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A Little Overkill at my Tales of the Cocktail Seminar on Bitter Flavors

This year as usual I gave a seminar at Tales of the Cocktail (well this year I gave one myself and then was on a panel for another one; this post is about the one I gave solo). This one was called Bitter Flavors: Taste the Rainbow. 


bitter samples

The idea was to give everyone information and tasting on individual bitter flavors- particularly the major ones of quinine/cinchona, wormwood, gentian, and rhubarb- because so often they're mixed together in amari and bitters. I chose for my tasting spirits that I thought were most indicative of the bitter flavors:

  • Rhubarb: Zucca (they sponsored the seminar)
  • Wormwood: Amaro Alta Verde 
  • Gentian: Saler's Gentiane
  • Cinchona: Kina Aero d'Or

Plus Zucca wanted to feature a couple of cocktails, so at just 1 sample of each type of bitters I was worried that I wouldn't be able to ensure everyone could really isolate each type of bitter flavor. 

So, as is my way, I panicked and went way overboard on homemade samples. By the end, everyone at their seat had 2 cocktails, 4 bitter beverages, 10 microtubes of bitter tasting samples, and 5 bitter solids. 



The preparation took me (along with help from my pal Maria) dozens of hours. I made infusions of various bitter flavors in alcohol, then diluted those down with water so they were essentially non-alcoholic. Then we put them all in microtubes and the solids in little baggies (luckily I live near a bong store), labelled them all, and then made an index and assembled ziplocks of everything. 



Oh, and I also created a print-out of most popular vermouth and amaro brands, and what the known and suspected bittering agents are in each. That project took me another 20 hours or so. Sometimes I think I might go too far.

So during the seminar we now had plenty to taste and in the case of those big four bitter flavors, a finished product to confirm that taste in a product they could find on the shelf. The seminar seemed to go really well (we'll see when I get the reviews back) and I certainly felt everyone got their money's worth- a big fear of mine when I'm presenting. 

Camper English at Tales of the Cocktail
(photo stolen from Maggie Campbell)

Camper English at Tales of the Cocktail

I'm not sure that I'll ever do this seminar again in this format, but I may put together an ebook of some sort with the information from the seminar in it.