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Mike Sugarbaker

The bitter taste of victory

4 min read

MxMo9: BittersOkay, so Mixology Monday, this thing that some food and drink blogs do. Apparently it’s all about responding to a theme ingredient – this time, bitters – and posting your results by Monday. Not actually doing your mixology on Monday, as we now know. We have just finished our mixing and have some drink in us, and now we frantically post before deadline. Those participants in Mixology Monday who chose not to be one with the evening’s events in the way that we are, well, you suck, we rule, let’s drink.

Ouroboros, the instigator of my involvement, is a fiend for all things bitter, anise, and difficult, in spirits as in music. He lined up at least a dozen things that’d qualify as bitters (well, I was impressed anyway, ya snobs) and we stood contemplating them for a moment waiting for inspiration to hit. For me, the obvious place to start was the homemade bottle of lavender bitters, in the recycled Robitussin flask. Ouro thought it ought to go in either an orange or a grenadine direction. We chose to start with orange.

When the drink was strained and Ouro tasted it, he was inscrutable, as he sometimes is, then said, “That’s no fun.”


“We won.”

For a second I thought he was talking about the election. Yeah, that was kind of a letdown in a way, huh? But no. We got that drink in one. Here’s how it goes.


1 1/2 oz gin (Bombay Sapphire)
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1 strong dash (1 tsp) lavender bitters (recipe to follow)

The lavender became a little stronger as the drink warmed – you could go to half a teaspoon and be just fine, we think, or you could modify our recipe for the bitters to include some sweetness. But man. That mix was brought to us by the letters F, T, and W.

We then took off to explore the grenadine angle, but nothing proved as winning. I guess that’s not surprising. We tried a couple of routes – a gin base with equal heavy dashes of lavender and grenadine, plus half an ounce of lime, was more promising once it warmed up – but soon moved on to a less conventional bitter Ouro wanted to try.

Ginger juice! Brought to you in a little hot-sauce-sized bottle, it is indeed bitter (so Ouro argued for the defense) but it wasn’t clear that it’d operate the way we needed. Indeed, all our mix attempts ended up including other bitters as well… kind of a hedge. Ouro chose bourbon for the base, and took down a bottle of dry vermouth. He seemed to have a clear idea where he was going, so I stood back.

It didn’t come together. The ginger was more of a disconnected top note, not even as well integrated as drops of Tabasco in a Manhattan. (Try it! I likes. I call it a Hell’s Kitchen. Because I think I’m funny. I’m not funny.) Ouro changed out the orange bitters for Cointreau… and it was better, but it still didn’t fit together. I suggested reaching up towards the ginger by changing out the orange for lemon, or more accurately for Hangar One Buddha’s Hand. But it just sort of made things taste thinner. (Pity I didn’t get to name a drink the Pimphand Strong.)

Then we both remembered at once what our less exotic bitters were for: bringing drinks together that don’t want to come together! I lunged for the Angostura; Ouro went for Peychaud’s, a sweeter, fruitier choice that was clearly more appropriate. A hearty shake of the bottle later, we had a lovely drink on our hands, although Ouro now says he’d go even sweeter and use triple sec.

Giles Goatboy

1 1/2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz triple sec
1 strong dash (1 tsp) ginger juice
Dash Peychaud’s bitters

Well I hope you all enjoyed that as much as we did. Photos to come, but for now we have a deadline to meet. Oh! Lavender bitters:

6 oz 100-proof vodka
1/2 cup organic dried lavender blossoms
1 coin-sized slice ginger
1/2 tsp dried orange peel
4 cloves

Let steep in a cool dark place for six weeks. Strain, and add 1 teaspoon of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Serves YOUR MOM