Bitters are the secret ingredient that make any cocktail better. These potent tinctures serve the same purpose in drinks that spices do in cuisine. Likewise, any bar worth its salt (pun intended) will have at least Angostura aromatic bitters on hand, if not a few selections from bitters makers like Fee Brothers, The Bitter Truth and Buffalo Trace Distillery, which produces the essential Sazerac ingredient Peychaud’s bitters and mixologist Gary Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6.
Amor y Amargo in the East Village is dedicated to the stuff. With a name that means “love and bitterness” in Spanish, the venue is owned by Bittermens—which produces small-batch bitters in Red Hook, Brooklyn—in partnership with the folks behind Death + Co., Mayahuel , Cienfuegos, et al. Naturally, Amor y Amargo serves cocktails (mostly $12) that feature an array of the Bittermens products, including Hellfire Shrub, Boston Bittahs and Spiced Cranberry Citrate, in addition to classic and signature drinks like the Negroni and The Redemption, the latter of which the menu declares “could be the drink that redeems Jägermeister in the eyes of the cocktail world.” The bar also offers amaro flights, such as the $16 Francofile that comprises tastes of Yellow, Green and V.E.P. Chartreuses, and two libations on tap: house-made, Spanish-style sweet vermouth and the Americano cocktail—which was popular with American tourists visiting Italy in the early 1900s—made with Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda.
Last week, I met my friend Carly, a food photographer and blogger who can be found at Eye for Style, at Amor y Amargo for a couple cocktails. We decided to try two selections from the “Fizzy Drinks” category. Carly chose the Bittermens House Gin and Tonic, comprising gin, tonic water, maraschino liqueur and Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters. I took a sip, and it was one of the tastiest G&Ts I’ve ever had—light and refreshing, with a good balance of citrus and sweetness.
I went for the Orchard Street Cel’ry Soda, despite the bartender’s warning that it’s on the dry side. The drink mixes applejack, genever, club soda and two types of cocktail extracts: Bittermens Orchard Street Celery Shrub—named for the Lower East Side street and featuring the tastes of apple, celery and vinegar—and Bittermens Peppercake Gingerbread Bitters, which evokes the flavors of the Norwegian Christmas cookie. While it was indeed dry, the blend of spices and vegetal notes combined with the subtle fruit of the applejack and the earthy genever for a refreshing beverage.
Since I’m a gin lover, the bartender recommended that I try a classic Martinez as well. The deliciously boozy concoction of gin, maraschino liqueur, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters went down nice and easy.
The intimate atmosphere, vintage décor and friendly staff at Amor y Amargo definitely won me over. The tasting room also serves Spanish tapas that pair well with the bitter drinks. And while you’re there, you can pick up a few tools from the general store for your home bar.
© Amber Drea and New York Drinkie, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of images and text without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be used, provided that clear credit is given to Amber Drea and New York Drinkie with links directing to the original content.