1 1/2 oz Averna
1 1/4 oz Pineapple Purée
1/3 oz Simple Syrup
1/4 oz White Vinegar
1 dash Bitter Truth's Aromatic Bitters
Shake with ice and double strain into a cocktail glass.
For our third session on Thursday at Tales of the Cocktail, Andrea and I barely made it into the "A Shot of Black Stuff: Amazing Amaros and Brilliant Bitters" with our media credentials. While many sessions had sold out, this was the first one where everyone with a ticket showed up. Well, not everyone since three or four seats in the back were empty, and two of these luckily had our names on it (albeit, we were not sitting together). The session covered two thousand years of herbal liqueur history. Jacob Briars and Sebastian Reaburn presented the history as partly a shady past of quackery, lies, fraud, marketing, spin, and advertising, and partly as a glorious history of small villages producing successful medicinal beverages for their own uses. While the former situation was often sold by transitory salesmen, the latter was produced and consumed by tight-knit populations.
Medical purposes aside, herbs were added to improve the quality of poor wine and to fortify and protect it during shipping. Over time, the successful recipes were the ones that tasted well and/or had solid health claims. Bitters eventually made their way into cocktails as the spirits made the medicine more potable especially since they did not have access to purified extracts (only the infusions which were often bitter). Intriguingly, the cocktail was to make the bitters taste better not the bitters to make the cocktail taste better. One salient point about recreating historical bitters was that in a flavor and medical sense, they could have been utter failures. Stoughton Bitters was an example they gave; the term "Stoughton Bottle" became a slang term for someone or something that was ineffectual but always around. And after having made batches of historical ones, like Farmer's and German Bitters, I would tack those on the list as well. Worse yet were the medicines that did more harm than good.
At the session, beside tasting a half dozen amaros and a few bitter extracts, there were a pair of cocktails that were served. The Averna Pineapple Shrub was definitely my favorite. Unlike other shrubs which are pickled fruit purées or juices prepared in advance for storage purposes, this one used vinegar as a way to generate a sweet-sour balance only (as the preservative qualities were unnecessary since the drink was quaffed shortly after mixing). A similar effect could have been derived with lemon juice, although acetic and citric acids do have different flavor contributions as Darcy O'Neil can describe better than I can.