Lovers of bitter flavors rejoice - this cocktail is the first (and most potent) in a three part series covering my exploration of bitter spirits! Not a fan of bitter cocktails? You're probably best off avoiding this one - but I have some more manageable options coming your way. My goal was to find a spectrum of bitterness that everyone could enjoy so the two recipes to follow this one will be less booze/bitter forward and lighter in flavor profile.
I was inspired to create this cocktail after a trip to Fonda Frontera in Wicker Park. They offered a modern take on the classic Vieux Carré cocktail with Añejo tequila replacing the cognac. I loved the smoky, bitter feeling of the drink and wanted to give it a try with the ingredients I had on hand in my home bar.
I'm not much of a tequila drinker but I tend to love all forms of aged spirits for the richer, woodier taste they take on through barrel aging. Añejo tequila is aged in small oak barrels from 1 to 3 years and features an amber color and pleasantly smoky flavor and aroma. I recently received a bottle from Grand Centenario, and it's hands down the best tequila I've ever tried in terms of flavor and mouthfeel.
I used Koval Distillery Rye but Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye could be an alternative if you're looking to limit your costs. For the bitter element, I chose St. George Bruto Americano. I first discovered this delightful spirit when looking for a natural alternative to Campari (which uses red food coloring). I had a lot of faith in the St. George brand for their diverse line of gins and Spiced Pear Liqueur. Their take on an aperitivo liqueur certainly left an impression. The Bruto really packs a punch and can be used sparingly to add citrusy, woody and bitter complexity.
I finished the drink off with a few dashes of orange bitters and an orange-peel wrapped Amarena cherry garnish to emphasize the citrus in the Bruto. The resulting cocktail is wonderfully deep in wood and smoke flavors yet surprisingly smooth given that it's 100% alcohol!
- 1 oz Añejo tequila
- .75 oz Rye whiskey
- 0.5 oz St. George Bruto Americano
- 3 drops orange bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice to chill, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist, cocktail cherry, or both and enjoy while sharing gripping tales around a campfire.