Bitters can trace their history back to ancient Egypt, but they became widely popular in the 1820s with the invention of Angostura bitters as a medical elixir. These days, bitters are more popular as a cocktail ingredient than a stomach remedy: Chocolate bitters have become a popular cocktail ingredient for the discerning mixologist thanks to their combination of sweet and acerbic.
The Bourgeois Pig
“Like a good rug will tie a room together, bitters are used to elevate and finish a drink,” says Ryan Pope, owner of The Bourgeois Pig in Lawrence, Kansas. “They shouldn’t overpower a drink, and that can be tough when you’re using chocolate bitters, which are especially strong.” At The Pig, as it’s affectionately called, Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters are incorporated into a coffee-inspired cocktail. This month, they’ll also be featured in a new cocktail with hot pepper-infused reposado tequila. “The Aztec Chocolate Bitters have cacao beans, spices and peppers, so I usually feel like they work really well with reposado or añejo tequilas,” Pope says. “The way we look at it, a little bitters goes a long way. They should accentuate the flavors that are already tucked into a recipe.”
The Bourgeois Pig, 6 E. Ninth St., Lawrence, Kansas, 785.843.1001, facebook.com/thebourgeoispig
One of No. 22 Bitters owner Julie Ohno’s creations is orange-molé bitters made with orange peel, cacao nibs, ancho chile, cloves, cinnamon sticks and allspice. “I [also] use gentian as the bittering agent – it’s just a very bitter herb – plus over-proofed whiskey,” says Ohno, who also bartends at The Rieger in Kansas City. “I feel like a lot of people don’t know this, but bitters are actually a highly concentrated alcohol. Their potent flavor and alcohol content is why most drink recipes call for just a dash or two.” At The Rieger, her orange-molé bitters were previously used in a tequila-and-chocolate Martini. Ohno encourages anyone who loves Old Fashioneds and Manhattans to try subbing in her chocolate bitters for a different, warmer profile. “I find that the chocolate and spice notes really highlight the whiskey and bourbon characteristics,” she says. At the moment, Ohno is only selling No. 22 Bitters to local restaurants and bars, but she hopes to begin selling to the public by the end of 2017.
The Rieger, 1924 Main St., Crossroads Arts District, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.471.2177, www.theriegerkc.com
Olive + Oak
Chelsea Little will take chocolate however she can get her hands on it. During her stint as a bartender at Olive + Oak in Webster Groves, Missouri, Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters frequently found their way into her cocktails. Take, for example, the No. 48, which previously appeared on the cocktail list. “It’s a rye whiskey-based cocktail with curaçao, amaro, orange and allspice,” Little says. “We put a little of the chocolate bitters in there, and it rounds everything out at the end and makes it wholesome.” Little considers bitters to be “the finishing touch” to any cocktail recipe; it’s the salt and pepper, so to speak, that can make or break the drink. “At Olive + Oak, we base everything off flavors and how they’re going to pair with one another,” she says of her time at the restaurant’s bar. “We want to throw things together unexpectedly without going over the top. I like to think that just about any ingredient has a place.” Is there a recipe that doesn’t invite chocolate bitters? “Well, I guess chocolate bitters might not be great in a dirty Martini,” Little says with a laugh, “but who am I to say? I’ve never tried it, and it might be delicious.”
Olive + Oak, 102 West Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, Missouri, oliveandoakstl.com
Six More Spots to Sip Chocolate Bitters
▶ You can find Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters in various cocktails on the menu at 715 Restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas. The list changes frequently, so next time you find yourself on Mass Street, stop in and see what’s new.
▶ Bar manager Berto Santoro has made Kansas City’s Extra Virgin an ingredient paradise. You can find Extra Virgin’s housemade chocolate bitters and Bitterman’s Xocolatl Molé Bitters in cocktails featuring whiskey, tequila and dark rum.
▶ The winter cocktail menu at The Libertine in Clayton, Missouri, features housemade chocolate bitters in its Menacing Reputation & Reason. The drink, developed by beverage director Ben Bauer, mixes chocolate bitters with tequila ocho plata, yellow chartreuse, olorosso sherry and pimento dram.
▶ At Bluestem in Kansas City, put your faith in Andrew Olsen. If you want a little booze with your chocolate, he’ll use his imagination – and The Bitter Truth Xocolatl Molé Bitters – to make your wish come true.
▶ Planter’s House in St. Louis uses Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters in its Bitter Tears cocktail, which also features Cardamaro and Old Gran-Dad BIB Bourbon.