MCC2014: I’ll Take Manhattans!

My first event of the 2014 Manhattan Cocktail Classic was Dale DeGroff‘s lecture on the history of bitters, titled “I’ll Take Manhattans!” at the Macao Trading Company in Tribeca.


Bitters were essential to the invention of cocktails. The first reference to the term, in a newspaper article from 1806, explained: “A cock tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” So without bitters, we don’t have cocktails!

Other tidbits from Dale’s talk:

  • Bitters were first patented as a digestive aid in 1690.
  • They were sold as medicine, mostly because taxes were cheaper that way, but they also got sold as snake oil cure-alls.
  • Angostura bitters are named after the town in Venezuela, not after the angostura tree.

And at each table there were five different kinds of aromatic bitters: mcc2014-bitters2

So we tasted each of them! Some notes:

  • Angostura has a lot of baking spices – allspice and cinnamon notes
  • Abbott’s is even more bitter, but with some hints of orange
  • Bitter Truth has a licorice flavor
  • Pimento is super-bitter! DeGroff joked that one bartender is using just a single drop of it in his Manhattans
  • Fee Brothers had a sweet, cinnamon flavor, like a Red Hot candy

And then everybody got a full-sized Manhattan, each made with the bitters of their choice.

But really, my favorite part may have just been DeGroff telling stories about his life as a bartender. If you don’t know – he’s the founder of the craft cocktail movement. Basically, he was the first guy in the modern era to think “Hey – maybe cocktails should actually taste good!”  But his vision of a bartender isn’t just a guy who knows drink recipes:


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