Wednesday, January 4, 2017

DIY Bitter Aperitivo & Soda


To say that I have an obsession with bitters is an understatement.  The Negroni is my favorite cocktail, I have made jewelry as an ode to the ruby-hued libation, and have considered painting my entire house red in tribute. 

While the recipe for the Negroni (and its sister cocktails) is incredibly well known, the recipe for its critical ingredient, Bitter Aperitivo, is not.  In fact, all of the producers who make aperitivi keep their recipes incredibly secret, usually known to only one or two highly trusted employees within the company.  Sometimes 3-4 ingredients are made public, but the remaining 20+ herbs, roots, and citrus ingredients remain a mystery. 

I'm sure you can imagine my surprise when I saw the YouTube video of Japanese Bartender Hiroyasu Kayama making a fresh Bitter Aperitivo Cocktail.  It is the closest I have come to understanding the full recipe for a Bitter Aperitivo - all the while perfectly capturing the discipline of Japanese Bartending.  Behold:


And yes, I am just crazy enough to try to do this at home.

Some of you may be wondering, why in the world would you spend so much time and effort sourcing a wide array of herbs and spices when you can just buy a bottle of Bitter Aperitivo, especially when there are so many different brands to choose from.  Good question.  Maybe because I'm a little bit crazy, and maybe because I have a closet stocked with Everclear and I'm bubbling with all kinds of creative ideas of how to use it!  After all, many of the big name Bitter Aperitivi are made with grain alcohol as a base, so naturally Everclear is a perfect choice for a base spirit.  Everclear is a high proof spirit, so it naturally draws more flavor out of the herbs than vodka. With the intent to follow Kayama's recipe and make this cocktail "fresh" there is less time for the herbs to seep - therefore the higher the proof the better!

When I first started this experiment I dutifully transcribed the recipe from this video, including the ingredients and measurements.  On a second pass I noticed a completely different list of ingredients in the description of the video, some of which seem to be lost in translation and some are nearly impossible to find in the States (I'm looking at you, Tonka Bean). 

I went to a local health food store that had a wide selection of herbs and started pulling the ingredients.  Even with the combined ingredients from the video and from the description under the video, I had a difficult time finding everything.  So, I improvised. 


One ingredient that I added was Rhubarb Root because I knew that Rhubarb and Orange are primary flavor compounds of Aperol, and I figured that the Bitter Aperitivo was a more bitter and herbal forward recipe. 

The cochineal, the red insect that gives many aperitivi their signature hue, was also difficult to find so I substituted for a beet dye that was a bit more magenta in hue, and worked rather nicely. 


I brought all my ingredients home and spread everything out.  "Now what", I thought. The video does not give the specs to the recipe, instead shows Kayama adding what can only be interpreted as a pinch here and a pinch there.  So, I did the same. 



I added a pinch of each ingredient to my mortar bowl, smelling the mixture every so often.  There were a few ingredients that I added more of, such as the Rhubarb Root and the Orange Peel, because the more I added, the more it began to resemble the apertivi I know and love. 


I ground all the mixture to extract the flavors, and transferred the dry ingredients to my mixing glass.  I added 1.5 oz of Everclear, and 1/2 oz of water to help the beet coloring dissolve properly.  I added a bit of 1:1 simple syrup to sweeten the concoction just a bit, and strained it into a cocktail coupe.  Top with soda water, and garnish with a citrus express.  I used Meyer Lemon because they smell wonderfully exotic and it pairs nicely with this bitter mixture.  I also added a whole licorice root stick and a few whole cardamom pods as a garnish, adding another aromatic layer to the nose of the cocktail.




Although I don't think that this was a perfect replication of some of the Bitter Aperitivi that are incredibly well known, I do think that it was an amazing start.  What is even more exciting is the possibility of adding different ingredients to gradually tweak this recipe to make my own house Aperitivo with my own specs based on my own preferences. 




I'm also excited about the idea of using local ingredients to give an Apertivo a connection back to the land.  After all Aperitivi and Amari were originally made from local ingredients as a method to preserve plants to be used to aid digestion and to alleviate an array of ailments. 

This recipe is by no means perfect - but it is an exciting start.  Enjoy.


DIY Bitter Aperitivo & Soda
Interpreted by Gastronomista

Makes One Cocktail

15g (One Pinch) Ground Caraway Seed
15g Angelica Root
15g Calamus Root
10g Ground Cinnamon
15g Licorice Root
15g Coriander Seed
30g Orange Peel
30g Rhubarb Root
3-4 Cardamom Pods

1-1/2 oz Everclear
1/2 oz 1:1 Simple Syrup
4 oz Soda Water
Meyer Lemon Peel to Garnish

Grind all dry ingredients with a Mortar & Pestle until smooth.

Add dry ingredients to a mixing glass and add Everclear and Simple Syrup.  Stir and double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe and top with soda water.  Garnish with a Meyer Lemon express, a few Cardamom Pods, and a Whole Licorice Stick. 



Note: I decided to serve this cocktail in coupes, because I wanted less soda water and no ice.  A Bitter & Soda is typically served in a highball glass over ice, and this cocktail could be served the same way.




Styling Notes:
Mixing Glass - Robin Mix
Cocktail Coupes - Parched Penguin
Stone Spice Grinder - Tom Dixon


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