Happy Hour — What Are You Going to Do With That Bottle of Peach Bitters?
Make a Negroni-inspired drink with completely different ingredients.
As it turns out, one of your fellow cocktail enthusiasts, a man named Robert Hess, had that same question about 20 years ago.
Hess, who is now a cocktail book author and the co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail, worked for Microsoft in the Seattle area, and was a key figure in the early online cocktail enthusiast movement. Readers of a certain vintage will remember AOL chatrooms and home-brewed PHPBB boards as the predecessors to today’s far more advanced social networks. But like today’s social networks, they connected people who shared niche passions and hobbies — like, for example, tracking down ancient cocktail recipes, and making up their own.
At the time, cocktails at bars, for the most part, weren’t what we think of them now. If you ordered an Old Fashioned, you’d probably get a splash of whiskey over crappy ice, topped with soda water and muddled with a fruit salad — if you could even get one at all. Martinis were typically just chilled vodka, and were often served in eight-, ten-, or even twelve-ounce vessels that resembled bathtubs more than sipping glasses. Fresh juice was rare, and sour mix was common. Don’t even get me started on what Mai Tais were like.
Hess was part of a small band of loosely connected aficionados who helped change what cocktails were like. He and others started tracking down, discussing, and reformulating old recipes, which were just starting to appear at a very small number of bars across the country. And in addition to testing and tasting old recipes, they also invented their own.
Sometimes this was driven by a desire to modify or riff on a classic. But some of these inventions were driven by the ingredients themselves, many of which were unusual and unfamiliar at the time — like, for example, peach bitters.
Fee Bros. made a bottle of the stuff at the time, but, as Hess tells the story, he was unaware of many recipes that used them. So he invented one, in the form of a drink called the Trident, a Negroni riff that contains not one single ingredient from a classic Negroni. In place of the usual trio — gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari — Hess used aquavit, sherry, and Cynar, with a couple dashes of peach bitters to tie them all together.
It’s an elegant, well-composed drink, both rich and biting, in which the peach bitters play a central role, accenting the caraway and licorice notes of the aquavit; the dry, almost briney grape flavor of the sherry; and the richly vegetal flavor bomb of the Cynar. The drink doesn’t really work without the peach bitters, which lift and connect the other ingredients, transforming them into a coherent whole.
It’s a subtle, smart demonstration of how small amounts of bitters can harmonize other ingredients, and a reminder that you don’t need to be a behind-the-bar pro to invent a great cocktail.
2 dashes Peach Bitters
1 ounce aquavit (Linie)
1 ounce fino sherry
1 ounce Cynar
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass.
Add ice, then stir until thoroughly chilled.
Strain into a coupe or Nick & Nora glass.
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