Bitters are the fashion accessory of the cocktail world – a small accent that makes what surrounds them pop. In fashion it could be a small accessory like a tie or piece of jewelry that brings out an adjacent color and in a cocktail it’s a few drops of concentrated flavor that provides complexity and can highlight a flavor. Make three Manhattans, but use different bitters in each and you’ll have three very different drinks. The key is finding the balance which allows the bitters to do their job without trying to steal a lead role.
Bitters have become ubiquitous over the past few years and it’s difficult to keep up. I think this is largely a byproduct of the craft cocktail boom and the ease of DIY bitters. Bitters require no distillation – simply spices, bark, roots, etc., and time. Angostura may have the standard aromatic bitters category on lock-down, but they certainly aren’t the only option. The question is whether a particular style of bitters is different enough to justify adding them to your collection.
Recently, I came across bitters made by pink House Alchemy (cleverly abbreviated pH). Of the several varieties available, the Smoldered bitters stood out as the most unique. The label’s description stating “Smokey notes of chipotle pepper compliment rich black currant fruit and vanilla flavors” drew me in. The first thing I noticed about the bitters is that they don’t contain any alcohol or glycerin. The only listed ingredients are water, cane sugar, and botanicals/fruit. On the nose they smell like smoked vanilla, but on the palate you’re hit with a powerful punch of chipotle spice. The level of heat is more akin to a hot sauce than bitters, and I don’t consider that a bad thing. The spiciness rounds off with some vanilla and berries that linger briefly then subside allowing the chipotle to carry you through the finish.
I dabbled around with several cocktail options, all centering around rye. I think the spiciness of rye works well with these bitters, as would either bourbon or dark rum per the bottle’s suggestion. Ultimately, the cocktail I was satisfied with was the one in which I decided to swap the rye with apple brandy. The bitter’s smoke and vanilla mingles with the brandy and then there remains a subtle spice that lingers through the finish.
While pink House’s Smoldered bitters may not be a bottle you use frequently, I suggest them because the potency of the chipotle will give you the ability to add some spice to drinks without needing to use a liqueur or infusion. I bet they’d play well with drinks that feature ginger as well. If you pick up a bottle of these bitters please leave a comment here or on social media letting me know how you’re using them. I’d love to know!
You can check out pink House Alchemy on social media using the links below. In addition to bitters, they have syrups and shrubs.
- 2 ounces apple brandy (Applejack)
- 1 ounce dry vermouth
- .5 ounce grenadine
- 8 dashes pink House Alchemy Smoldered Bitters
- Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice.
- Stir until chilled and strain into coupe or martini glass.
- Garnish with expressed lemon peel.