Saturday, March 12, 2011

smoking ban bitters

A little over two years ago, I received a cigar as a gift from a friend who was clearing out his humidor as he improved his stock. Since it was winter and I was not going to smoke it indoors or out, I stashed it away. A few months later, I was in the midst of oak aging my Abbott's Bitters, and I decided that cigar bitters sounded rather alluring especially after reading about a recipe Tiare had done on her A Mountain of Crushed Ice blog.My goal was to make an aromatic bitters that would work great in anything Abbott's or even Angostura does but particularly dark spirits drinks like rye, Cognac, and aged rum. Since I had a lot of new botanicals from the Abbott's Bitters recipe and it would be months before that batch was ready, I took influence from it, Boker's Bitters, and a few thoughts in my head of what would pair well. Like most of my bitters recipes, I started with 6-8 tester infusions containing the base flavor (cigar tobacco) and 3-5 other ingredients in one ounce of spirit to see how they paired up. By combining the best of the taster infusion recipes and scaling up in weight (and sometimes modifying a tester's ingredients), I made my first pass. The tobacco flavors were so powerful in a beautiful murky and earthy way that I had to keep upping certain flavors so they did not get drowned out. Last summer, I repeated the recipe using all the initial and additional weights this time from the start, and the recipe worked as wonderfully as it had a year and a half before.

When I mentioned online that I had been developing these bitters, I received a stern warning about the toxicity of tobacco infusions. Therefore, I did the math (* see below) and the bitters appear to be safe as nonpotable bitters used dash-wise -- just not for use in large quantities like Angostura and Peychaud's have. If you have any concerns over the use of tobacco or nicotine, please do not make these bitters, use them, or serve them to others. In fact, do not make them at all -- I am just providing the recipe for historical record like others provide Jerry Thomas' Decanter Bitters recipe (has snakeroot which is not too good for you either). Remember: nicotine is bad, bad stuff.

For a name, I thought about how bars around here used to be smoke filled dens of iniquity. After the smoking ban went into effect, it almost felt like something was missing. The bitters were named in tribute to the olden days.
Smoking Ban Bitters
• 12.0 gram Cigar Tobacco
• 5.6 gram Wild Cherry Bark
• 1.2 gram Catechu (Betel Nut, found at Indian groceries or online)
• 1.2 gram Calamus Root
• 1.2 gram Quassia Bark
• 2.0 gram Allspice (~11 berries)
• 2.4 gram Spearmint, dry
• 6 Tahitian Vanilla Bean
• 0.9 gram Clove (10 cloves)
• 4 tsp Vanilla Extract (Bourbon)
• 1 tsp Bay Essential Oil (Pimenta Racemosa)
• 24 oz Whiskey, 100 Proof
Break up larger botanicals into small bits (crack allspice berries, chop up vanilla beans and catechu, etc.). Infuse for 7-10 days. Strain through a coarse strainer, and filter through coffee filters or similar. Bottle. Flavor seems shelf stable for well over a year.

(*) Nicotine Content of Bitters
• Infusion: 12 grams of cigar tobacco, 24 oz spirit (100 proof)
• Cigar Tobacco: <1.5% nicotine by dry weight, generally lower [1]
• <7.5 mg nicotine per oz bitters (assuming a theoretical 100% extraction, that the cigar was 100% dry, and highest nicotine content of the range in cigar tobacco)
• 0.5-1.0 mg nicotine/kg body weight can be a lethal dosage for non-smoking adult humans [2, 3]
• 150 lb (68.2 kg) adult = 34.1-68.2 mg nicotine
• At the highest theoretical amount of nicotine extraction using this recipe (7.5 mg nicotine/oz) and the lowest toxicity (34.1 mg), a person of 150 pounds or more would need to drink over 3 shots (4.55 oz).
• Therefore, this recipe should be used dash-wise only and kept away from any human that should not be drinking alcohol or ingesting nicotine in the first place (like children, elderly, pregnant). And no use of these nonpotable bitters as potable ones should ever be attempted regardless of what has been with Angostura or Peychaud's.
Repeat: Do not use tobacco infusions as you would normal potable spirits like whiskey, vodka, or gin.

Postnote 3/24/11: At the highest theoretical level, 1/8th oz of the bitters (several dashes) would still be less than the average amount of nicotine inhaled in a cigarette (around 1 mg).


Ryan said...

Tobacco and betel nut remind me a lot of Southeast Asia. Any concern with the synergistic effect?

Also, have you thought of tinkering with a bit of pipe tobacco too?

frederic said...

No concern with any synergistic effects. Even with several dashes of the stuff, I felt no nicotine high like I would with a cigarette (which is around 1 mg of nicotine). Betel nut is in Boker's Bitters at a similar concentration and does not have the same dosage by a long shot as the people who chew it for its energizing effect. It's akin to tea bitters not preventing you from falling asleep.

Tony Harion said...

Thanks for sharing this Frederic!
I’m going to try to make some, but I’ll have to substitute some of the bitter component for locally sourced.

Lots of vanilla into this. Sounds lovely!

Noah said...

A little bird just told me that No. 9 has a bottle of these same bitters, and that Ted is using them to fine effect. There is never a shortage of reasons to drink at No. 9, but I recommend stopping by while supplies last. (Thanks, Fred!)

frederic said...

Tony - it needed a lot of vanilla as the cigar leaf swamped out a lot of it. It doesn't seem overwhelming when used.

Noah - No. 9 has a bottle of these, Abbott's, and a few others. Other bars that have these are Rendezvous, Lineage, Drink, Ben Sandrof's Sunday Salon, and Clio.

jullian sauso-bawa said...

I am going to be giving making these bitters a try but unfortunately I can't get my hands on any 100 proof whiskey. I have access to to Booker's overproof cask bourbon, but at 130 proof is this going to alter the flavour/infusion time? It's either that or go with a lower 90 proof bourbon like Buffalo Trace. Thoughts Frederic?

H. said...


The only difference between high proof whiskey and low proof whiskey is water. If you really must use Booker's, you could water it down to ~100 proof. I think you could also just use it as-is. If you ask your liquor store to order you a bottle of Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond, you could save yourself about $50.