob’s Bitters label.
Bob’s Bitters can be found in drinks at The Dorchester Bar and The Connaught Bar. They are also available to commercial and private customers, large or small, directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: In the interests of full disclosure, sample bottles of Bob’s Bitters were supplied to me by Bob for evaluation and experimentation.
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