Some people see that word and are clueless. Bless their hearts, for they know not what they do.
Others see the word and Italian violins start playing in their ears.
But what if bitters were…unavailable? Essentially non-existent? Unattainable? That can’t be life, right?
I went to a Valentine’s Day party last year, intending to try my hand at a champagne — cava in this case — cocktail. Since the party was themed a “murder mystery” party, I decided to purchase a bottle of Stirrings Blood Orange bitters. Get it? “Murder” mystery. “Blood” orange. I amaze myself sometimes. Needless to say, it was a crowd favorite.
But after the first one, I noticed that it didn’t pack that little punch I was expecting. I’d only put enough bitters in the cocktail to soak the sugar cube, so I decided to add a bit more to the second — not much of a difference. So after the ninth iteration, where I basically was having a bitters cocktail with a champagne float, I realized that I’d been hosed — the Stirrings brand had NO alcohol included! A terrible hoax to pull….and the real mystery for the party! Who killed the bitters, you ask? It was Mr. Stirrings in the kitchen with the jigger pony.
So after that night of drowning my sorrows akin to Shirley Temple, I decided that I would go purchase some REAL bitters, of the Angostura variety. Headed for my friendly neighborhood beverage depot, looked all along the shelf, and found nothing. A bit strange, but I was unbowed in my bitter quest. Went to another beverage depot — nothing. At this point, I started feeling like I was the victim of a really mean and spiteful joke. I headed across the street to a bar, and asked the friendly barkeep where the establishment buys their bitters. He told me the same beverage depot I’d been to, and I told him I found more Abominable Snowmen than Angostura Bitters there. He alerted me to another smaller store that might have them.
I headed over there, and told the proprietor of my seemingly-Herculean quest. He told me that I could stop looking — there had been a disagreement within the family, thus screwing up the shipment of Angostura to the States. It was supposedly resolved and business as usual, but there was no telling when more of their line of bitters would arrive. I fell out in despair at the thought of my champagne cocktail being bastardized any further, and picked up a bottle of Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters, which have come through in the clutch since then. I have picked up a bottle of Angostura since that harsh winter of yesteryear, but I’ve never forgotten the feeling.
Is a search like this something only a staunch cocktail enthusiast would undertake? I was one step away from buying a St. Bernard, filling up his whiskey barrel with one of my favorite ryes, and setting out in search of the perfect Old Fashioned. Would a sneakerhead or fashionista try that hard, or just head to eBay for the next best thing? Would an auto enthusiast give up the search after one try, speeding off in his ‘68 GTO to the nearest Pep Boys for a common replacement? I hope I’m not alone in my support group.