Monday, March 9, 2009

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German Bitters, an Untried Recipe

My French is entirely self-taught and I’m not by any assessment fluent. Oh, I’m competent enough not to starve or go without a roof when I travel in France. I’m also able to dig through old books to find recipes for those homemade tinctures, infusions, macerations, and beverages of which the French still seem inordinately fond.

But because I’m leery of sounding foolish with my ham-fisted translations in print, I turned to upstate New York cider maker and longtime friend S. David White, who yielded a more user-friendly reading than the one I came up with for this old recipe. The result seems to yield more of an amer style bitter than the cocktail bitters we usually think of. Did you catch that "seems" so? Haven't made this concoction. Just offering for your consideration. Might in fact be a delightful cocktail ingredient.

This recipe, for German bitters, is from M. Ferreyol’s 1894 Manuel Pratique pour la Fabrication rapide et economique des Liqueurs et des Spiritueux sans Distillation (reprint available here). White’s translation follows (and, in the Shake ‘n’ Bake tradition, I helped).

Bitter allemand

Anis vert……………………………………………...…10 grammes
Bais de genievre…………………………………......10 —
Ecorces d’organges ameres seches……...…….10 —
Sauge seche………..………..………..………..….….10 —
Absinthe seche………..………..………..………..…10 —
Calamus………..………..………..………..………..…10 —
Girofles………..………..………..………..………..……5 —
Menthe seche………..………..………..………..…….5 —
Lavande fleurs seches………..………..………..…..5 —
Racine d’angelique seche………..………..……..…5 —

1º On pile finement toutes les substances et on les fait macrer pendant 10 jours dans 1 litre d’alcool a 90º.

2º On soutire la maceration et sur le residue on verse un mélange compose d’alcool ½ litre et l’eau 1 litre.

3º Au bout de 10 jours, on mele les deux macerations, on colore avec du jus de cerises noires, puis on filtre.

German Bitters

Anise...………..………..................10 grams
Juniper berries ..………..………...10 --
Dried bitter orange peel ..……...10 --
Dried sage ..………..………...........10 --
Dried absinthe..………..……….....10 --
Calamus ..………..……...........…...10 --
Cloves ..………..…................……...5 --
Dried mint..............………..……….5 --
Dried lavender flowers....…...…...5 --
Dried angelica root..………..……...5 --

First — Finely grind all the ingredients above and macerate them for 10 days in a liter of 90 degree alcohol.

Second — strain off the maceration [e.g., the liquid] and retain. Onto the residue pour a mixture of ½ liter of alcohol and 1 liter of water.

Third — After 10 days, mix the two macerations. Color the liquid with black cherry juice, then filter.

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2 comments:

scott said...

Matthew- what do you think would be a good base spirit for your "Bitters"? Maybe a nice Cognac since they are French?

Matthew Rowley said...

Hey Scott ~

There's nothing stopping you from using a nice Cognac if you've got some on hand that you're willing to contribute to an experiment. Certainly, some first-rate bitters are made with whiskeys that contribute their own characteristics to the final flavor (Rittenhouse 100 proof rye is a popular choice among self-made bitters enthusiasts).

I can't help thinking, though, that you're talking about some unnecessarily expensive bitters. You could, for instance, go with a good Armagnac for probably less than the price of a comparable Cognac.

Cheaper even still is to take the route suggested in old compounding manuals when it comes to bitters: use the cheapest wholesome spirit you can and let the intensely-flavored herbs and spices contribute their flavor. For many, this meant neutral spirits.

If you have access to 50% abv neutral spirits (either your own or purchased), I would try using that as a control batch and—assuming you have the other ingredients—maybe make another batch with the Cognac to see how they differ and which you prefer. Both Absolut and Smirnoff make 100 proof vodkas readily available in most markets, though the Smirnoff is generally much cheaper.

And then, I want to hear back to see how it all worked out.