A dash of Bitters!

When was the last you took an anlogy question? Let me put you to one right now.

Salt is to food as ___ is to cocktails.

The answer if you have not guessed by now is Bitters. It is the defining ingredient of a cocktail. Having bitters in gives a cocktail that little bit of spice that brings out the flavor in the other ingredients. They take a drink from ordinary to extraordinary.
Over the last week, I met quite a few whiskey drinkers and a bunch of cocktail sippers on the bar-stools of Take 5. And I asked every one of them , if they ever tasted their drinks with Bitters. Most of them did not know what it is and a few of them claimed to be conservative drinkers who stick to whiskey and soda and do not experiment at all. One of them did give it a try after all, on my insistence and promise that it won`t cost him extra.

We all have our favorite drinks or cocktails, but what if your favorite could be better. Hard to believe, but it could be true. I am of the opinion that cocktails are better with bitters. Just like a little spice in my food, I like bitters in my cocktail. A cocktail without bitters seems bland and ordinary to me.

The name "Bitters" makes people think that it is something they don't want in their drink but the elixir is not necessarily bitter. Bitters is an alcoholic beverage prepared by infusion or distillation of herbs and citrus, dissolved in alcohol or gyucerine and having a bitter or bittersweet taste.

Take your favorite cocktail whether it be a Gin and Tonic, Black Russian, Martini, Cosmopolitan, or whatever and add a dash or two of bitters. Don't put so much it over powers the drink. Simply add just enough to spice it up and give it that unknown characteristic. To do this properly you really need to make your drink as normal, taste it, add the bitters, stir, and taste it again. Or if you want to compare side by side make two drinks. I think you will be surprised of the results.


"Angostura Aromatic Bitters" is the most popular and most widely distributed bitters in the world. In India, its is almost the only one available. The bitters was actually named after the main port from which it was exported from out of the Caribbean. The only written recipe is hidden away in a vault in New York and the only confirmed ingredients are sugar and gentian. Its popular oversized label makes the spice instantly recognizable. How the oversized label came about is not exactly know, but a common story is that one person went shopping for the bottle and the other the label. After they had discovered the error and because the Caribbean is such a laid back place... they decided to just go with it and have another drink.

Where to buy?
If you want it but don`t know where to look for it, fear not. I am your friendly neighbourhood licquor savior. Look for Bitters in your nearest Nilgiris, Fabmall or any other departmental store. If you can`t find it there, Toms Store in Frazer town, Bangalore & Qmart in Banjara Hills , Hyderabad. A 100 ml bottle costs you around Rs400. You can also find at Metro sometimes, and obviously it costs a tad lesser there (Rs 350, I guess).
After you own a bottle of this, try tasting just a drop of its from your fingers. You will notice it is highly potent (alcoholic) and has a very pungent taste. This is the reason, most cocktails use just a drop or two of bitters and not more. A drop or two are not only enough to spike up the taste but it is simply not possible to consume anymore than that .

Once you come to realize "It's better with bitters!" don't just keep this knowledge to yourself. Go to your favorite bar and ask the bartender to make a new drink using bitters. Obviously don't just walk into any bar. This should be a liquid chef that you have gotten to know and have had conversations with concerning mixology. It should be someone you believe shares your passion about cocktails. (For ex: Yours Truly at Take 5 :) )

You might just get a drink named after you, you never know.

Barman Returns

Well its official and for those of you that haven’t heard, I am now at a bar called Take 5. I was there for a very short time about six months back, and hope to be a little longer than that this time. Over the next week or so, I will be working on creating an Essential Summer Kit - the cocktail menu for this season at Take 5 . For those of you that enjoyed the old menu, we’ll still be able to do all of them, and we have preserved a selection of those for the list as well.

Just to give you a teaser, Cukootini (Cucumber Martini), Melon Madness (Vodka, Watermelon & Grenadine), Mango Mojito, Golden Lagoon ( Whiskey, Ginger, Almond syrup, Orange marmalade) are a few of the things running on the top of my mind. Also what I am doing is partly re-engineering the cocktail manufacturing process there. Try the mojito there next time and you will notice how different it is from the earlier one.

If you haven`t been to Take 5 in a while and (and from those that I’ve asked, that’s a lot of you) please come by and check it out. I will be there 4 nites a week Thursday to Sunday operating the liquid kitchen. I am damn excited to make you a neat cocktail while behind a bar that has come to become the hallmark of cocktail lounges at Indiranagar, 100 ft road.

See ya around!!!

The con at the Long Island

Next time you are at an upscale nightclub, seemingly the kind of place you wouldn't expect a con at the bar to happen, well think again. It has more to do with the integrity of the owner than the geographic location. In lot of cases also the greedy barman.

Recently, I was with a bunch of my friends at Athena, the nightclub in Leela Palace for a Saturday night clubbing. The very 5 star hotel that is famous for signature martinis at its Library Bar.

The club was swarming with the hippest of Bangalore and alcohol was flowing at the bar. Like any other packed place, customers had to fight their way for their dose of beer or spirits for the night. People were happy with loud music and the apparent freedom to dance. One of our friends, struggled up to the bar and ordered for a LONG ISLAND ICE TEA.(LIIT)

Most of you would know what this cocktail is. But for the few of those who do not, I shall do the explaining bit. LIIT is almost the highest alcohol concentration cocktail. Popularised in America, this is a cocktail made with equal portions of 5 white spirits – Vodka, Gin, Rum, Triple Sec and Tequila. All spirits are mixed with sweet and sour mix and topped with cola in a High ball (tall) glass full of ice. On a normal day, one of this is good enough to put you out of your senses.

Back to the LIIT at Athena, that costs 600 bucks; my friend was served with the drink in a pilsner glass. (Pilsner is a much shorter glass than a high ball – basically a beer glass). As if it was not irritating enough, she could not taste any alcohol in the glass at all. The barman strummed in a lot of cola and no alcohol.

She asked me to taste the drink and I felt the same. No alcohol and a lot of cola. Mixing less and selling short is the most common cons at almost all bars. Especially with women ordering, the barmen take them easy and try to fool them of their money in busy clubs like that night. Sometimes this is done, so that the barman does not ring in the drink to the register at all and keeps the cash to himself. At other times, its done so that the barman can pour your share of alcohol into another guest for almost free and get a tip or serve a visiting friend at the bar for free.

When complained, a good bartender will take it back and give you something else, but, at Athena when we confront the creator of the drink, he confidently says, he made the drink and knows that he put in enough alcohol. When we insist, he adds a dash of tequila to it, making absolutely no difference to the drink. Our mistake - not paying attention to the drink when being made originally. It is such a pity to discover discovered that a majority of the bartenders have very poor knowledge about the art of blending liquor and on top of that they are conning around.

It makes my heart heavy to accuse people as such, but having seen it personally I cant help call a few of the bartenders – simply “thieves” who are determined to take advantage of every opportunity to steal. Sooner or later everyone becomes a victim of a greedy bar owner, but in case of Athena, I cannot blame management believing it to be a 5-star that wont try such cheap tricks..

The only defense at such times is question everything that doesn’t smell, taste, or looks good to you. Don't be afraid to speak up! If you don't have enough vodka in your drink, if you've been served in a "sly-ball" instead of a highball, COMPLAIN VERY LOUD! That’s what we should have done that night. May be next time. I mean loud, so everyone at the bar can hear you. You will get the service you deserve, and everybody will be looking at their glass wondering, then looking at the bartender suspiciously....

Awareness of what constitutes a good drink is the first step...

I met a couple of my friends for “drinks after work” last evening at TGIF & ordered their famous “Ultimate LIIT”. Aah, it was so bloody real LIIT. Except they replace Tequila with Brandy. Apparently, TGIF makes the best LIITs of the world. No wonder they are so popular at their happy hours. Ponder why it is so difficult for the rest of the world to mix 5 spirits honestly with coke and serve.

About Shank

Shank is a cocktail enthusiast & a self-proclaimed mixologist. He likes to experiment with spirits. He has traveled around a bit visiting hundreds of bars and tasting the buzziest of alcohols, cocktails and shooters.

Shank spent early years of his dizziness in Mumbai. He has lived in Hyderabad for long and for the past few years is chilling his glass in Bangalore.

He is currently busy spreading his love for spirits through this blog - Cocktail Nirvana.

This blog is part of his ongoing quest for fine spirits, creative cocktails and classic mixology. These online journals will capture his cocktail inventions, adventures with alcohol, trips to bars, meeting with ace mixologists, lessons in the art of drinking and much more.

This apart, ignoring good judgment, the fine folks at www.mybangalore.com also allow him to take up valuable space on their portal with his words & pictures.

Away from Nirvana