The first unsettling realization, back when I made my initial stab at DIY bitters, was that I didn’t have the mixology skills to do my tinctures justice. The second was my total cluelessness as to whether they were even worth a damn. So I took matters to the top and sought out PDT’s Jim Meehan, a man who I’ve got a sneaking suspicion was the inspiration for the phrase “a gentleman and a scholar.” He graciously agreed to check them out, and after a month of daily shaking, smoking, and praying, my precious babies were strained, bottled, and shipped off to St. Marks. They also went with a hopeful request: if any of them were deemed decent enough, would Meehan or his staff be willing to create a drink based around my bitters? Why yes, they would. What followed was a three-month-long game of cat and mouse, as Mr. Meehan traveled the globe on business, doing what he is wont to do (blow minds), while I corresponded with him from the confines of my light-starved studio apartment.
Between trips to Peru and Australia, Meehan finally gave me his assessment. Tragically, two of my concoctions (citrus/clove/pink peppercorn and rainier cherry/birch) were brushed off, due to the distillate being too pedestrian (note to self: high-proof booze is a must, but using the highest quality liquor possible is even more important — this should have been a no-brainer, but my hindsight has cataracts.) Apparently, Pegu Club’s Audrey Saunders has used grain alcohol to successfully make bitters before, but she runs it through a Brita filter several times to improve the quality. Oh well, next time in Jerusalem. But! They loved the smoked bourbon bitters. (“They’ve got a great depth of flavor,” Meehan said.) After the session, as promised, I received a recipe from Jane, one of the PDT bartenders. Some astrally influenced scheduling ensued, and a tasting was arranged.
The drink has a name, the Salted Chocolate Flip, and it’s gorgeous. The inclusion of a whole raw egg makes it a “flip”; the yolk adds flavor, while the white bumps the volume and mouthfeel, resulting in a milkshake-like texture. Meehan explained that some bartenders only use the yolk in their flips, but that he prefers to use the whole egg as both the yolk and white contribute to the overall result in their own ways. The other ingredients (bourbon, creme de cacao, amaretto, simple syrup, and sea salt) bolster the flavors already present in the bitters. It was exhilarating to watch Meehan as he pinched a few drops of the bitters into his hands, rubbed them together, and brought them to his face to “nose it” — using the surface area of his hands to release the full range of flavors (he got waves of clove, orange, vanilla, and cinnamon).
According to Jim (oops), the idea was to start with a barrel-aged product to play off the bourbon base of the bitters, and the salt was added because it amplifies flavors (in this case, the sweet and the spice from the rest of the ingredients). It really is perfectly suited for winter, with its egg-induced frothiness and those warming spice notes. I told him I loved it and asked his thoughts. He described it as a dessert drink; something you’d want to end your night with. Once I heard that, I became emboldened. After all, I had a good 200ml or so left. As a New York food world obsessive, the opportunity to make a contribution to this grand, tumultuous machine — in all its beauty, grotesquery, and Chodorowity — was too tempting to pass up. So I inquired as to how much more he’d need for the drink to get a spot on the winter menu. Which brings us to the present, where I now have almost a gallon of bitters macerating in my closet. With any luck, I’ll be able to reproduce the spectrum of flavors in the original batch, and you’ll all be drinking Salted Chocolate Flips well into March.
Salted Chocolate Flip 2 oz Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Bourbon .5 oz. simple syrup .25 oz Luxardo Amaretto .25 oz Brizard Creme de Cacao 4 dashes smoked bourbon bitters 1 egg Pinch, sea salt
Dry shake and then shake with ice. Strain. Pour into a fizz glass. Garnish with a pinch of sea salt.