How Much is a Dash?
This week we turn our attention to the shelf on the bar where we keep the weird and wonderful collection of small bottles that occupy what we think of as the spice rack of our bar. The big bottles almost always get the spotlight. Not this week. For the next few days, the bitters bottles take front and center. Our guide on this tour of the bitters shelf is Mark Bitterman’s (apparently that’s his given name) Field Guide to Bitters and Amari. As we always say when we do one of these book reviews, we hope that our little taste compels you to read the whole thing for yourself; it’s a particularly helpful guide if you want to make you own bitters, or have a bitters by bitters guide of what the difference is among all those little bottles you can buy. For a general introduction to bitters and this week focused on them, take a look at Monday’s post.
Today, we consider how to measure our bitters.
Directions for bitters usually come in the form of dashes. It’s hard to know what that means, though, practically speaking. Strictly speaking, a standard dash is 1/8 of a teaspoon. Measuring spoons at 1/8 size seem to be non-existent, though. Instead, bitters bottles either have dasher tops or dropper tops. These are effective at making sure we don’t end up dumping way too much bitters into a drink; but they don’t really help us get the exact right amount. In a measuring test, Bitterman discovered that dasher tops–as you might find on a bottle of Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters–dispense anywhere from a true dash to a quarter dash (1/32 of a teaspoon). Dropper tops–like those found on Dram bitters and Bittermen (unrelated)–are more reliable, at half a dash to drop, when full; but, guess what? Bitters bottles get less full over time. Given all of the variability, it’s hard to know what ‘a dash’ in a recipe even means.
Here’s our suggestion, though. With all of that unreliability, there’s a clear theme: add more bitters to your cocktails than you would think. You need at least two–maybe more–droppers and up to four shakes; so have at the bitters with gusto. The dasher top will keep you from going too far overboard. If you dfigure out it’s too much for you, you can always adjust. But otherwise you might not ever find out that you’ve been under-bittering your cocktails all along.
Fashionista Cocktail Recipe
As we’ve mentioned, Bitterman gives a fun and helpful array of variations on a bunch of classic cocktails. We’re not fans of the way that he adjusts the proportions of a Negroni to make room for the extra bitters, and we were skeptical of the way that he swapped a liqueur and a fortified wine for two fortified wines; but, what do you know, he did actually end up making a delicious cocktail. Enjoy, and decide for yourself whether it really qualifies as a Negroni while you do.
- 2 oz Bourbon whiskey
- 3/4 oz Punt e Mes–we guess this is in place of Campari, though it’s clearly a vermouth instead of a liqueur. We used Mancino’s bitter red vermouth, and we have to admit it tasted wonderful;
- 3/4 oz Carpano Antica–we happened to have it on hand, and so we used it. Cinzano is far cheaper and would work just as well, having the same sweet vanilla tones.
- 3/4 tsp (this time it’s easy to measure) citrus bitters–we used Dram’s citrus medica. We think Regan’s orange is a commonly available suitable alternative.
- lemon and orange twists, for garnish
- Combine all of the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass.
- Add ice to the level of the liquid.
- Stir until the ice is noticeably melted.
- Strain into a cocktail glass.