Bitters Lesson with Travis Nass of Last Drop Bar at the Hermosa Inn
After learning all about the types of bitters on the market and the history of the non-potable tincture last week with Bill and Lill Buitenhuys of AZ Bitters Lab, Travis Nass of the Last Drop Bar at the Hermosa Inn shows us this week how to use bitters in a cocktail. Nass says that if you're using bitters properly, it should "season" the cocktail, without your actually being able to tell there are bitters in it at all. However, you also can do what the bartenders do and take a full shot of Angostura -- though that can get expensive.
Heather Hoch You can drink bitters as a shot, but they're much better in a cocktail.
Call it peer pressure, but when Travis Nass poured a shot of straight Angostura bitters, we called his bluff, and let's just say, the iconic bitters brand is classified as non-potable for a reason. In any case, it is one of three bitters, Nass says, that should be the base of any bitters collection, along with Peychaud's and an orange bitters. He explains that these three will be the basis for about 95 percent of all classic cocktail recipes.
Aromatic bitters like Angostura and Peychaud's often don't add one specific flavor element to a cocktail, though Nass notes that they have ginger and anise qualities, respectively. Since this type of bitters is made with a robust blend of different herbal elements, their job is to add complexity to a cocktail, without any one flavor being dominant.
Heather Hoch Dash or drops -- a little goes a long way with bitters.
If you're looking for specific flavor elements, the flavored varieties can add peach, cinnamon, celery, and even chocolate notes, depending on which kind you buy. Nass says there are no hard-and-fast rules when using bitters, but he says aromatic and "baking spice"-flavored bitters tend to blend nicely with brown spirits.
If you like white spirits, orange and other citrus and fruity bitters are the way to go in most cases. You won't be able to pick out the bitters' notes, and the cocktail exemplifies their ability to magnify flavor elements in just a spirit alone.
Heather Hoch A dash of bitters lets the spirit sing in a Pink Gin cocktail.
"The job of bitters is to add flavor and not too much volume," Nass says. "Five or six drops makes all of the difference."
He says there are few cocktails that can't be improved with bitters. (He's even used bitters to made ice cream, and it turned out amazing, he says.) While he's seen very few misuses of it, he says more often than not if a cocktail seems to be missing something, it's bitters.
"Without bitters, I've tasted cocktails that have just turned out mediocre and flat," he says.