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Great Bitter Cocktails in New York City & Chicago

Discovering Great Bitter Cocktails in New York City & Chicago

Discovering Great Bitter Cocktails in New York City & Chicago

From malort to fernet, bitter just got better.

Pictured: Trencherman in Chicago

There’s a lot to love about easy-drinking cocktails. Yet it turns out that even the most savage, biting liquors can be quelled by the right bartender. 

Mathew Resler, ofNew York’s Bar Sardine, is one of them. An expert in agave, which produces tequila and mezcal, Resler’s on a mission to spread the a-spirit gospel with drinks like his Devil Inside, which combines four types of mezcal in one astonishingly smooth elixir. For further proof of how good agave’s fire and brimstone can be, he suggests swapping out the Cuervo in your Day of the Dead margaritas with a smoky mezcal like Fidencio Clásico.

Tequila’s nasty northern counterpart is malort, a Chicago-bred liquor initially sold as a medicinal spirit. But at Chicago’s Trenchermen, beverage director Jonah Frank is pouring the tasty Picket Fence, a bracing one-two punch of malort, tequila, and lemon. 

Then there’s the the granddaddy of the bitter amaro family, fernet, a mentholated brew that originated as a digestive aid in Italy but has now been tempered by Sother Teague, head bartender at New York’s bitters-focused Amor y Amargo.“I think about its addition as a minty top note and its lip-smacking herbs and viscosity,” explains Teague, who uses fernet in his Black Rock Chiller and Bitter Spring.

Of course, as with most things in life, getting used to bitters is all about practice. But as Harlan Ellison said, “Without pain, there can be no pleasure.” Luckily, now there’s a drink for that.

Hostile Makeover
Two great bitter drinks for home

The Devil Inside
1 ½ oz. Pierde Almas Tequilana Weber
¾ oz. Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal
¾ oz. Pierde Almas Do-ba-daán
¾ oz. Pierde Almas Tobaziche
3 drops grapefruit bitters
Lime peel
 - From Mathew Resler, Bar Sardine, New York

In a glass, combine Tequilana Weber, Crema de Mezcal, and Do-ba-daán. Stir for 50 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe. Float Tobaziche on top. Squeeze the peel over the top of the cocktail.
Bitter Spring
1 oz. Fernet-Branca
1 oz. Flor de Caña Gold 4
¾ oz. ginger syrup*
¾ oz. orgeat
¾ oz. lemon juice
Peychaud’s bitters
 - From Sother Teague, Amor y Amargo, New York

Shake the first five ingredients with ice. Strain into a Collins glass full of crushed ice, then pile additional crushed ice on top to form a “snow cone” shape. Shake several heavy dashes of Peychaud’s bitters onto the exposed ice to make the top red and aromatic. Serve with a long straw.

*To make ginger syrup, combine two parts sugar with one part ginger juice, heat to dissolve the sugar, and let cool.

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