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Abbott's Bitters

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Oliver H. posted on 10 Sep 2015 4:33 PM

I've been curious about these for a while. They're being described as one of the most important aromatic bitters brands of the twentieth century, along with Peychaud's and Angostura, yet I can't recall ever seeing Abbott's bitters referenced in any of the old bartenders' guides.

I know about their history, and about all the work that went into the currently available recreations, but I can't seem to find a single reference to any actual recipe.

Apparently, they were cited in one of the first recipes for the Manhattan, but I've never been able to find a source for that. CocktailDB lists only one drink featuring Abbott's, the Swan Cocktail (also unsourced), but the earliest printed recipe for that – Drinks by Jacques Straub, as far as I'm aware – specifies Angostura.

So what's the story? Am I looking in the wrong places?

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Nope. Their importance has been greatly exaggerated. 

I can vouch for Darcy O’Neill’s recreation this far: it’s damn good cocktail bitters.

 

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Oliver... as to recipes... you can actually find "a" recipe here on our site:

http://chanticleersociety.org/media/p/8470.aspx

Back in the old "DrinkBoy Forum" days, I had picked up a case of Abbott's bitters, and found them pretty amazing. Made great Manhattans. A different character than Angostura for sure, and unique in their own right. I made an attempt at recreating these simply from taste, and some fragmentary information regarding some of the ingredients. This resulted in what has become known as "Hess House Bitters".

(recipe: http://chanticleersociety.org/wikis/homemade/hess-house-bitters.aspx)

A recipe which I posted on the DrinkBoy forums, and was also published in Imbibe, Playboy, and various other locations. This recipe, and the general discussion on the DrinkBoy forum helped to spark a number of folks to start playing around with making their own bitters. The folks at Bitter Truth riffed on this recipe for their Aromatic Bitters, making theirs the closest "commercially available" brand to my House Bitters.

I then worked with a friend who was also on the DrinkBoy forum to do a Gas Chromatograph of a fresh sample of Abbott's (the results of which are part of the post in the first link), in an attempt to reverse engineer the components, and thus the ingredients, and thus a recipe. A problem however with the GC was that due to the age of the sample, and how the chemical signatures of some samples can shift slightly, the GC ended up showing WAY too much of what was identified as Cloves (but was probably a reaction between some of the other ingredients). Most (but not all) of the modern Abbott's available started with my GC, which makes them all clove-heavy. The only one that I know of which wasn't influenced by the GC is Darcy's version, which in my mind is the closest to the real thing. He is pretty sure he uncovered the original recipe in his research process to make these.

As for the "importance" of Abbott's? I think it is a great bitters, and worth having some (of Darcy's) if you already have a good collection. With the plethora of great bitters out there it is easy to have a collection of 25 or more different bitters to choose from, I'd include an Abbott's once your collection gets to about 6 :->

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Thanks for the reply, Robert.

I'm certainly intrigued to try Darcy O'Neil's version one of these days, having heard consistently great things about them. (Unfortunately, as I'm from Europe, they're not that easy to get my hands on, as I'll have to import them from the US, which tends to get a bit pricey.)

Anyway, as for recipes, I was actually referring to recipes for drinks featuring Abbott's, not for the bitters itself (although that sounds like an interesting project in its own right). When looking through pre-prohibition bartenders' guides, you'll obviously find tons of recipes citing brands like Boker's or Angostura explicitly, but none citing Abbott's, which led me to question its alleged status as one of the most important bitters of its time.

As I like to follow recipes from those old books in order to make historically authentic drinks, I was hoping to find some that actually cited Abbott's bitters specifically, but I guess – as Mr. Doudoroff says – their importance might have been exaggerated, even though I'm sure they will make a delicious addition to my bitters lineup.

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Suggested by Fred Yarm

Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars: 1903-1933 has a bunch of Abbott's containing recipes.

Cocktail Virgin blog & author of Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book. Bartender at Loyal Nine, Cambridge, MA.

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Fred Yarm:

Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars: 1903-1933 has a bunch of Abbott's containing recipes.

 

<giggle> I didn’t know somebody had anthologized the Traveling Bartenders booklets. They’re a hoot. Tons of utterly undrinkable recipes, often with great names.

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Fred Yarm:

Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars: 1903-1933 has a bunch of Abbott's containing recipes.

First actual references I've seen. Very cool – thanks.

 

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Mixellany did it a few years ago; my blog indicates that I bought it back in 2009. I find them an exercise in adapting them to something drinkable with some real gems in there/

Cocktail Virgin blog & author of Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book. Bartender at Loyal Nine, Cambridge, MA.

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Most notable of course is because it includes the first known instance of the "Cosmopolitan" recipe... amazingly similar to the modern drink by the same name, and a total coincidence since it is inconceivable that Cheryl Cook (or whoever you think created the modern cosmo) had ever seen or heard of that recipe.

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The book has 7 drinks called Cosmopolitan (and all before a famous magazine was named that). However, that gin, Cointreau, lemon, raspberry syrup version is still the best!

Cocktail Virgin blog & author of Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book. Bartender at Loyal Nine, Cambridge, MA.

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