In terms of building your home bar, there are 3 different bitters that are definitely must-haves. Yesterday we talked about orange bitters, which fall into both the lifting and the binding categories (as defined by Death & Co in NYC). This means that they can elevate and brighten the flavors in a cocktail, as well as bring together disparate ingredients into a more harmonious whole. The second of the 3 essentials is Peychaud’s, which were binding bitters created in the early 19th century by Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a New Orleans Apothecary owner who claimed that his bitters could cure any digestive ailment. Eventually he began mixing them into drinks that he made for his friends containing brandy, bitters, sugar, and water. This is a guy after my own heart! His drink became the basis for the Sazerac which is one of the most famous classic cocktails of all time, and the one which is most often associated with Peychaud’s bitters. Like many other aspects of the craft cocktail world, Peychaud’s is gaining popularity once again as modern bartenders discover innovative ways to use its complex and aromatic flavor in their drinks.
The taste profile of Peychaud’s is described as containing elements of licorice, saffron, citrus peel, vanilla, nuts, anise, cherry, nutmeg, clove, and caramel, among others. Does that seem like a lot going on to you? It does to me too. My personal impression is that the anise/licorice flavor is definitely front and center, followed by a bit of fruit and finishing up with some cloves and nutmeg. The drink that I chose to make to help us gain an understanding of Peychaud’s was not the Sazerac, but a modern cocktail from Death & Co. called Light and Day. When I looked at the recipe for this drink I found the combination of ingredients to be a bit unusual. Gin and maraschino liqueur work well together in many cocktails, but Yellow Chartreuse is more typically paired with darker spirits, and lemon and lime are normally gin’s go-to dance partners, not orange. I was very intrigued and I assumed that the Peychaud’s was going to play a major role in bringing these different elements together. I made the drink without the bitters first, just as I did yesterday. When I tasted it I was hit by the Chartreuse first, and then the gin. There was a bit of harshness and I felt like the Maraschino liqueur and the orange juice were almost completely lost. All of the elements were there but they tasted broken apart and out of proportion to one another. I added the 4 dashes of Peychaud’s (which is a decent amount) and the same miracle that happened with yesterday’s Elder Fashion occurred again today. Suddenly I had a cocktail in front of me. Chartreuse is not a shy spirit, but it was now reined in so that it could play nicely with the gin. The Maraschino liqueur came through with a subtle sweetness and the orange juice suddenly made perfect sense. In addition to binding the ingredients together in this drink, and smoothing it out, the Peychaud’s also contributed its own spicy anise and citrus flavor, which elevated the drink even further.
Once again, I can’t stress enough that the best way to begin to understand what a particular ingredient brings to the table is to taste the drink without it first. This seems to work exceptionally well with bitters because they play such a specific role in bringing cocktails into balance. When a recipe calls for them and they are absent, it becomes very clear that the drink is missing something. You can certainly take my word for it but if you can experience it firsthand it’s even better!
Light and Day from Alex Day, Death & Co. New York
Place all the ingredients into a mixing glass and fill ⅔ full with ice. Stir using a long-handled bar spoon for 30-45 seconds or until vey cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish. Enjoy!
*Death & Co. makes their house Peychaud’s bitters from 2 parts Peychaud’s and 1 part Bitter Truth Creole bitters. Again, another intriguing combination to try.