Hell-fire Bitters

We’ve been getting requests for spicy drinks, so I am starting a new batch of Hellfire Bitters for South at SF Jazz.

I also realized I had only ever written about Hell-Fire Bitters on eGullet.org (in 2005!), never on the blog.

Posted 10 November 2005 – 10:38 AM
The most recent Sunday NY Times Style magazine featured an article on bitters talking with Joe Fee and about Regan’s Orange bitters.

Coincidentally, I’d been reading through Baker’s “Jigger, Beaker, and Glass” and decided I would give making his “Hellfire Bitters” a try.

This is my take on it. So far it smells quite nice. I’m not exactly sure what kind of peppers I used. Some sort of bird chile, I believe. The small, festively colored and very hot ones that are available here in late summer and fall still attached to their little bushes.

Hellfire Bitters a la Charles Baker Jr.

2 Cups Very Hot Chiles
2 Cups Vodka
2 TBSP Molasses
2 Limes (Quartered)
1/2 tsp. Cinchona (Quinine) Bark Powder
8 Allspice Berries, Crushed

It all goes in the blender and then into a sterilized jar to age for a couple weeks, shaking periodically. Squeeze through cheesecloth and bottle.

Anyone else experimented with making their own bitters?


Ah, way back in 2005, when making your own bitters was something a little unusual! So young! So innocent!

Here’s the actual recipe from Charles Baker Jr’s Book, “The Gentleman’s Companion”.

“HELL-FIRE BITTERS or CAYENNE WINE, another Receipt from the Island of Trinidad, in the British West Indies, and Now and Again Used in Gin-and-Bitters, & Other Similar Sharp Drinks instead of routine Bitters by Stout Englishmen with Boiler Plate Gastric Linings

“This is an old, old receipt dating to 1817 in print right here before us–and likely long before that, because the British knew Port of Spain a century and a half before. In fact we have just been diving up coins, cannons, shot, crystal goblets and other miscellaneous relics from HMS WINCHESTER, 60 guns, 933 tons, commanded by one John Soule, and while bound from Jamaica to England, sank in a gale on a certain coral barrier reef, 24th September 1695–and have the loot to prove it–And photographs; and cinema film.

“This Hell-Fire Bitters is an excellent cooking and seasoning sauce for fish, salads, soups and meats, when mixed half and half with strained lime juice and stood for 2 wks in an uncovered bottle, before using–a fact which has been disclosed in Volume I.

“Pound up 2 cups of scarlet round bird peppers, or small chilis or cayenne peppers. Put in a saucepan with 1 cup of tart white wine; simmer up once and turn everything into a pint jar, add 1 cup of cognac brandy and seal jar tight. Let steep for 14 days, strain through several thicknesses of cloth and bottle for use. When used solely for seasoning food, put everything through a fine sieve. These peppers have a vast amount of flavor in their scarlet skin and flesh, entirely aside from the intense heat of their oils. Seeds fro their home growth in ordinary window boxes, flower pots, or rusty tin cans!, may be bought at any half-way seed store. If no fresh peppers are possible simply stir 1/4 oz of ground cayenne pepper into the wine-brandy mix. Claret and brandy, claret alone, sherry and brandy, sherry alone, and brandy alone, are also authentic steeping fluids. Actually it is not a “bitters” at all unless a little chinchona bark is added–and 1/2 drachm or so is plenty, strained out at the last along with the pepper pods.”

And here’s a similar recipe, based on my earlier one. I like to use overproof rum and some spices along with the chiles. It looks like Neyah White started adding coffee to his version of Hellfire Bitters when he was at Nopa, (Mexican Standoff and Hellfire Bitters). Since he borrowed from me, I’ll borrow back from him. I’m leaving out the limes, since citrus wasn’t really a part of the original recipe.


Hellfire Bitters, 2013

1/2 Cup Birdseye Chile (using dried here), stemmed.
4 Facing Heaven Szechuan Chile Peppers, split.
4 Allspice Berries, crushed
5 Whole Cloves
1 Tablespoon Whole Coffee Beans
1 pinch Chinchona Bark.
1 Pint of Wray & Nephew Rum (or other similar overproof rum)

METHOD: Combine ingredients in a jar and allow to sit until flavor is well infused. Strain out solids.

Curious to see how they will work in the Carter Beats the Devil Cocktail.

Low Gap Old-Fashioned


06-04-2011, Low Gap Whiskey Old-Fashioned with Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters.

2 oz Low Gap Clear Whiskey
1 tsp Caster Sugar
1 tsp Water
3 dash Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters
Lemon Peel

Add sugar, water and bitters to the bottom of a heavy glass. Muddle until sugar is dissolved. Add cracked ice and pour in whiskey. Stir until well chilled. Squeeze lemon peel over glass and drop in.

A friend sent me this sample from a line of bitters he is working on, the Forbidden Bitters are designed to be an Old Fashioned style bitters in the vicinity of Abbott’s Bitters.

Well, what better to do with Old Fashioned style bitters than make an Old-Fashioned?

And a delicious Old-Fashioned it is!

Brandy Cocktail for Bottling

First, just a reminder that Sunday, March 27, 2011, is our monthly exercise in folly, Savoy Cocktail Book Night at Alembic Bar. If any of the cocktails on this blog have captured your fancy, stop by after 6 and allow the skilled bartenders (and me) to make them for you. It is always a fun time.

Another batched cocktail for bottling, this one with Brandy.

Brandy Cocktail for Bottling
5 Gallons Strong Brandy.
2 Gallons Water.
1 Quart Bitters.
1 Quart Gomme Syrup.
1 Bottle Curacao.
Mix thoroughly, and filter through Canton flannel.

Mmm, flannel filtered! Even plainer than the previous Bourbon Cocktail, get out your quart bottles of Angostura.

This recipe comes verbatim from the version of Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide that Darcy has up over on Art of Drink. This recipe was originally as follows:

Brandy Cocktail for Bottling.
Take 5 gallons of strong brandy.
2 gallons of water.
1 quart of Stoughton’s Bitters.
1 quart of gum syrup.
1 bottle of Curacoa.

Mix thoroughly, and filter through Canton flannel.

New Car Cocktail

As “White Whiskey” is a sort of trendy object these days, I’ve been puzzling over some uses for it.

One of my favorite whiskey cocktails is the “Vieux Carre”.

It is traditionally composed of equal parts Rye Whiskey, Brandy, and Sweet Vermouth with dashes of Benedictine and bitters.

As others have already gotten to making White Whiskey versions of Old-Fashioneds and Manhattans, I figured why not a clear Vieux Carre?

I’ve experimented with just about every unaged whiskey and unaged fruit brandy and eau-de-vie at my disposal.

Eau-de-Vies, while initially promising, I have found too dominating for the somewhat laid back character of most white whiskey. With them, the cocktail just tastes of the eau-de-vie and not the whiskey.

I also experimented some with lightly aged apple brandy and found those fairly promising. If you have access to Clear Creek’s young apple brandy, it is quite good in this cocktail. But, unfortunately, rather hard to come by.

After a lot of experimentation, I ended up taking the absolutely most obvious route with this cocktail: unaged whiskey, pisco, and blanc/bianco vermouth.

New Car Cocktail

1 oz White Whiskey
1 oz Pisco (or Pisco style California Brandy)
1 oz Blanc/Bianco Vermouth
2 dash The Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters (Or other relatively clear, spicy, old fashioned bitters. Trying to avoid a pink drink here. Boker’s maybe?)
5ml Benedictine (aka 1 barspoon. Mine is 5ml, I don’t know what size yours might be.)

Stir briefly with ice and strain over fresh cube(s). Squeeze orange peel over drink and drop in.

At work, I have had rather good response to the combination of Death’s Door White Whiskey, Marian Farms Pisco Style California Brandy, Dolin Blanc, and Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters.

Last night, I found the combination of Tuthilltown Hudson Corn Whiskey, Don Cesar Pisco Pura, Cinzano Bianco Vermouth, and TBT Bitters to be appealingly funky and high powered.

Let me know what combinations you come up with.

As far as the name goes, as we discussed before, “Vieux Carre” means something like, “old square,” in French. So a cocktail with unaged spirits obviously has to be “new”. Most Americans pronounce the second word in “Vieux Carre” as they do the word for automobile, “car”. Also, for some reason, “new car smell” comes to mind.

Organic Sazerac Cocktail (Gather)

Sazerac Cocktail 25 out of 28.

I have challenged myself to post 28 Sazeracs in 28 days for the month of February.

I’ll try some different spirits, try some out at bars, and have some friends make them for me. Hopefully, if I can get my act together we’ll have some video.


Sazerac Cocktail.
1 Lump of Sugar. (Florida Crystals Organic Sugar Syrup)
1 Dash Angostura or Peychana Bitters. (Organic Blood Orange and Hibiscus “tincture”)
1 Glass Rye or Canadian Club Whisky. (Espirito Organic California Brandy)

Stir well and strain into another glass that has been cooled, add 1 dash Absinthe (Anise, fennel, and wormwood tincture) and squeeze lemon peel on top.

I first heard read the words of Mr. Alex Smith on the forum pages of the Chanticleer Society.  At the time he was working at the Thirsty Bear and it sounded like he was doing some interesting things.  I sent him a, “Hey there!” note and suggested that it would be fun to stop by. Some time went by. Of course I didn’t make it to Thirsty Bear before he had departed that venue.

Alex’s BIO: i was born into a rich family, given up for adoption and eventually adopted into a poor family. this unfortunate turn of events pretty much set the tone for the rest of my life. for someone who sees suffering and disappointment as much an everyday part of life as air or water, i seem to manage just fine. i usually wake up happy and go to sleep happy; it’s just the time in between that tends to get to me.

i was diagnosed as an idiot savant at an early age, managed to complete high school despite my extracurricular interests and fell in love with alcohol soon thereafter. i started to use cocktails as an outlet for my artistic creation a few years ago, channeling my frustrations through the sieve of my mental affliction.

currently, i find myself managing Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and tending bar at Gather in Berkeley. my dog has cancer, my mother is insane & i am deeply in love with a talented & beautiful young woman who pretty much doesn’t want me in her life. some people sing the blues… i make cocktails.

then i drink ’em.

my contribution to Erik’s great Sazerac project of 2010 is an all-organic/biodynamic version. 2 oz of Espirito biodynamic brandy, few dashes of blood orange tincture, . 25 oz organic simple syrup (1:1) and a rinse of “absinthe” tincture. finished with a squeeze of lemon zest which was then tossed away.


Recently, I heard he was working at a new organic and sustainable restaurant in Berkeley called “Gather” and also Smuggler’s Cove here in San Francisco. The schedule worked out better for us to meet at Gather this time around.

What the? All organic? How? Where? Let’s take a look at some of the “about” information from Gather:

Transparency. Got a question about where something came from or why it’s in a dish? Ask the host for a copy of “The Source Book”— an index that traces the lifecycle of every ingredient served at Gather. From spices and oils to animals and vegetables, we’ve researched how it got to us and where it went along the way. Same goes for the materials used in our restaurant. Every ingredient, material, and action we put forth has been thoughtfully considered.

Wow! How do you start a bar program at a place like this? I have almost no idea where most of the ingredients in 90% of the spirits I work with come from. Talking to Alex, they have chosen to use exclusively organic spirits and liqueurs for the bar. But wait, is there an organic vermouth? Nope. Orange Liqueur? Nope. Green Chartreuse? Nope. Whiskey? Nope. Ack! The basic staples of drink mixing, which we all take for granted, and they have access to none of them. Ouch! What they don’t have, they are trying to come up with. Hardcore.  Kind of reminds me of all the old bar manuals I have read, where they include instructions for making just about anything, including the “Spirits”.

Well, fortunately, there are organic sugar, organic California Brandy, and organic flavoring tinctures. So it was sort of an Orangey Sazerac. Ballpark, anyway, and quite tasty.


And, uh, damn it! I didn’t take a picture of the Sazerac!  Exactly another reason I need Mrs. Flannestad’s help in these endeavors.  Get caught up in chatting and/or drinking and forget to document the drink I am there to try.


I did, however, remember to take a picture of the “Pegu Club” Tina made for me using Cap Rock Gin, Organic Orange Liqueur, organic Lime juice, and flavoring “tinctures”.  Nicely refreshing and tasty!  I also tried the vegan “charcuterie” which I quite enjoyed.  Looking forward to getting back to Gather again, to see more of what they are up to with the other things on the menu.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Nevada Cocktail

Nevada Cocktail

The Nevada Cocktail

1 Hooker of Bacardi Rum. (1 1/2 oz Montecristo White)
The Juice of 1/2 Grapefruit. (Shoot, should have measured.)
The Juice of 1 Lime. (Juice 1/2 lemon)
Powdered Sugar. (Scant teaspoon caster sugar)
1 Dash Bitters. (1 dash Angostura)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

This is another one from Judge Jr.’s prohibition era tome, “Here’s How!”

Actually probably the best drink of any from that book so far. Really highlights the floral flavors of the rum, grapefruit, and bitters.

About all I’d say is it’s a bit too large. Divided in two, this would be a good appetizer cocktail. Bittersweet and tart. This large and it gets a bit acid-ey on the stomach by the end.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Morning Glory Cocktail

Repeal Bitters

One of the really spiffy things about writing this pesky Savoy topic is that occasionally people you’ve met send you really cool stuff.

The other day I got an email from Stephan Berg, one of the proprietors of The Bitter Truth asking for my address. Having met him at Tales of the cocktail, he didn’t seem particularly menacing. So I figured it would be safe to send him my contact info.

Repeal Bitters Back Label

The Bitter Truth Guys, Alexander Hauke and Stephan Berg, had recently released a Celery Seed Bitters and a reproduction of Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters. I suppose I had an idle hope that they might send me some of those.

Instead they sent a brand new product, which they have created to honor the 75th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition.

The Repeal Day bitters are quite complex. The initial flavors and scents are clove which give way to a front of mouth bitter flavor. Secondary flavors which come forward after that initial bitter burst are similar to root beer. I don’t get much, if any citrus. Instead other flavors similar to culinary herbs and more bitterness linger in the aftertaste.

If you should desire to purchase these bitters, you can either mail order them from The Bitter Truth in Germany or I’ve heard a rumor that a certain cocktail book publisher may soon be distributing them in the US.

Morning Glory Cocktail

Morning Glory Cocktail

3 Dashes Gomme Syrup. (1 tsp. rich simple syrup)
2 Dashes Curacao. (2/3 tsp. Bols Dry Orange Curacao)
2 Dashes Bitters. (2 dashes Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters)
1 Dash Absinthe. (1 dash North Shore Sirene Absinthe)
1 Liqueur Glass Brandy. (1 1/2 oz Lustau Reserve Brandy)
1 Liqueur Glass Whisky. (1 1/2 oz Anchor 2006 Hotaling’s Whiskey)
1 Piece Lemon Peel, twisted to express the oil.
Two Small Pieces of Ice.

Stir thoroughly and remove the ice. Fill the glass with seltzer water or plain soda, and stir with a teaspoon having a little sugar in it.

Well if you’ve got old-school bitters, handily, here’s an old school drink.

As we have seen, much of the Cocktail’s development was intimately connected to the search for a better hangover cure…When confronted by the “Cold grey light of dawn”, the toper recognized it as “the great necessity of the age” the he should at once take some sort of “anti-fogmatic”…”eye-opener”…”bracer”…”corpse reviver” or “morning glory”.

Quoting here from David Wondrich’s introduction to the Morning Glory Cocktail in his book, “Imbibe!

According to Wondrich, the Morning Glory Cocktail first appears in print in the 1887 edition of Jerry Thomas’ Book and is pretty much verbatim as above.

The “remove the ice idea” is a bit silly. Perhaps sensible when ice was at more of a premium than it is today. I recommend, as does Mr. Wondrich, that you simply follow a procedure similar to a Sazerac. Chill a medium size serving glass with ice and water. Stir your cocktail in ice in a mixing glass or tin. Dump the ice from the chilled serving glass. Strain your cocktail into the chilled glass. Top up with soda.

While I was getting all old-school, I figured I might as well use Anchor Distilling’s Hotaling’s Whiskey in this cocktail. Seemed like it would combine well with brandy.

And indeed. Uh, wow. After a couple sips, it felt like my scalp was floating a few feet above the top of my head.

No idea what might happen, if you follow Mr. Wondrich’s other piece of advice and listen to that, “anarchic little voice in your head that suggests substituting champagne for the selzer.”

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Harvard Cocktail

Harvard Cocktail

2 Dashes Angostura Bitters.
1 Dash Syrup. (1/3 tsp Mesquite Gum Syrup)
1/2 Brandy. (1 1/2 oz Cerbois VSOP Armangac)
1/2 Italian Vermouth. (1 1/2 oz Vya Sweet Vermouth)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. (Rose Geranium Flowers.)

Sorry to go all “Farmers’ Market” and flowery on you. I’ve been experimenting with taking pictures outside and this picture just wasn’t working without anything else for garnish. The clusters of Geranium flowers caught my eye. They look cool, but don’t really smell or taste like anything.

It seems to me that the Brandy Manhattan has been covered at least a few times before in the Savoy Cocktail Book. I guess they are fond of them at Harvard. For what it is worth, I found the Vya Sweet Vermouth, Bitters, and Brandy in the Harvard a much better combination than the Vya, Absinthe, Mint, and Gin in the Harry’s Cocktail. It is quite an enjoyable cocktail.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Great Secret Cocktail

Great Secret Cocktail

1 Dash Angostura Bitters.
1/3 Kina Lillet. (3/4 oz Cocchi Americano)
2/3 Dry Gin. (1 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze orange peel on top.

Very tasty!

Pretty close to a Vesper, eh?

I suppose if you were stuck with using Tanqueray or Gordon’s it might make sense to cut the gin with a bit of vodka.

But if you’re using Plymouth, I see no reason.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Flying Scotchman Cocktail

Flying Scotchman Cocktail
(6 People)

2 1/2 Glasses Italian Vermouth. (1 oz Martini & Rossi Rosso)
3 Glasses Scotch Whisky. (1 1/2 oz Compass Box Asyla Scotch)
1 Tablespoonful Bitters. (Generous couple dashes Angostura Bitters)
1 Tablespoonful Sugar Syrup. (1/2 teaspoon Depaz Cane Syrup)

Shake (stir, please) well and strain into cocktail glass.

A slightly sweetened and rather heavily bittered Rob Roy?

Perfectly enjoyable cocktail, as far as I am concerned.

“The Flying Scotchman” train running between Edinburgh and London, was, for a time in the 1800s, the fastest train in the world. It appears it was only bested in 1888 by a train called the “West Coast Flyer”:


This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.