Bitters and Bittered

bittersCocktail bitters reside in a class by themselves. Essentially, cocktail bitters are aromatics and flavoring extracts that have been macerated in neutral spirits. Cocktail bitters are so intensely concentrated as not to be considered potable on their own—or, as the official phrasing has it, “Not for singular consumption.”

 

Most cocktail bitters are botanicals in a neutral spirit base, although, while uncommon, it is possible to produce bitters with a glycerin base. In the United States, cocktail bitters are considered “food extracts” and are therefore regulated by the Food and Drug Administration rather than by the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) or other alcohol-regulating agencies. Thus, they have wider distribution than wines and spirits, including in most food and grocery stores.

 

Cocktail bitters began, much like many other spirit groups, as medicinal and restorative tonics created by infusing botanicals in alcohol in order to extract their (presumed or actual) health benefits. One of the most prevalent forms of bittering agents used was Peruvian cinchona bark, also called quinine, which became popular as part of the potions used to treat malaria and tropical fevers. Other common bittering botanicals were used as well, and many are still in use today, such as caffeine, hops, gentian, and burdock root, as well as many other forms of herbs, roots, leaves, barks, and spices.

 

Flowering Gentian

Flowering Gentian

Some of these medicinal elixirs were favored as refreshing beverages, while others remained in highly concentrated form as tonics. In many cases, the tonics came to be used to flavor other beverages, as in the gin and tonic, pink gins, and other such drinks, where a dash of bittering agents was called for to liven the drink. Bitters were so much a part of beverage culture that the earliest definition of a cocktail included a bittering agent. To be exact, the definition, formulated in 1806, listed “spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitter.”

 

Outside of FDA regulations regarding use of certain approved foodstuffs, there is no limit or regulation on what may constitute a recipe for cocktail bitters; thus, much is left up to the discretion and whim of the creator. Cocktail bitters have found a new popularity, and there are many unique, creative products on the market today. Two of the most “classic” brands are Angostura Bitters and Peychaud’s Bitters: 

 

Angostura Bitters: The most well-known of the cocktail bitters began with the House of Angostura. Angostura Bitters were created as a medical concoction in 1824 by Dr. Johann Siegert, a doctor in Simón Bolivar’s Venezuelan army. It was named after the town of Angostura (later, Ciudad Bolivar), although, oddly enough, the recipe did not contain the local angostura bark as an ingredient, even though other bitters did. The House of Angostura later relocated to Port of Spain

Photo of “Angostura bitters 003" by Gryffindor

Photo of “Angostura bitters 003″ by Gryffindor

in Trinidad, where it resides today. The company also owns and operates rum distilleries on the island, both for the Angostura brand and by general contract for several others. Readily recognizable with its bright yellow cap and oversize paper label, Angostura is easily the world’s dominant brand of bitters.

 

Peychaud’s Bitters: Peychaud’s Bitters were invented by the Haitian Creole Antoine Amédée

Peychaud in his apothecary shop in New Orleans, circa 1830. The concoction was originally designed to go in his powerful spirit libations said to be served in dainty eggcups known by the French term coquetiers (a possible explanation for the origin of our term “cocktail”). This is a savory, exotic style of bitters with highly lifted aromatics. Peychaud’s Bitters are an integral part of the original recipe for the Sazerac cocktail.

 

As a pleasant side effect of the current cocktail renaissance, the bitters market is exploding with

artisan and local versions of cocktail bitters, with more entering the market each day. Fee Brothers, Regan’s #6 Orange Bitters, Bittermen’s, the Bitter Truth, Bittercube, Basement Bitters, and Bar Keep Bitters are among the many artisan-produced bitters available today. A plethora of flavors are also being produced; one can find bitters based on fennel, lavender, grapefruit, rhubarb, dandelion, molé, pineapple, apple, curry, and Jamaican jerk seasoning.

 

The creativity for bitters, it seems, knows no bounds.

Cocktail bitters, bittered spirits, vermouth, quinquinas, and Americanos are all topics that receive new and expanded coverage in our 2015 edition of the Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide…due out by January!

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

The Gin is In on Tuesday Night!

The Gin is INJust a reminder that tomorrow – Tuesday, November 18th - at 7:00 pm central time, we’ll be offering up a SWEbinar on Gin. After all, there’s been a Gin Lane, a gin craze, and a Gin Act – and now, there’s a Gin SWEbinar called “The Gin in IN!”

If you are a cocktail enthusiast, a CSS student, or just a serious fan of the Martini, this session is for you! Join “Miss Jane” Nickles, CSS, CWE, for a look at the legendary history, the fascinating production, and – most importantly – the delicious consumption of gin!

SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles know via email at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Sorry to shock you, but the history of Gin is somewhat scandalous!

Sorry to shock you, but the history of Gin is somewhat scandalous!

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).
  • If you are having any trouble with your Adobe Connect connection, please see our SWEbinar Trouble-shooting page.

 Link: Tuesday, November 18, 7:00 pm central timeThe  Gin is In!  presented by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (Link will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date/time.) 

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014 – 2015 SWEbinar Calendar

Emerald Lizards, Feathery Grass, and Falconry

Map of AustriaThe wine-growing regions of Austria can be a little confusing. Thankfully, the wines are delicious and well-worth the effort to understand.

Part of the confusion may stem from the fact that four areas that are technically Federal States – Niederösterreich, Burgenland, Steiermark, and Vienna (which, as the capital, plays a double role as both a city as well as a federal state, quite like Washington DC in the US) – all also designated wine quality regions.

All of Austria’s other quality wine regions are located within these four federal states; the presence of the cold and rugged Austrian Central Alps mountain range makes viticultural nearly impossible in much of the rest of the country.

As any good wine student should know, 9 of these designated quality wine regions have been promoted to the highest classification in the land – known as Districtus Austriae Controllatus, or DAC. (The others are referred to as “Weinbaugebiete” or “Quality Wine Regions.) DACs have strict regulations concerning grape varieties, vinification, and wine style, and it is hoped/expected that the other designated regions within the Austrian federal states will, in time, also becomes DACs.

Hinterhaus Castle in the Wachau

Hinterhaus Castle in the Wachau

The first Austrian DAC (Weinviertel) was awarded - quite recently – in 2003. And yet, Austria has one of the oldest wine cultures in Europe. In spite of this, what brought fame to Austria’s wines in recent history – most unfortunately – was a few notorious scandals in the 1980s.

While – I am sure – many people in Austria and beyond would just like to forget about what are sometimes referred to as the “Antifreeze Scandals,” the truth is that the scandals led to a tightening of wine standards in Austria and the creation of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board in 1986. As a result of these moves, as well as Austria’s entry into the EU in 1995, Austrian wine has some of the strictest standards in Europe.

Even before the Austrian Wine Marketing Board and the DACs came to be, the wine growers of the Wachau set their own set of standards. Formed in 1983, the Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus is a trade association determined to protect the quality and reputation of the wines of the region.  Members of the Vinea Wachau, which include almost 90% of the wine producers in the region, must abide by the standards of the organization as well as Austria’s strict wine laws.

The Vinea Wachau has standards for three designated styles of wine, used only for the dry white wines of the region. You’ve probably heard of them:

  • Steinfelder: This is the lightest style of the three, as defined by must weight, with a maximum alcohol of 11.5%. Sometimes these wines are lightly sparkling or “spritzig.” Most of these wines are consumed in Austria as a simple, easy drinking wine; they are unlikely to be exported.
  • Weissenkirchen (The White Church) in the Wachau

    Weissenkirchen (The White Church) in the Wachau

    Federspiel: These “classic” wines are made from riper grapes, with an alcohol of 11–12.5%. These wines are generally rich in aroma and character, while dry and medium-bodied.

  • Smaragd: Sometimes defined as “full” or “powerful,” these are the supreme wines of the Wachau. Bottled at a minimum of 12.5% alcohol, these concentrated, full-bodied wines are likely to be suitable for aging.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the Vinea Wachau named these categories after some of the natural delights of the Wachau:

  • Steinfelder is a decorative, feathery grass that grows on rocky hillsides. Steinfelder is found only in the Wachau.
  • Federspiel is a term related to falconry, historically a favorite sport of Austrian aristocrats. A “federspiel” was a call used to lure the falcon back with its prey.  Austria continues to be a world leader in falconry.
  • Smaragd means “emerald” and refers to the little green lizards that are often found in the basking in the sunlight in the vineyards of the Wachau.

Doesn’t it make you want to book a trip to the Wachau?

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday SWEbinar Sighting: The Gin is IN!

The Gin is INThis Saturday – November 15th – at 10:00 am central time, we’ll be offering up a SWEbinar on Gin. After all, there’s been a Gin Lane, a gin craze, and a Gin Act – and now, there’s a Gin SWEbinar called “The Gin in IN!”

If you are a cocktail enthusiast, a CSS student, or just a serious fan of the Martini, this session is for you! Join “Miss Jane” Nickles, CSS, CWE, for a look at the legendary history, the fascinating production, and – most importantly – the delicious consumption of gin! “The Gin is IN” will be offered on Saturday, November 15th at 10:00 am, and again on Tuesday, November 18, 7:00 pm central time.

SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles know via email at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

SWE...we might just be the most accessible wine education on earth!

SWE…we might just be the most accessible wine education on earth!

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).
  • If you are having any trouble with your Adobe Connect connection, please see our SWEbinar Trouble-shooting page.

 Links: 

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014 – 2015 SWEbinar Calendar

 

SWE’s App now available for Android Users!

AndroidDo you have an Android device? Do you have our new App?

The Society of Wine Educators is delighted to announce that its wildly popular app, SWE Wine and Spirits Quiz, is now available for Android devices! And its free!

Click here to download the App for Android!

This free download offers a series of fun, educational quizzes from 5 major categories:Red (red wines, red grapes, and red wine-producing regions), Yellow (white wines, white grapes, and white wine-producing regions), Spirits (distilled spirits, vermouth, distillation and cocktails), Sparkling (sparkling wines and rosés), and Dessert (dessert wines and fortified wines.) As an added bonus, all of the questions in levels 1 – 5 are taken from the CSS and CSW Study Guides; everything in levels 6 – 10 are “CSS/CSW and beyond.”  Click here to download the App for Android!

If you are an iphone or ipad user…Click here to download the App for IOS!

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

The Bartender’s Handshake

Fig 10-7 different brands of fernetThe beverage world abounds with spirit amari (bittered spirits), which may be classified as aperitifs, which are generally served in diluted forms as cocktails to stimulate the appetite, or as digestifs, which are often served in more concentrated forms to enhance digestion after a meal.

These amari contain botanicals with carminative properties intended to lessen gastric discomfort after rich meals. Just ask a bartender, a wine student, or a serious foodie you will hear them tell you its true: they work! Botanicals known for their carminative properties include angelica, aniseed, basil, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, ginger, hops, nutmeg, parsley, and sage.

One of the most popular Spirit amari is Fernet Branca. Fernet Branca was invented in Milan in 1845 by Bernardino Branca. It soon became famous worldwide and led to the founding of the Fratelli Branca Distillery.

Archives of the Boston Public Library

Archives of the Boston Public Library

Fernet has recently become quite popular in the United States as both a beverage and a hangover cure, but its popularity long precedes the craft cocktail scene. So popular is it among industry professionals that a shot of Fernet Branca has been called the “bartender’s handshake.”

In Prohibition-era San Francisco, fernet was legally consumed on the grounds of being “medicinal.” San Franciscans still drink it—over 30% of the fernet consumed throughout the entire United States is consumed in San Francisco.

Argentina consumes more fernet than any other nation. The beverage’s popularity is reflected in the fact that a leading  Cuarteto (an upbeat, popular dance-hall music genre) song is “Fernet con Cola.” 

The secret recipe for Fernet Branca is reportedly known by only one person, Niccolò Branca, the current president of the Fratelli Branca Distillery. It is said that Niccolò personally measures out the flavorings for each production run.

Fernet ValleyThe Branca brand, while definitely one of the better-known, is not the only producer of fernet. Fernet is actually a type of herbal-based bitter that is made by other producers, as well. Many Italian companies, including Luxardo, Cinzano, and Martini & Rossi, produce fernet. Fernet is produced internationally, as well, such as in Mexico, where the popular Fernet-Vallet is made.

Each brand of fernet has its own secret combination of herbs and botanicals. However, a good fernet is likely to include myrrh and saffron, both known for their “disgestivo” and antioxidant properties. Other ingredients rumored to be included are linden, galangal, peppermint oil, sage, bay leaves, gentian root, St. John’s wort, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and bitter orange.

Fernet Branca, as well as other versions of Italian spirit armai, French spirit amer, and various types of vermouth, quinquina, and americano that will be covered in the new 2015 edition of the Certified Specialist of Spirits study guide…to be released in January, 2015!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

Friday Lunchtime SWEbinar: The Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam

Insider's GuideBack by popular demand…we are offering a very special session this Friday  (November 7th, at Noon central time) titled “The Insider’s Guide to the CSW.” If you are currently pursuing the CSW Certification, or considering the CSW as your next stage of professional development, this session is for you!

This online workshop will cover all aspects of the CSW, including what the test covers, how difficult the test is, what type of questions to expect, the resources available to students, and how long SWE recommends for study before sitting the exam. This session is led by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (SWE’s Director of Education). You will have a chance to ask any and all questions about the CSW – she’ll answer just about any questions save for “what are the answers?”

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).

Friday, November 7th – 12 Noon Central Time  Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam: hosted by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (Link will go “live” the day before the event.)

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014-2015  SWEbinar Calendar

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

A New Future for Austrian Sparkling Wines!

Austrian sparkling WineLast year – in a very big way – Austria began to take steps to improve the quality and reputation of its sparkling wines.

One of the first actions was to establish an Austrian Sparkling Wine Committee, who set about to formulate some new standards for Austria’s Sparkling wines.

Last week, October 22 was celebrated as the first ever “Austrian Sparkling Wine Day.” As part of the celebrations, the Sparkling Wine Committee introduced a new three-tier quality pyramid for Austrian wines. The levels are as follows:

Top Tier (Level 3):

  • Grapes from a single designated wine region
  • Austrian Sparkling Wine Pyramid via the Austrian Wine website (see link below)
    Austrian Sparkling Wine Pyramid via the Austrian Wine website (see link below)

    Traditional method production

  • Minimum of 30 months aging on the lees
  • May be no sweeter than “brut”
  • Must be hand picked
  • Must use whole-bunch pressing
  • Designation of village/vineyard site allowed
  • May be white or rosé

 

Middle Tier (Level 2):

  • Grapes from a single designated Federal State
  • Traditional method production
  • Minimum of 18 months aging on the lees
  • May be no sweeter than “brut” Must be hand picked
  • Must use whole-bunch pressing
  • No designation of village or vineyard site allowed
  • May be white or rosé

 

Basic Tier (Level 1):

Vienna at Night
Vienna at Night

 

  • Grapes may be from anywhere in Austria, but must be 100% Austrian fruit
  • Must be produced in Austria
  • May be any level of sweetness
  • May be produced using any method approved for the production of sparkling wines
  • Minimum of 9 months aging on the lees
  • May be any color – red, white, or rosé
  • May not list a vineyard designation or specific designation of origin

The Austrian Sparkling Wine Pyramid has not been approved into law as of yet. The Austrian Wine Marketing Board hopes to achieve this approval sometime in 2015.

For more information, see the website of Austrian Wine!  

“For everything good, Mezcal…for everything bad, the same”

Agave Americana

Agave Americana

Technically, tequila is a mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.

As any good student of spirits should know, tequila is a specific type of mezcal, produced according the the strict rules of the Norma Oficial Mexicana (“Official Standard of Mexico,” often abbreviated as “NOM”), from the aguamiel of the blue agave plant (agave tequilana weber). Production of tequila centers around the Mexican state of Jalisco, put portions of the nearby states of Tamaulipas, Guanajuato, Nayarit, and Michoacán are approved for the production of tequila as well.

But we were speaking of mezcal…

The production of products bottled as mezcal is centered around the state of Oaxaca. The state of Oaxaca is a prime growing area for the preferred base material for mezcal – a variety of agave known as agave americana, often referred to as maguey. In addition to maguey, twenty-eight other varieties of agave may be used in the production of mezcal, with the most common being agave potatorum and agave salmiana.

Oaxacans love their mezcal, as they should. A popular saying in the region is “para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también” (“For everything bad, mezcal; for everything good, the same”)

Mezcal derives its name from a Nahuatl Indian word, mexcalmetl, which loosely translates as “agave plant.” Mezcal often has a “smokier” or “earthier” aroma than tequila, in part because of the varieties of agave used, but also because of the tradition of cooking the piñas in earth-covered pits. Grinding methods vary, and mezcal producers commonly use agave fibers in the fermentation must to add character.

Santo Domingo Church in Oaxaca

Santo Domingo Church in Oaxaca

While most mezcals are produced using 100% agave, the distiller may also add various fruits and herbs to the must during the fermentation process. Thus, mezcal is produced in an almost infinite number of local variations. Mezcal may be labeled reposado or añejo, depending on the length of time it spends in cask, but many are bottled without cask aging. There is also a variant of mezcal called mezcal de olla. In this type, the must is distilled in a clay pot, called an olla, with a vapor-condensing coil attached to the cover.

While many people think they have bought or seen a bottle of tequila with a worm in it, they are mistaken, as the “worm in the bottle” is instead found only in some variations of mezcal, specifically those produced in the state of Oaxaca. The origin of the worm in the bottle is considered an old-fashioned way of certifying the strength of alcohol: if the worm decayed there was too little alcohol to preserve it; if the worm stayed intact there was sufficient alcohol for drinking.

The mezcal worm is actually the larva of one of the two moths that live on the agave plant. There are two types of worms: the red, gusano rojo, which thrives in the root of the plant, and the white or gold, gusano de oro, which is found on the leaves. Today, the worms are bred commercially for inclusion in mezcal. Although the worm is used as a marketing strategy, top-quality mezcal is generally not bottled with a worm.

A shot of mezcal with sal de gusano

A shot of mezcal with sal de gusano

The traditional way to drink mezcal is straight, sipped slowly and savored. Mezcal is sometimes accompanied by orange slices and “sal de gusano,” a Oaxacan salt blended with the ground larva of those famous gusano (worms). While it is difficult (and somewhat risky) to generalize about such things, the following flavors are often detected in mezcal: light smoke, nutty, caramel/brown sugar, floral, citrus, pumpkin, tropical fruit, dried fruit, green vegetal/celery, leathery/earthy.

As with many traditional beverages, mezcal has become part of the “craft cocktail culture,” and modern bartenders are creating smoky-yet-refreshing cocktail recipes using mezcal. Click here for a recipe, created by Scott Baird of Comal in Berkeley. Called The Palomaesque, this mezcal-based version of the classic Mexican cocktail, The Paloma, uses mezcal, grapefruit juice, lime juice, honey, and Cocchi Americano. Having just tried it myself, I can guarantee that it is delicious!

Saturday SWEbinar: The Insider’s Guide to the CSW

Insider's GuideBack by popular demand…we are offering a very special session this Saturday (October 25, at 10:00 am central time) titled “The Insider’s Guide to the CSW.” If you are currently pursuing the CSW Certification, or considering the CSW as your next stage of professional development, this session is for you!

This online workshop will cover all aspects of the CSW, including what the test covers, how difficult the test is, what type of questions to expect, the resources available to students, and how long SWE recommends for study before sitting the exam. This session is led by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (SWE’s Director of Education). You will have a chance to ask any and all questions about the CSW – she’ll answer just about any questions save for “what are the answers?”

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).

Saturday, October 25 – 10:00 am central time Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam: hosted by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014-2015  SWEbinar Calendar

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.