Monday, June 15, 2009
Bitterness (the taste sensation, not the emotional state) is a tough thing to do right. It's one of the basic sensations on the tongue (can't remember what part of the tongue - on the side somewhere I think) but it's not one people appreciate as much as, say, the sweet or sour regions. But from a drinks standpoint, bitter is a critical flavor profile - that's why there is a whole category of cocktail ingredients titled, in general, "bitters." It's like the drink version of the Asian food profile (sweet, sour, spicy) - used correctly, it's an essential component of a finely crafted cocktail.
Like any subject that people are passionate about, once you start delving into the details, it becomes much more complex than you had previously realized. Whether it be exotic cars, beer making, hot sauces, or cocktails, there is a level of minutia which is fascinating to the enthusiast, but possibly unnerving to the average person. Look at bitters - there is a whole cottage industry, and associated cocktail movement, surrounding something which is just a small flavor additive to a relatively small percentage of cocktails. Celery, orange, peach, Peychaud's, Angostura, St. Vitus - there are tons of variations and flavor profiles, and that's not counting the home/ bar produced variety. It's very much like hot sauces, with certain brands or types generating a loyal following and almost fanboy like devotion.
Campari isn't technically a bitter per se, more a bitter flavored liquor from Italy. In the past used as a digestif, it has become a pretty standard cocktail ingredient. Campari based cocktails, such as the Negroni (Canmpari, gin, and sweet vermouth), are making a resurgence along with other cocktails with a more complex flavor profile. This cocktail, with a mixture of bitter, sweet, and sour flavors, is both refreshing and complex at the same time - something easily enjoyed in your favorite lounge (if you can find a bartender who has heard of it), or outside on the deck with bitter-inclined friends.
2 oz gin
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz triple sec
1/2 oz Campari
Pour contents into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously until your hand hurts from the cold - then shake another 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.