Sugar, spice and everything nice

02 October, 2018 by tallenby

In our Winter issue, Sacha Delfosse explored how some of the country’s best bars and bartenders are getting creative with bitters and syrups. The following is an extract from that feature.

Any bartender worth their weight in shots knows that bitters and syrups are the sugar and spice of cocktails. Not only are there an array of excellent bitter and syrup brands on the market, but with all the tools and techniques now available, more and more venues are also making their own.

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Over at Sydney’s Bar Tapa, they make a handful of house bitters including a Habanero Bitters, as well as a Rosemary, Cumin, and Rhubarb Bitters, with a Jamon Bitters currently being workshopped.

“Basically, I do an infusion and compounding process to make our bitters. [We] use a wormwood tincture to compound the bitter element into our bitters,” explains owner-operator Manuel Terron. “With homemade bitters you can tailor make them to specific needs that reflect the style of drinks that are made, which in our case is a Spanish influence.”

House made bitters tend to be less common than house made syrups, mainly due to abundance of quality commercial bitters flavours on the market, and the difficulty on making your own bitters. However, some venues choose to make their own blends of commercially available products.

“We sometimes blend bitters together; our ‘Banana Rum Old Fashioned’ uses Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters and Aztec Chocolate but call it a Chocolate Walnut Bitters,” says Jared Thibault, QT Gold Coast’s Director of F&B. “We also use a Spicy Mango Agave in our ‘Day of the Dead’ Cocktail, which is a blend of Crawley’s Agave and Monin Spicy Mango syrups.”

Similarly, at Sydney’s Lobo Plantation, the bar makes its own Falernum blend using both Crawley’s and Fee Brothers Falernum. “It’s quick, easy and delicious and suits our needs behind the bar,” bartender Daniel Hilton says.

In addition, Lobo Plantation uses up to 10 different house made syrups and tinctures for its cocktails, experimenting with a variety of techniques with each different menu. The venue has also started making acid solutions.

“We’ve currently got a solution that replicates lemon juice without any of the flavour or sweetness. It’s 100 per cent about the mouthfeel and adding length to the flavours in the drink rather than introducing one, it also offers up another dimension for drinks visually.”

At Clarence’s in Perth, aside from Crawley’s Grenadine, Agave and Orgeat, all other syrups are made in house, and while they rarely make their own bitters, they do use a house blend of Angostura Orange (20%) and Angostura Aromatic (80%) in their Trinidad Sours.

“I find that the quality versus the ease of buying bitters and making them far outweigh each other. If the product is good and consistent then K.I.S.S – keep it simple stupid,” explains bar manager Bruno Serra-King. “Syrups on the other hand I find that –apart from Crawley’s Orgeat, Agave and Grenadine – are better when made in house, compared to bought in. I find the flavours fake and super sweet.”

Sydney’s Restaurant Hubert also make a small selection of their own syrups, including Ginger syrup, a Raspberry syrup, an Orgeat, a Macadamia Orgeat (see recipe) and a Watermelon oleo-saccharum.

“We tend only to buy commercially made products if there’s no possibility that we can make our own to a higher standard,” says senior bartender Jenna Hemsworth. “We don’t use a high volume of the syrups we make so it’s quite easy to keep on top of our batching and making sure everything’s fresh and being used best in our drinks.

“We have very regimented recipes that we follow to make sure we are getting a consistent product each time, which could definitely be a challenge when making your own syrups. We don’t make or blend our own bitters as we’d be kidding ourselves if we could come up with a better product in-house than Peychaud’s or Angostura.”

For the rest of the feature, subscribe to BARS&clubs here.