101 Ingredients Mixology

Bitters 101: A Brief History of Potent Non-Potables

Cocktail bitters are something we hear about a lot in the liquid world, but many people aren’t exactly sure what they are. It’s worth your time to find out more about them, as they can be the crucial difference in whether a drink succeeds or fails.

Bitters are flavorings for cocktails. Much like adding salt and pepper to a soup or stew, bitters aren’t necessarily a flavor that you highlight on their own, but rather one that contributes to the overall taste of the cocktail. You might not even notice they’re there, but you’ll definitely notice if they’re not.

Bitters don’t make a drink taste bitter, even though they might have bitter ingredients (like gentian) in them. Their flavors run the gamut from sweet to spicy to citrusy, herbal, floral and more. They serve to enhance and accentuate the other flavors in the drink, adding some extra zing. It’s like putting salt on french fries — they make the whole thing taste better.

The origin of bitters dates back three centuries, well before the era of the cocktail, when they were used as patent remedies and tonics. Formulated by doctors, pharmacists, and charlatans, bitters were taken for a variety of ills, most notably an upset stomach.

The problem was, bitters didn’t taste very good. It was medicine, after all, and medicine isn’t expected to taste good. So people started mixing their bitters with other things to make them more palatable. Once people start combining liquids, you can bet it won’t be long before alcohol goes into the mix. And so it did, and thus the cocktail was born.

By far the most common type of bitters is Angostura. They are a type of “aromatic bitters” that are so ubiquitous they have become sui generis. Made in Trinidad for almost 200 years, the flavor of Angostura bitters has elements of tamarind, clove, allspice, and cinnamon. They add a warm, spicy touch to your cocktail, and are commonly used in drinks like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Pink Gin, and Champagne Cocktail.

It wasn’t that long ago that the only bottle of bitters you’d ever see on the shelf was Angostura. These days, however, there are enough different types of bitters on the market to fill a swimming pool. It can be a little intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

After you’ve bought a bottle of Angostura, you can start branching out beyond that. Probably the next most used type are orange bitters, and a variety of them are available. Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters and Regan’s Orange Bitters are the most common, and both are recommended. Orange bitters were traditionally used in Martinis, along with other cocktails like the Bronx and Bijou. They can also add an interesting dimension to a Daiquiri or Margarita.

Peychaud’s, a type of Creole bitters created in New Orleans, are a very handy third addition to your arsenal. There are sweeter than Angostura, with elements of fruit and licorice. They are essential if you’re going to make the official New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac, or that other Big Easy favorite, the Vieux Carré. They also make a nice change-up in your Manhattan.

There are scores of other varieties of bitters available, everything ranging from chocolate to cherry, lavender to lemon, and celery to sarsaparilla. Whether or not you will need any of these depends on how deeply you plan to go into your mixological explorations, and what kinds of drinks you want to make. If you do want more, Kegworks is a great place to check.

So don’t be intimidated by bitters. When you see a recipe that calls for them, use them. Once you get comfortable with how the flavors work, you can even try experimenting on your own.

If you’re interested in finding out more about bitters, I highly recommend Brad Thomas Parsons’ book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All. It contains everything you’ll ever need to know about the subject, including how to make your own. It’s a gorgeous book and a fascinating read.

Cocktail Bitters

Books Ingredients Mixology

Win a Zombie Prize Pack, Courtesy of B.G. Reynolds’ Syrups

If you've already bought your copy of Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde: Recipes for the World’s Most Lethal Drink (thank you!), you know that some of the ingredients that go into a classic Zombie are a little obscure.

In addition to the various rums, the recipe for Don the Beachcomber's Zombie Punch calls for Don's Mix, falernum and grenadine. (Okay, grenadine isn't hard to find. But good grenadine can be.)

In order to make your Zombie mixing a little easier, Professor Cocktail has teamed up with B.G. Reynolds to give one lucky winner a set of these three syrups.

I've mentioned B.G. Reynolds' syrups before — their orgeat was the co-winner of our Orgeat Taste Test — and they're also recommended in Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde. For my money, they're as good as anything you can find on the market. All the syrups are hand-crafted in Portland by bartender Blair Reynolds and his team, and contain real sugar and real ingredients.

Here's how you enter the contest: Buy a copy of Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde: Recipes for the World’s Most Lethal Drink from Amazon, then forward a copy of your email receipt to me at

If you've already bought the book — thanks again! — you're set. Just forward me your purchase confirmation and you'll be entered. If you haven't purchased yet, you have until October 28, 2013 to enter.

That's it! One lucky winner will receive a set of three syrups from B.G. Reynolds — and be quickly on his/her way to mixing Zombies. (Sorry, but U.S. residents only. Rum not included.)

Bg reynolds syrups
Visit B.G. Reynolds' Bar Store


Purchase is required for entry. Winner must reside (or have a shipping address) in the United States. One prize pack will be given away. Contents of prize pack are subject to change without notice. Must be at least 21 years of age to enter. One entry per person. Borrowing the book doesn't count. All decisions are final. Contest organizers aren't responsible for anything. Contest ends at 11:59pm Eastern time on October 28, 2013. Thank you for buying my book. It makes you extra handsome/pretty just for owning it.

Cocktails Ingredients Mixology

Ten Easy Tips for Making Better Cocktails at Home

If you order a drink in a good bar, chances are it will taste better than what you can make at home. But it doesn't have to be like that. By following some simple strategies, you can greatly improve the quality of your cocktails. You may not reach A+ level, but with just a little work, you'll soon be the bartending star of the block.

1. Buy a couple pieces of decent equipment. At the very least you need a cocktail shaker and a jigger. The two together will only cost you $20 and you'll be set to make most drinks. (You can also buy a low-cost set from a store like I have this particular set and it's hard to beat for the price.)

2. Measure! Once you've got your jigger, you can start measuring all your liquids that go into the drink. This is crucial.

3. Use good ice. I wrote about ice a couple years ago, so I won't go into too much detail. If you can't make good, fresh ice at home (you need a clean, odorless freezer to do so), then buy a bag at the store. Some people are down on bought ice, but I think it's fine for most purposes.

4. Buy good quality booze. The better the booze, the better your drinks will taste. But this doesn't necessarily require you to spend a lot of money. Cruzan Rum, for example, is perfectly fine and costs less than Bacardi. Sobieski makes good quality vodka that is very cheap. You can find Tanqueray Gin on sale for under $20.

5. Know when to splurge. Bite the bullet and spend the extra money to get Cointreau and Grand Marnier (for example). They're more expensive than the other brands, but they're better. The difference between Cointreau and generic triple sec in a drink is night-and-day. The good news is, most cocktails only require an ounce or less of a liqueur. So you'll get at least 25 drinks from that one bottle. It's worth it.

6. Use fresh juices. Everyone says this, and there's a reason for that. I do sometimes use canned/bottled juices (Bad Professor!), but most varieties just don't taste very good. If you use fresh lime and lemon juice, your drinks will taste better. You can get away with buying orange juice and grapefruit juice from the store, but try to get fresh, not-from-concentrate.

7. Avoid any mixers with high fructose corn syrup. In addition to being bad for you, HFCS doesn't mix well in cocktails. You can almost always find substitutes that contain real sugar. They probably won't even cost any more. You just need to read labels.

8. Buy some decent glasses. A few highball, cocktail, rocks, and collins glasses won't set you back very much, but they'll make your drink experience so much nicer. The right glass can also make your drink taste better, by ensuring you don't flood it with too much mixer. You can buy Libbey brand glasses at Amazon or Target and they don't cost very much. Or you can find unique glasses at your local thrift store for very cheap.

9. Don't substitute ingredients until you know what you're doing. If a recipe calls for a particular kind of juice or liqueur or mixer, use it. You need to have a good understanding of the flavors before you can start changing things up. Sometimes substitutions work — but they often end up in a wasted glass of booze.

10. Taste your drinks before you serve them. If you watch videos on YouTube of bartenders in high-end cocktail bars, you'll often notice them tasting their cocktails before pouring them into the glass. (The usual method of doing this is to take a straw, plug one end, and dip it in the drink. This draws out a small amount that you can taste.) This is your last chance to fix anything in your cocktail that might be off. Too sweet? Add more citrus. Too tart? Add more sweetener. Etc.

If you have any tips that you'd like to share, please post them in the comments below, or email them along.

Bar equipment

Cocktails Mixology Rum Tiki Videos

Video: How to Make the Perfect Mai Tai

A demonstration from Val, a bartender at the recently closed PKNY Tiki bar in New York City. He has a somewhat unusual method regarding the shaking and the ice, although what he's doing makes sense. I tend to prefer a little less lime juice in mine — 3/4 ounce — but I'm not as big a fan of tartness as some people.*

*Is "tartness" a word?

Ingredients Mixology Spirits

Stocking a Home Bar: Spirits

Properly stocking a home bar can be an expensive proposition. There are many different products you likely will want to buy, and a lot of them aren't cheap. The good news is, you probably won't be going through the bottles that quickly, and most alcohol stays good for a very long time.*

There are three different major styles of gin: London Dry, Old Tom and Genever. (You could also throw Plymouth Gin into the mix.) The good news is you only need to buy one bottle to start: London Dry. Tanqueray has long been my favorite, but Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater are excellent as well. Buy whichever one is cheapest.

It's easy to spend more money on vodka then you need to, especially if you reach for the Grey Goose because you "heard it's the best." By all means, pick up an expensive bottle if you're feeling flush. My favorite, which is medium-priced, is Stolichnaya. But you'll get by very well with some Sobieski.

Rum is a little more challenging, because rums vary a lot depending on what country they're from, what color they are (light/white vs. gold/dark), how long they're aged, etc. I would recommend starting out with two bottles, one of white rum and one of gold rum. Cruzan (from the U.S. Virgin Islands) is recommended — both cheaper and better than the ubiquitous Bacardi. But if you can find Flor de Caña (from Nicaragua) it only costs a little more and is excellent. If you don't drink much rum and only want to buy one bottle, I suggest you get some Appleton V/X, a very versatile and tasty rum.

Tequila has grown enormously in popularity over the past several years, which means there are now a lot of great choices on the shelves, in all kinds of prices. If your goal is to make Margaritas and other similar drinks, you'll want a silver tequila. I recommend either Camarena or Milagro. They're both affordable and easy to find.

This is a tough one, because there are so many types and so many choices. Do you go with a Scotch, Canadian or Irish? Bourbon, rye or Tennessee? If I were buying just one type, I would probably go with bourbon, and would probably get Maker's Mark. Maker's isn't the favorite whiskey of a lot of people, but it's a very good one and it's something that almost any whiskey drinker will drink without complaining. If you want to branch out and add a Scotch, I'd go with Johnnie Walker Black. Again, not always a favorite, but a crowd pleaser.

Cognac (which is brandy made according to certain rules in a particular area of France) was hot a decade or so back when the hip hop community discovered it, and brands like Hennessy and Remy Martin were name-checked in rap songs. It's cooled off since then, so there are plenty of good bargains to be found. (And also plenty of bottles that will cost you as much as a nice vacation.) If you want a simple brandy, I find Raynal to be quite good. It works fine in a lot of cocktails and won't set you back much at all. If you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, go for one of the cognacs made by Pierre Ferrand. (Their Ambre is very good and only costs around $40.)

If you're going to make any kind of cocktails, you're going to need some modifiers, with the most common being an orange liqueur. It might be triple sec or Curacao, but in order to make a Margarita or a Sidecar or Mai Tai, you're going to need something. There are many different types of orange liqueur, ranging from cheap to expensive. Unfortunately, the cheap stuff is usually not very good. On the upside, a bottle will last a long time, so it doesn't hurt as much to splurge. If you want a dryer liqueur, go with Cointreau. If you want a sweeter one, go with Grand Marnier. Yes, they're expensive. But they're so good that you'll be glad you spent the extra money.

If you're planning to make Martinis or Manhattans, you'll need to get some vermouth. Sweet (red) vermouth goes in a Manhattan and dry (white) vermouth goes in a Martini. There are some high-end brands that are delicious. But on the affordable end of things Martini (sweet) and Noilly Pratt (dry) work very well. 

You're not going to get this done without spending a couple hundred bucks. But once you do, you'll be able to make a lot of drinks — and save yourself a ton of dough over what you'd spend in a bar. Plus, with a little practice, you'll be able to whip up some great cocktails that will quickly make you the envy of all your friends and neighbors.

*Except for vermouth. Vermouth is only good for a couple of months once you open it. And only if you keep it in the refrigerator. And yes, I know vermouth isn't a spirit. Neither is orange liqueur.

Mixology Press Releases

Lucas Bols Launches 7th Annual Bols Around the World Bartending Championship

Prize_img (1)Lucas Bols today announces the launch of the seventh annual Bols Around the World competition, the prestigious bartending world championship that seeks to find the world’s most talented and inspiring bartender.

Contenders are invited to compete in three heats over six months for one of 20 spots in the semi-finals which will take place in Amsterdam on May 6, 2013 and  12 spots at the Grand Final, also held in Amsterdam, on May 7, 2013. The contest, which has the widest reach of all major global bartending competitions, went live on  December 1, 2012.

Participating bartenders drawn from 60 countries from all corners of the globe will be asked to create a cocktail recipe using Bols Genever, Bols liqueurs, or both, for a chance to win a trip around the world to four cocktail cities of his or her choice over eight days. The overall winner will also be awarded a Platinum Bols Ambassadorship, including two all-expenses-paid trips to Amsterdam for intensive training.

Twenty finalists will receive a one-year Gold Bols Ambassadorship, including a trip to Amsterdam for intensive Bols Ambassador training and an honorary contract to represent Bols in their own home country across a range of seminars, trade shows and courses. Together with the winner, they will be profiled on the competition’s global website and receive a Bols Around the World National Champion Trophy and a Limited Edition Bols Barrel Aged Genever, signed by Lucas Bols master distiller, Piet Leijenhorst.

To make it to the final, bartenders will be tested on the key attributes of a world-class bartender. In 2012, Gabor Onufer from Hungary was crowned Bols Bartending World Champion from a field of 1,600 bartenders for his The Merchant cocktail and Pass the Dutchie food pairing recipe.

One spot in the finals will be reserved for a member of the Young Talent Program, a unique programme that gives bartenders aged 18-21 (depending on country’s legal drinking age) the chance to compete with the world’s best bartenders. To help them reach this level of expertise, they will receive coaching from the Bols Bartending Academy throughout the competition. Four young talents will then compete in Amsterdam against each other, and only the best will make it through to the Grand Final to compete against the 11 other finalists.

Sandie van Doorne, Lucas Bols creative and communications director comments: “Now in its seventh year and running across 60 countries, Bols Around the World is the widest reaching bartending contest in the world and this year’s Grand Final is set to be more spectacular than ever.”

“The competition celebrates the best in bartending technique and reflects the values taught at the Bols Bartending Academy, from drink knowledge and mixology to hospitality, speed and efficiency. Contestants receive training from the Bols Bartending Academy throughout the competition to foster the innovation and excellence that Lucas Bols stands for.”

Gifts Mixology

Professor Cocktail’s Holiday Gift Guide: Non-Booze

Last week, we ran our holiday gift guide, with suggestions for spirits in different categories. We had posts with rum recommendationsbourbon recommendationsgin recommendations and other spirits recommendations. Today we're closing out the list with non-booze gift suggestions.

Professor Cocktail's Holiday Gift Guide: Non-Booze

You want to get that special tippler in your life a gift, but you don't want to actually give booze. Here are some suggestions that will get you started.

Pimento bittersDale DeGroff's Pimento Aromatic Bitters ($19)

The newest addition to the bitters landscape, crafted with the help of King Cocktail himself. These bitters really spice up classics like a Manhattan and are my new favorite for Tiki drinks.

Oxo jiggerOxo Double Jigger ($9)

One  of the keys to making great cocktails is precise measuring. For that, you need a good jigger. This is my favorite one.

Pdt cocktail bookJim Meehan's The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender's Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy ($16)

One of the best cocktail books to come along in recent years, this makes for both a useful guide and a fascinating read. Plus, it's a beautiful book.

Waring ice crusherWaring IC70 Pro Ice Crusher ($79)

I've been using this for over a year now and I still love it. If you want to crush ice in style, this is the way to go. (See our original review.)

Tovolo ice cube tray
Tovolo King Cube Ice Trays ($8)

Great for making big cubes, which are very useful in cocktails. Pop one into an Old-Fashioned or Manhattan and it will cool the drink fast, but melt slowly.

Ingredients Mixology Quotes

Quote of the Day: Gregory Boehm on Original Ingredients

"It's pretty clear that by 1908 grenadine had already become red simple syrup." –Gregory Boehm, Proprietor of Cocktail Kingdom and Publisher of Mud Puddle Books

The quote comes from the September 30, 2012 issue of Wine Spectator. Boehm is discussing how the quest for historical authenticity in cocktail ingredients can sometimes lead to ironic results.

Liqueurs Mixology

A Guide to Orange Liqueurs

CointreauI'm fascinated with orange liqueurs. Whether it's triple sec or curaçao, dry or sweet, orange or blue, I love the stuff. Not to drink on its own — I've never really cared for that — but for use in cocktails. Orange liqueur is one of the most important cocktail ingredients, adding depth and flavor to so many great drinks. (Two of my favorites are the Mai Tai and the Margarita.)

I've been meaning for some time to do a comprehensive write-up of orange liqueurs, but there's a lot of work involved and I haven't gotten around to it yet. In the meantime, though, Michael Dietsch at Serious Eats has put together a very useful primer on the subject.

Dietsch does a good job of defining the different types of orange liqueur, although in practice the terms are so misused that it's often hard to tell what is what. In short:

  • Orange liqueur is any sweetened distilled spirit with orange flavoring added. This includes curaçao, triple sec and other varieties.
  • Curaçao is a liqueur made with a base of brandy that is sweetened and flavored with orange. It was originally a liqueur produced on the island of Curaçao, made from brandy and flavored with the dried peels of Curaçao (Laraha) oranges. There is still one company, Senior, that produces curaçao in this fashion.
  • Triple sec is a liqueur made with a base of neutral spirit (essentially vodka) that is sweetened and flavored with orange. The "sec" in this case is the French word for "dry," since originally triple sec was less sweet than curaçao.

Grand_marnierDietsch includes a lot more detail and history, which is definitely worth reading. And yes, the subject gets confusing, especially as there are no regulations on the use of the different terms. So distillers can call their product "triple sec" or "curaçao" without regard to how it's actually produced or what it contains.

The bulk of the article is a look at several different brands of orange liqueurs, with brief critiques of each. I agree with most of what he wrote, and it's something you'll want to review before making your next trip to the liquor store.

The two most important names in orange liqueurs are the two that most people already know: Cointreau and Grand Marnier. These are two of the most expensive liqueurs you're likely to buy, but in this case you really get what you pay for. Their quality may not be unmatched, but it's certainly unsurpassed. (However, if you're like me and hate paying for the good stuff, Dietsch suggests some alternatives.)

As for the answer to the question that is so often asked: Grand Marnier is curaçao and Cointreau is triple sec.

Now go make a Mai Tai. Or Margarita. Or Cosmo. Or Sidecar. Or Kamikaze. Or White Lady. Or Pegu Club. Or Derby. Or…


Tips on Making Punch from David Wondrich

Punch is the host's best friend. Easily made ahead of time, you can have everything in place when your guests arrive, allowing you to relax and enjoy the party. It also enables you to immediately serve your friends a refreshing, delicious beverage without having to ask what they want and try to mix it up on the spot.

David Wondrich is something of a punch expert, having literally written the book on the subject. Now, over on, he's offering up tips on making the most of your summer punch:


While you can make punch out of any liquor, the most successful ones tend to call for the old-fashioned, pot-distilled variety: cognac; the funky, rich rums for which Jamaica used to be famous; single malt Scotch; things of that ilk. No matter where the alcohol is from, though, it should be full-flavored and high-proof, as it will have to stand up to a lot of dilution.


The sour element is the essence of punch. So, add lemon or lime juice, as fresh as you can squeeze it, to the tune of one cup for every quart of spirits. But one of the few true secrets of punch-making is to incorporate the oil in lemon peels (lime peels are usually too bitter), which contributes a great depth of flavor. The easiest way to do this is to muddle the peels of four lemons (use a vegetable peeler to remove them from the fruit) with each cup of sugar you use and let it sit for three or four hours: This will wick out the sweet oil.


Raw sugar has a lovely sugar-cane note. Use it. You want the same amount of sugar as lemon or lime juice.


Use enough. Punch is not a cocktail; you’re meant to have multiple small cups as you chat with your friends, which means it should be about the strength of sherry. I like to start with the same quantity of water as spirits, plus an additional 25 percent—so 40 ounces of water for every quart of booze. Oh, and there’s ice, too: a quart-sized block (freeze a bowl or other container of water overnight) will keep that much punch cool without melting too quickly.


Don’t overdo it; you want people to taste the punch, not the spice. I enjoy a simple grating of fresh nutmeg over the bowl (about a third of a nutmeg seed should do). Others like to play with cordials, bitters and infusions, which are fine if used sparingly.

Wondrich also includes a recipe for a classic rum-brandy punch that sounds delicious.

I've yet to try making punch on a large scale, but I want to. If you have any favorite punch recipes, please share them in the comments section.