Bitters are essential for many cocktails. They are the seasoning. A Manhattan without bitters is like soup without salt: bland, insipid and lacking.
An anecdotal history: In the pre-Prohibition era there were many varieties. Then darkness. For years afterward, all one could find was Angostura. In recent years leading up to the current cocktail renaissance Peychaud’s and Regan’s Orange No. 6 (both distributed by Sazerac) became more widely available. Today there are hundreds of bitters on the market.
Dashfire Bitters Co. is masterminded by Lee Egbert in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Currently, Dashfire makes 3 kinds of bitters: Brandy Old Fashioned bitters, Dashfire Vintage Orange No. 1, and Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Secret. The Brandy Old Fashioned bitters have an aromatic style (like Angostura) with a brandy base inspired by the brandy old-fashioned cocktail popular in Wisconsin. The Dashfire Vintage Orange No. 1 is a bourbon based, barrel-aged orange bitters. These add an unusual, though pleasing finish to cocktails. Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Secret contain neutral spirits for a base and is flavored with mandarin rind, tamarind juice and has an aroma of Chinese five spice powder.
Though they are rather different, Brandy Old Fashioned bitters and Dashfire Vintage Orange No. 1 find easy analogs with other aromatic and orange bitters respectively. I recommend 2 dashes of each in an old-fashioned or Manhattan. A couple of dashes of the Brandy Old Fashioned bitters are also quite nice in a Black Manhattan (2 oz bourbon, 1 oz Averna, bitters, stirred and garnished with cherry.)
Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Secret is an entirely different animal. The Dashfire website suggests they are “ideal in cocktails like the Martinez.” That sounds like a challenge.
Because the aroma is reminiscent of Chinese five spice powder, which often contains star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds and Szechuan pepper, I decided to play that up with a Szechuan peppercorn infused honey syrup. Since the bitters are not a loud flavor that would easily stand up to bourbon, I’m using a larger quantity than “a dash or two.”
- 2 oz bourbon (Elijah Craig 12)
- 1/2 oz lemon juice
- 1/2 oz Szechuan honey syrup
- 1/2 tsp Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Secret bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a double old fashioned glass filled with large ice cubes, garnish with flamed orange peel.
Szechuan Honey Syrup
With a mortar and pestle (or muddler and shaker) gently crack 1 tsp of Szechuan peppercorns. Mix 1 tbsp honey with 1 tbsp very hot water. Add the cracked peppercorns and store covered for 24 hours or desired spice level. This makes about an ounce of syrup. Scale as necessary.
Dashfire bitters are a great addition to a bitters collection, though at $17-$20 for a 1.7oz/50mL bottle, a bit pricey. That said, Dashfire Vintage Orange No. 1 and Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Secret have unique flavors that I haven’t found in other bitters.
Disclaimer: A sample of the Dashfire’s Bitters were provided to us by the company for this review. We appreciate their willingness to allow Bourbon & Banter to review their products with no strings attached. Thank you.