Bitters are to craft cocktails, what salt is to baked goods.
An important elevation.
I’m always surprised when I don’t see salt in the recipe for any baked good.
It’s the secret of great bakers – that seemingly small addition – that draws out more fully the other flavors.
I feel similarly about bitters in cocktails, and baked goods too, actually.
While they may not draw out the other flavors like salt does, they enhance the overall flavor, making it exponentially more than it would otherwise be.
Until recently, it’s been a secret of great bartenders, used rarely at home by the resident cocktail maker.
The origin of bitters: a tincture of any number of esoteric roots and herbs, with an alcohol base, first came to our shores as cure-all tonics in the 18th century.*
We, in Colorado, have an incredible local resource for them – DRAM** Apothecary – in Silver Plume.
This town, long-known as one of ghosts, seems like the most appropriate place for this kind of craft.
Both the town and the craft, are steeped in mystery and legend and magic.
If you have a quick look at their web address, the word that stands out is drama, which makes perfect sense to me.
Shae Whitney, Owner, Herbal Alchemist and Colorado native, collects herbs and barks from the mountainside surrounding her space.
This is as local as it gets.
Alchemizing her experience as a bartender, with her love of the plant world, DRAM was conceived.
Having studied food science, herbalism and botany in college, her apothecary is a rare example of putting such specialized knowledge as this, to practical use in the real world.
And what’s more practical than a cocktail?
She offers 5 flavors of bitters: Hair of the Dog, Wild Mountain Sage, Honey Chamomile, Citrus Medica and Black.
She also makes two loose teas: Cascara Coffee Cherry Chai and Cascara Coffee Cherry Tea.
All are available for order through the website.
When I was there recently, she also had a Pine Syrup available to purchase, though it’s not yet available for sale on the website.
Keeping limited weekend hours, to leave as much time as possible to work her craft, when open to the public, you can have a specialty cocktail and small bites, making the 50 miles between Denver and Silver Plume feel like nothing to get this kind of experience directly.
Worth the drive as a destination visit, or also as a stop to/from the mountains.
To make bitters, it’s a process much like making extracts, where the bitter element[s], along with the flavor element[s], infuse in liquor.
Vodka, gin, white rum, whiskey and brandy are all great liquor options.
But, unlike the ease with which the home cook can get their hands on vanilla beans, or citrus, to make homemade extracts, getting hands on bitter herbs and barks takes more ingenuity.
This is why I like to leave it up to the professionals.
And if that sourcing comes from my beloved Colorado mountains, all the better to leave it in her hands, literally.
On the website, Shae generously shares a number of recipes for cocktails and food.
A recent cornbread recipe she posted using her Wild Mountain Sage Bitters will be cooking up in my kitchen this Fall, for sure.
A feature I wrote for Boulder Weekly on bitters, including the work of DRAM, and also, Cocktailpunk from Boulder: http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-12033-that-local-spirit.html
**DRAM, as explained on the apothecary’s website, is the term for a unit of mass or volume in the ancient Apothecaries system.