Thursday, September 3, 2009

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Bittered Wine

Among bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts who make their own bitters, some recipes stand out for their uncommon ingredients—cocoa, chipotles, or mahleb, for instance. Others for their technique.

The usual method is to macerate seeds, bark, roots, leaves, and other aromatic and bittering agents in alcohol. Sometimes all the ingredients are put in a container all at once in a mass. Other methods call for a series of alcoholic tinctures (e.g., one jar of bitter orange peel, one of cardamom, one of gentian, one of cherry leaves or celery seeds, etc.) to be mixed once each has achieved a sufficient concentration.

M. E. Steedman falls under the "unusual technique" camp by calling for an actual fermentation of an aged bitter wine. Though related to cocktail bitters, bittered wines are older, less alcoholic, and more clearly intended to be tonic medicines. Here, his technique for a wormwood and gentian mash gets a dose of yeast to create a low-alcohol wash (probably around 6% abv), but not before boiling part of it. Finally, it’s cleared with isinglass and further fermentation stopped by adding brandy.


Bitter Wine

Boil 6 gallons of water, 15 lb. pure cane sugar and 3 oz. ginger together for half an hour, skimming when necessary, then pour into a large vessel containing 1½ pints of wormword, 3 pints each of red and green camomile, 3 oz. of camomile flowers, 1½ oz. of gentian root, and 2 handfuls of rosemary. Cover and infuse for five days, then boil part of the liquid and add it to the remainder to make the whole lukewarm. Stir in 6 table-spoonfuls of liquid yeast, and strain into a cask (reserving about a gallon to fill up the cask as the fermentation subsides), bung lightly til the hissing noise ceases, then add one and a half ounces of dissolved isinglass, and one and a half pints of good brandy. Stop the cask securely, and in 9 months bottle off and keep for six months longer.

~ Home-Made Beverages and American Drinks
M. E. Steedman (nd) The Food and Cookery Publishing Agency, London.



Trid said...

Just the mention of that much wormwood makes my mouth pucker at the implied bitterness. Sounds interesting otherwise.

Looks like my project list just got bigger.

Matthew Rowley said...

This one's more of an historical curiosity for me. It's a little off-topic for the current line of research, but if you get up to a batch, lemme know. Just how long IS that project list?

Trid said...

...did I show you my new toy?

Just what kind of trouble can I get into with a shiny new 90 gallon kettle?

Matthew Rowley said...

90 gallons, you say? Why, that's enough to cause some trouble. Sweet, high-proof trouble.