We’re hugely grateful to Tom and Lucy Moore for joining us for our recent online cocktail masterclass all about cocktail bitters. Tom and Lucy are owners and producers of Bitter Union – a brand of cocktail bitters that they hand make in Hampshire.
So what are cocktail bitters? We stock Bitter Union bitters in the distillery shop and most people assume that they will make the drink taste very bitter or taste like beer. Well, they do taste bitter, but when mixed in the right quantities and with the right ingredients just a few drops will lift and enhance your cocktail giving more depth of flavour and lengthening the flavour. Essentially they are an alcoholic spirit that is infused with herbs, roots, fruits and leaves.
Bitter Union currently have five different flavours in their range but for the purposes of our Campfire Cocktails tasting we focused on three – No 1 Aromatic, Spiced Orange and Lemon, Hops & Herbs.
Guests who took part in the event were posted or hand delivered 75ml pouches of pre-mixed cocktails. All they had to do on the evening was chill them with ice, sit back with drink in hand and listen to Ben and Tom talk about our Campfire Gins and Bitter Union bitters.
The first cocktail was the Red Admiral. This is a favourite of ours originally developed for our Dine at the Distillery event a few years ago. It can be pre-mixed but the best way to enjoy this cocktail is to mix all ingredients except the port in a mixing glass and stir with ice until chilled. Strain into a martini style glass and gently pour the port down the side of the glass or use a syringe so the port sinks to the bottom of the glass. The result is a layered cocktail whereby you drink through the gin, bitters and apple juice and savour the port at the end.
The Red Admiral cocktail uses Bitter Union Spiced Orange bitters which have notes of bitter orange, warming ginger, star anise and a bitter hit from cinchona bark.
Next up we served Old Tom Sawyer – our take on the classic Tom Sawyer cocktail using our Campfire Old Tom Gin. This cocktail has a sharp citrus hit from lime juice which is balanced by the sweeter gin, sugar syrup and a combination of two Bitter Union bitters – Spiced Orange and No 1 Aromatic. Garnished with a maraschino cherry this was voted the people’s favourite of the evening.
No 1 Aromatic Bitters get their bitter kick from gentian root. Sour cherry, cinnamon and clove add fruity and spicy warming notes.
Lastly we served my absolute favourite – Bitter About Vesper – a creation of Ben’s. If you’ve ever been on one of our martini events you’ll know Ben’s views on James Bond’s Vesper martini. Simply put he’s not a fan! The Vesper martini uses both gin and vodka combined with Kina Lillet (commonly substituted for Lillet Blanc). So, not only does Bond request vodka in his martini but he also asks for it to be shaken not stirred. Tut, tut Mr Bond – do you really want small shards of broken ice to spoil the clarity of your martini?
Our Bitter About Vesper cocktail uses Campfire London Dry Gin (winner of the World’s Best Martini Challenge 2019) with Lillet Blanc, sugar syrup and Bitter Union Lemon, Hops & Herbs bitters. The combination of bitter and sweet in this recipe is so well balanced by the alcohol that it serves amazingly well with afternoon tea and cakes (lemon shortbread in particular) or as a dessert/digestive later in the evening.
Bitter Union Lemon, Hops & Herbs uses four different botanicals to obtain the citrus hit – fresh lemon peel (zest only), coriander, lemon verbena and lemon thyme. The hops add a floral note rather than bitterness which comes from the artemisia plant.
Here are the recipes if you want to try them at home. Don’t forget the full range of Bitter Union bitters is available in the distillery shop – open Fridays and Saturdays. We also stock Lillet Blanc, Suze, Dolin Dry Vermouth and Carpano Antica Formula.
25ml Campfire Navy Strength Gin
20ml Ruby port
50ml Apple juice, clear
Dash of orange bitters
Thin slice of fresh ginger to garnish
Shake some ice cubes, the gin, apple juice and the bitters vigorously in a cocktail shaker and strain into chilled martini glasses. Pour the port gently down the side of the glass so it sinks beneath the gin and bitters. Add the ginger slice.
Old Tom Sawyer
50ml Campfire Old Tom Gin
21 dashes Bitter Union No 1 Aromatic Bitters
7 dashes Bitter Union Spiced Orange Bitters
15ml Lime juice
15ml Sugar syrup
Maraschino cherry for garnish
Add all ingredients except the cherry to a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake well. Fine strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with the cherry.
Bitter About Vesper
60ml Campfire London Dry Gin
10 dashes Bitter Union Lemon, Hops & Herbs
15ml Lillet Blanc
10ml Sugar syrup
Add ice, gin and all other ingredients to a mixing glass and stir well. Fine strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass and serve with lemon shortbread.