Review: Dr Adam Elmegirab Bitters
If it wasn’t for the category of aromatic bitters, the world of cocktails would be a very different place. Often likened to the importance of salt and pepper in cooking, ‘bitters’ are an essential ingredient in many a cocktail recipe. Actually, they play an even more important role than ‘seasoning’ in cooking as they not only enhance and bind flavours, but also add additional complexity and flavour profiles of their own. It is the addition of these extra flavours that has facilitated the explosion of the bitters category in recent years. One range of bitters that really stand out as being amongst the very best available are those produced by Adam Elmegirab.
The range was first established when Adam noted that a particular type of bitters (Bokers) was regularly called for in the seminal 1862 book by ‘Professor’ Jerry Thomas, ‘How to mix drinks or the bon vivant’s companion‘, were no longer available. After a great deal of research, Adam set about to recreate these long-lost bitters and the Dr Adam Elmegirab bitters range was born. Since then the range has been expanded to include dandelion and burdock, a limited addition Spanish bitters, and most recently the aphrodite bitters. All are created by steeping botanicals in overproof spirit for no less than two weeks before being blended, bottled and labelled by hand. It is clear that these products are a labour of love, and that shines through when you taste them.
The botanicals here include dried orange peel, quassia bark, green cardamon, and mallow flowers. The first thing that strikes you here, as with the rest of the range, is that these bitters are very bitter! Now this might sound like a funny thing to say, but bitterness is really important in the ‘seasoning’ of the cocktail and it helps carry the flavours through the drink. On the nose, the cardamom hits first, but it is balanced by mellow pine and citrus notes. Coffee and chocolate linger in the background to make for a very intriguing smell indeed. Tasted neat, the cardamom again is first up with the intense and lingering bitterness. Coffee, orange and some harder to detect floral notes sit around the mid-palate, leaving a bitter coffee finish that just seems to go on and on and on.
Signature Cocktail: The Martinez
25ml Old Tom gin
50ml sweet vermouth
5ml Maraschino liqueur
3 dash Boker’s bitters.
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a quarter slice of lemon.
The Martinez is one of my all-time favourite cocktails, and I have tried making it with a large number of different bitters. This recipe, using the Boker’s bitters beats all other hands down. The intense bitterness and complex flavour profile of the Boker’s complements the sweetness of the other ingredients beautifully, in a way that many other bitters fail to. In particular the flavours of the vermouth come alive, and shine as if the bitter’s were magnifying each and every one. This is a complex drink but exceedingly easy to drink and I cannot recommend the Boker’s highly enough.
Dandelion and Burdock Bitters
No prizes for guessing the botanicals here include both dandelion and burdock root, but they are complemented by fresh ginger root, orange peel, lemon peel, and star anise. They are much lighter on both the nose and palate than the Boker’s and have a distinct earthiness about them. Honeyed aroma’s of ginger, anise and clove entice you in to reveal a bittersweet palate with lovely earthy and nutty low notes balanced by fresh citrus and marzipan high notes, all supported by a delicate background of anise, liquorice and clove. The earthiness of these bitters is very different from anything else on the market I have tried, and they work beautifully to enhance the earthy character of spirits such as genever.
Signature Cocktail: Usuki Old Fashioned
12.5ml sugar syrup
4 dash dandelion and burdock bitters
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a lemon zest.
This is a lovely twist on an old fashioned that showcases the bitters beautifully. The malty flavours of the genever match perfectly with the earthy character of the bitters, which also add a great complexity and lighter notes to complement. A wonderful way to be introduced into the delights of genever.
These limited edition bitters are well worth searching out for their unique flavour profile that includes chamomile, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seed and orris root amongst the botanicals. The nose smells like a hot day in a spanish market. It is deep and warm, with a touch of spice and a distinct vegetal savouriness that is brightened by the chamomile and citrus. Although nicely bitter, there is an initial sweetness on tasting that gives rise to a much lighter taste than the nose might suggest, with floral camomile leading to a fruity mid-palate that ends with a building bitterness driven by warm coriander and toasted citrus. These bitters work well in all manner of cocktails, their complex flavour profile that includes floral, vegetal, spice, bitterness and sweet fruit elements make them very versatile. I particularly like them paired with tequila, where I find they bring out the vegetal notes of the agave.
Signature Cocktail: Tequila and Tonic
60ml blanco tequila
3 dash Spanish bitters
Build in a highball glass over plenty of ice and garnish with a lime wedge.
Having been drinking gin and tonics for years, it is only recently that I discovered the delights of a T+T. Although great on it’s own, adding a few dashes of the Spanish bitters turns it into a truly sublime libation. The agave character of the tequila sings out and the bitters offer a wonderful complexity whilst maintaining the ‘easy drinking’ nature of this highball. Beautiful on a hot summers day.
So new there isn’t even a bottle image to use, the latest in the range of Dr Elmegirab bitters were launched in July 2011. The name comes from the use of botanicals with aphrodisiac properties including valrhona chocolate, cocoa nibs, ginger root, red chilli, Arabica coffee and ginseng. Bitter coffee and chocolate dominate the nose but there is also a deeper complexity from the other botanicals that is harder to pinpoint. The palate meanwhile is perfectly balanced, with the chocolate, ginger and a hint of chilli up first before gently developing into bitter coffee, all flecked with herbal notes that dance on the palate. The finish seems everlasting and I’m pretty sure they are addictive as I find myself ‘testing’ them time and time again! The flavour profile here cries out to be paired with aged spirits bu they are also very versatile and can bring an interesting twist to drinks that might not be the obvious choice.
Signature Cocktail: Aphrodite Daiquiri
50ml Havana Club Especial
20ml lime juice
15ml sugar syrup
4 dash Aphrodite bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.
The addition of theAphrodite bitters to a zingy and refreshing daiquiri elevates what is already a fantastic drink to another level. The chocolate notes in particular shine and add a savoury note that complements the citrus and rum wonderfully. Perfect to impress a loved one!
The range of bitters from Dr Adam Elmegirab are category-leading. Impossible to fault, they sre of of exceptionally high quality and are a must-stock item in every home and proffessional bar.
Dr Adam Elmegirab bitters are available from Master of Malt.
★: Terrible, only drink for a dare.
★★: Meh, not undrinkable but best left alone.
★★★: Reasonable, middle of the road.
★★★★: Tasty stuff, well worth seeking out.
★★★★★: Incredible, booze doesn’t get better than this. You need a bottle in your life.