Bitter, Not Embittered
To paraphrase Lauren Mote, one of the founders of Bittered Sling, “all bitters are extracts, but not all extracts are bitter.” Bittered Sling is a growing spectrum of small batch bitters flavors that were created by Mote, a sommelier and bartender with chef partner, Jonathan Chovancek in Vancouver, BC (now available in the US and other markets.) Flavors include Orange and Juniper, Plum and Rootbeer, Clingstone Peach, Cascade Celery, Malagasy Chocolate and Autumn Bog Cranberry, to name a few.
The return of classic cocktails has been a boom for the bitters market, but some of them can be challenging to use because they are only representative of one flavor and their potential is limited. Mote and Chovancek set out to create a versatile product line that is not only useful in enhancing cocktails, but applicable for food recipes. Not every flavor in their lineup is bitter per se, but intended to awaken more parts of the palate when combined with certain ingredients.
I spoke to Mote via Skype about how Bittered Sling came together and how to best use them.
Amanda Schuster: What inspired you to begin making bitters?
Lauren Mote: It was about the Canadian industry itself and how [the bitters market] has grown in the US. The Vancouver cocktail scene is nearing that of Seattle and Portland, but we have had different products available. In Canada, the only thing available was Angostura, and then eventually Fee Brothers as a way to lightly flavor cocktails. But their products are more geared toward the food industry - that end product will taste exactly like what is labeled on the bottle. Bitters for cocktails require more depth and complexity - they need a myriad of flavors to create a new flavor. Our Plum and Rootbeer flavor, for example, doesn’t make everything taste like ‘plum’ and ‘rootbeer.’ However, all the ingredients that Jonathan and I carefully select to develop our bitters are used to to bring out the best taste of the ingredient you’re using them with. Each of our bitters work differently with different spirits, and have different characteristics. It was important to us when we developed them to not be like anyone else. It was about there being a need in Canada for having bitters that come from both a chef and a bartender’s perspective that can be used in both food and beverages that become a benchmark for something that is created in Canada to inspire creativity in chefs and bartenders. We feel we have created that, and now also with our entrance into the US market… but we want something that is captivating for say, a bartender in Singapore to use or a bartender in London, as well as a chef in Buenos Aires! We wanted to create something that makes people say, ‘Wow. We haven’t thought of everything!’
AS: The best bitters I’ve tasted, well, they taste like the thing they are supposed to be, but bring hidden notes to the fore. You’re supposed to taste what they’re doing in the drink.
LM: Right. That’s what creates the complexity in what we’re drinking and that’s what will make the average $13 cocktail more interesting beyond using expensive spirits. And also make it possible to create complexity when you can’t always have access to certain spirits that aren’t available in all markets. Still make the drink interesting and new and different.
AS: How are they used with food?
LM: What Jonathan is doing with the food side of things is really capturing the idea of taking our bitters and extracts and finding the ability to replace something like a high end vinegar to finish a sauce. To replace certain ingredients, push them forward. Instead of reaching for an acid, you reach for the spice rack of bitters flavors. Use floral or aromatic citrus bitters as a cure for a fish maybe. Or a marinade for beef shoulder, or to replace vanilla extract in a recipe… you need the bitterness, even vanilla extract adds bitterness, this brings all the other flavors out, that’s why it’s there.
What Jonathan has been doing is tirelessly creating recipes so that when people pick up our bitters, they will know what to do with them. It’s not mysterious. The only thing that’s mysterious is that you haven’t opened and tried it yet. But all the info is on our website - anyone who would like to experiment with anything, we’ve been able to capture recipes to ease them into that experience and suit all tastes.
AS: I have to say, half the time I just like putting them in my fizzy water. It’s a trick I picked up a couple of years ago when I was actively trying to lose weight and couldn’t have the sugars in alcohol, but wanted my palate to feel like I was still having a drink, not just water.
LM: If bitters to begin with were medicinal in nature, which they were, then being able to add several dashes or drops into sparkling water does have a sort of medicinal purpose. Water doesn’t have the addition of sugar or sodium - if 90% of what we taste is activated through our nose, then we are able to smell ingredients while tasting them and enhance the experience. So adding these flavors without the fats or bad sugars really does help people to drink more water, which they should. and feel satisfied, find more love without this other stuff we shouldn’t be consuming.
We aren’t pushing the consumption of spirits and alcohol, though cocktails are certainly an obvious avenue of how to use bitters. Yes, they are alcohol based. But purely as a method of preservation and maceration of the ingredients. Adding dashes and drops to lemonades or ginger ales - anything that doesn’t have the addition of spirits in it - you can still enjoy bitters and not really add a percentage of alcohol.
AS: But then they’re handy, you know, should the mood strike.
- 15 ml (.5 oz) Ardbeg 10 Yr Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- 44 ml (1.5 oz) Glenmorangie the Original Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- 22 ml (.75 oz) Red Vermouth
- 7 ml (.25 oz) Benedictine
- 2 dashes Bittered Sling Cascade Celery Bitters
In a mixing glass, stir all ingredients with ice. Gently strain into a chilled cocktail glass, strain and serve neat. Cut a small peel of orange and drop it in your drink for garnish.
- 44ml (1.5 oz) Gin (editor’s note: we suggest a dry London style such as Martin Miller, a medalist in the 2013 NY International Spirits Competition)
- 15ml (.5 oz) Green Chartreuse
- 15ml (.5 oz) White Creme de Cacao
- 15ml (.5 oz) Fresh lime juice
- 15ml (.5 oz) Fresh orange juice
- 15ml (.5 oz) Simple syrup
- 2 dashes Bittered Sling Malagasy Chocolate Bitters
- 1 egg white
Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, strain and pour over fresh ice in a tall Collins glass. Garnish with a few shavings of raw cacao bean.
Bittered Sling Lem-Marrakech Cured Wild Pacific Salmon
(So worth the extra effort to cure your own salmon! A great winter time weekend project.)
- 600g (1.3 pounds) Wild Salmon filet, skin on
- 60 ml (2 oz) Bittered Sling Extract Lem-Marrakech bitters
- 30g (1 oz) Sea Salt
- 30g( 1 oz) Wild flower honey
- 1 sheet Red laver seaweed, hydrated
Line a shallow pan long enough to accommodate the fish with plastic wrap so that the length of the wrap is double the length of the pan. Trim the salmon of any fins and bones. Lay it skin side down in the center of the pan. Gently pull the sides of the plastic up to create a ‘well’ around the fish.
Pour the Bittered Sling Extract Lem-Marrakech bitters over the salmon. It will run off and into the ‘well,’ but this is a good thing.
Combine the salt and honey to create a paste. Gently rub the paste evenly over the fish, giving the thicker parts of the salmon a little more. Lay the seaweed over top of the salmon and bring the plastic up and over to enrobe the fish and cure tightly.
Cut a piece of cardboard the same size as the fish and place on top of the fish in the pan. Place a kitchen weight of no more than 2kg over the cardboard to gently press the cure into the fish. If you have a vacuum sealer you can perform the cure inside the bag and seal it under medium pressure.
Place the weighted fish in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
After 24 hours unwrap and flip the salmon ever so that it is skin side up. Repeat the wrapping and weighting process and refrigerate another 24 hours.
After this time has passed remove the fish from the cure and lay skin side down on a cutting board. Gently remove the curing brine with a towel by wiping it clean. Flip the fish over and repeat on the skin side. Do not rinse the fish under water.
Cut the fish into 6 portions and sear the skin side gently in goat butter until the skin is golden and crisp. Serve hot skin side up on a warm platter.