March 21, 2013

proof whisky, the bitter end, Vol. 125

Happy Spring! Yesterday officially marked the end of Winter, and even though the weather has not cooperated, we can still see an obscured light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s bid adieu to a lengthy Winter with this dark and bitter cocktail.

My first experience with this old-fashioned variation with Canadian roots came when I asked a bartender for ‘something dark and bitter”. Without pause he went to work. A few minutes later he placed the cocktail glass in front of me, filled with an inky potion offset by a bright orange peel garnish. The bracing herbal bitterness of Fernet Branca is an acquired taste for most, but it doesn’t overpower the drink, and it helps to bring out the warmth of the whisky – making the Toronto perfect for the colder months. (B.T. Parsons)

Toronto 2 oz proof whisky • 1/4 oz Fernet Branca • 1/4 oz simple syrup • 2 dashes aromatic bitters • orange twist

Pour all ingredients except garnish into an ice-filled shaker. Shake and strain into a glass. Garnish with a singed orange twist. (recipe ‘Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All’) Above bitters bottle WIlliam Sonoma


A couple of weeks ago, we picked up ‘Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All’ by B.T. Parsons and we are now obsessed.

Author and bitters enthusiast Brad Thomas Parsons traces the history of the world’s most storied elixir, from its earliest “snake oil” days to its near evaporation after Prohibition to its ascension as a beloved (and at times obsessed-over) ingredient on the contemporary bar scene. Parsons writes from the front lines of the bitters boom, where he has access to the best and boldest new brands and flavors, the most innovative artisanal producers, and insider knowledge of the bitters-making process.

Whether you’re a professional looking to take your game to the next level or just a DIY-type interested in homemade potables, Bitters has a dozen recipes for customized blends – ranging from Apple to Coffee-Pecan to Root Beer bitters – as well as tips on sourcing ingredients and step-by-step instructions fit for amateur and seasoned food crafters alike.

Also featured are more than seventy cocktail recipes that showcase bitters’ diversity and versatility: classics like the Manhattan (if you ever get one without bitters, send it back), old-guard favorites like the Martinez, contemporary drinks from Parsons’ own repertoire like the Shady Lane, plus one-of-a-kind libations from the country’s most pioneering bartenders. Last but not least, there is a full chapter on cooking with bitters, with a dozen recipes for sweet and savory bitters-infused dishes. (  blog:


Here is one of the many make-your-own-bitters recipes from the book. We chose apple bitters because its base is bourbon or in our case whisky. Let us just say that there really is a great time commitment involved in the making of any of these bitters recipes.

Apple bitters peels from 6 medium to large apples (preferably organic) • zest of ½ lemon, cut into strip with paring knife • 2 cinnamon sticks • ½ tsp allspice berries • ¼ teaspoon coriander seeds • ½ teaspoon cassia chips • ½ teaspoon cinchona bark • 4 cloves • 2 cups proof whisky • 1 cup water • 2 tablespoons rich syrup

Place all ingredients except for the whisky, water, and rich syrup in a quart-sized Mason jar or other large glass container with a lid. Pour in the 2 cups of whisky, adding more if necessary so that all ingredients are covered. Seal the jar and store at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 2 weeks, shaking the jar once a day.

After two weeks, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined funnel into a clean quart-sized jar to remove the solids. Repeat until all of the sediment has been filtered out. Squeeze the cheesecloth over the jar to release any excess liquid and transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Cover the jar and set aside.

Cover the solids in the saucepan with the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover the saucepan, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool completely. Once cooled, add the contents of the saucepan (both liquids and solids) to another quart-sized Mason jar. Cover the jar and store at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 1 week, shaking the jar daily.

After 1 week, strain the jar with the liquid and solids through a cheesecloth-lined funnel into a clean quart-sized Mason jar. Repeat until all of the sediment has been filtered out. Discard the solids. Add this liquid to the jar containing the original whisky solution. Add the rich syrup to the jar and stir to incorporate, then cover and shake to fully dissolve the syrup.

Allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for 3 days. At the end of the 3 days, skim off any debris that floats to the surface and pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel one last time.

Using a funnel, decant the bitters into smaller jars and label. If there’s any sediment left in the bottles, or if the liquid is cloudy, give the bottle a shake before using. The bitters will last indefinitely, but for optimum flavor use within a year.


rich syrup 2 cups demerara or turbinado sugar • 1 cup water
In a medium saucepan bring sugar and water to simmer. Stir to dissolve sugar. At first crack of boil, remove from heat. Let cool and then store in clean glass container. It will keep in refrigerator for up to 1 month.


For rare or difficult to find herbs, you can try local Herbie Herbs at 556 Queen West. 

( Herbie’s carries every type of herb as well as a good variety of  crystals to fill all your new age-y needs.


If you decide that bitter-making is just making you bitter, but still want to mix up some of Parsons great cocktails, Fee brothers offers a good range of flavoured bitters. ( And after seeing the process involved in making bitters, we can appreciate Fees more than ever. Our favourite is still the grapefruit.

Celebrate Earth Hour on Saturday, March 23 at 8:00pm in Roncesvalles Village. Celebrate Earth Hour with Music and Candlelight! Join WWF’s Earth Hour celebrations from 8:00pm to 9:30pm in Toronto’s Roncesvalles Village for a free outdoor concert for all ages. Hosted by CBC's Garvia Bailey, the lineup for the evening includes musical performances by SPLASH, ANdrew Huang, Lucas Stagg Band and Liam Titcomb. ( for schedule of event, and playbooks) And TURN YOUR LIGHTS OFF!

Weekend Forecast
Saturday: Cloudy periods and a high of 3 degrees
Sunday: Mainly sunny and a high of 3 degrees

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