When it comes to old classics or modern twists, cocktail aficionados have raised the bar. Long gone are the days of rum and Coke (unless it’s homemade cola and small-batch rum made in Brooklyn, of course), and the difference these days is almost always about bitters. They’re the ballast behind an interesting cocktail, adding a je-ne-sais-quoi to balance sweet, sour or flat-out boozy. Top restaurants create their own: it’s not out of the ordinary to see esoteric roots, herbs and spices soaked in jars of high-proof alcohol in restaurant bars, ready for a bartender’s experimentation. The more elusive the ingredients the better, and some recipes can take a month to complete (which is their cachet, naturally). What follows is a cheater’s bitters that can be quaffed within the hour and will keep for weeks... if it lasts that long.
Grapefruit Saffron Campari Bitters
1 grapefruit zest (no white pith) and juice
1 pinch saffron
2 cardamom pods (smashed)
6 whole pink peppercorns
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
1 cup vodka
1 cup Campari
Place grapefruit zest, juice, saffron, cardamom, peppercorns, water and sugar in a saucepan and simmer 5–6 minutes to make a syrup. Let cool, add vodka and Campari, and store in a clean jar. Refrigerate for a minimum of one hour and use within 4 weeks. Try it mixed with ice, vodka and soda, or add a dash to a flute of Champagne or prosecco.
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