So – cocktail bitters then. The salt, pepper, Worcestershire Sauce and Encona of the Cocktail world. Cocktail seasoning if you will.
This new, and tremendously exciting launch sees the phasing-out of the Master of Malt bitters range in favour of this new, improved and super-exciting range of cocktail ingredients. Why the change though?
Sit down children, and I shall tell you a story all about standardisation, Rapid-Maceration, the effects of Gravity on particle-suspension, oil-solubility and swearing:
In fact, I’ll just address those points in turn, because stories are hard.
For the Bitter Bastards range, we’ve not only standardised the flavour (and bitterness) intensity for each product, we’ve done so across the range too. This means that you should be able to standardise the additional flavour contributed by the bitters in a ‘base’ cocktail and replicate results across the range. Excellent news for professional bartenders, and home-bar-enthusiasts-that-like-things-to-be-absolutely-perfect alike.
For curiosity, the relative ‘native-bitterness’ of each botanical / substance has also been taken into account when conducting this process, so if one base ingredient has a higher naturally occurring bitterness level than another, this will be accounted for by adding less of the bittering agent (we use Gentian Root for this).
Stewed tea is bad. We know that, right?
To take that a bit further – how do we prevent over-extraction of undesirable-tasting compounds when it comes to the infusion of a fine tea? Well, we carefully monitor the brewing time, keeping it to a pretty short infusion before removing the leaves in order not to allow the delicately perfumed notes to be destroyed by overbearing tannins and polyphenols.
What if you apply the same concept to bitters?
Well – it turns out that you end up with a much fresher-tasting, more exciting flavour-profile that is completely devoid of those ‘stewed’ notes that are present in ‘overcooked’ herbal infusions of all kinds.
There is a problem with simply soaking something like Gentian (pictured above) in spirit though – it takes ages, as there are whacking great chunks of it for the liquid to penetrate and extract flavour from. In that ‘ages’, we find that a load of the undesirable notes leach out of the surface of the chunk whilst the liquid is still penetrating the centre. We could simply buy it powdered, but you as all know – powdered spices aren’t a patch on whole due to the speed with which the aroma compounds leak out of the powder, so that’s clearly out.
The solution therefore? Rapid Maceration extraction. Whizz the whole lot up into a slurry, opening up surface area instantly, extracting the exciting and fresh-tasting compounds in the space of a few minutes, then removing the particulate before it has a chance to leach out those slower-releasing tannins and nasty-tasting bits. More on that last part:
Centrifugation vs Filtration
Making bitters is a tricky process. The concentration of the various botanicals needed to deliver the huge flavour-hit needed requires the use of quite a lot of dry ingredients. This in turn often results in a murky solution in need of clarification. The below is our gentian bitters post-rapid-maceration, pre-clarification. This is an extreme example, granted, but trust me – bitters need to be clarified.
Most (all?) other bitters are clarified using filtration or flocculation (adding chemical agents that bind electrostatically-charged micro-particles together to enable them to settle out of solution). I have a problem with both of these methods:
Flocculation requires the addition of chemicals (not particularly nasty chemicals necessarily, but I still don’t want them in my drink) or isinglass or alginates – extract from fish swim-bladders and Brown Seaweeds respectively – two more things I don’t particularly want in my cocktail.
Filtration has a nasty side-effect of removing not only the particulate, but a reasonable amount of oil from the (probably super-saturated) mixture. Try filtering cooled chicken stock and you’ll find that the filter clogs up with the more-viscous fat before the liquid you’re after has had a chance to seep through. Same principle. This is the method we used to use for the MoM bitters.
It’s tempting to say that one could just let nature take its course, and that gravity alone would shift the particulate to the bottom of the storage vessel, but this only works up to a point. There’s a size of particulate beyond which gravity isn’t able to overcome the electrostatic force between them, and the solution remains cloudy almost indefinitely. We need something else to overcome this force and ‘push’ the particles out of suspension.
The answer to the problem? Well it’s a Centrifuge. Obviously.
Now I know what you’re all thinking at this point, but I promise it’s not just a gimmick. This isn’t one of those vodkas that’s filtered through gold, platinum, myrrh, and David Beckham’s boxer-shorts. It’s a real thing.
Running the murky solution through a machine that subjects it to a force equivalent to (roughly) 5000 times Earth’s Gravity not only clarifies it very effectively by driving all the particulate to the bottom of the chamber, but crucially, the oils that we’re trying to preserve are driven to the top of the chamber because they’re lighter (albeit more viscous) than the rest of the alcohol-water solution. When the machine’s done, we simply pour the oils and alcohols off the sediment. Win:Win.
Centrifuges also have a side-benefit. They’re really, really awesome.
A quick before and after:
So – the result of all these shenanigans are the following, well-standardised, fresh-tasting centrifugally-clarified bottles of awesomeness:
And what about that name, then?