For many, asking for a cocktail that was “brown, bitter, and stirred” meant that you were ordering a Manhattan.
The brown referring to the rye in the drink, the bitter to the aromatic bitters added, and always stirred because a spirit-forward drink is stirred to maintain its clear placid surface.
These days, the well-travelled imbiber has many options when it comes to cocktails that are brown, bitter and stirred. “If you had asked [me] a year or two ago, it would most certainly mean a Manhattan,” notes Las Vegas bartender Bobby “G” Gleason.
Gleason concedes however that the category has grown in plenty of creative ways. “Today ‘brown’ means aged spirits, ‘bitter’ is the hot category of amaros and ‘stirred’ would mean that the cocktail is all spirit.” When it comes to amaros, craft cocktail back bars are stocked to the gills with a host of the bitter herbal liqueurs and bartenders are eager to use them.
While traditionally reserved as after-dinner digestifs, they sub beautifully for the standard aromatic bitters used in these cocktails. Likewise, vintage recipes that are brown, bitter, and stirred – like the Old Pal or the Boulevardier – continue to resurface on cocktail menus across the country, ensuring that this category continues to grow.
Toronto bartender Josh Lindley finds that fans of classic cocktails are often the first patrons ordering this style of drink. “This kind of drink is appealing because there is austerity to ordering something made with spirits you see people drinking in old movies or read about drinking in old books,” he observes.
“The kind of people that order this drink know what they want. They are usually seasoned drinkers, which sometimes means the stronger in flavor, the better.”
Gleason agrees that ordering this style of drink indicates that you’re looking for “bigger, bolder flavors” but he also recognizes that this style is not all bombast and bluster. “It is more of a conversational type cocktail,” he explains.
“This style of drink is meant to be sipped, and when you are sipping something you tend to take more time, contemplate the flavors and you naturally want to talk to someone about all that.”
So when is the best time for a brown, bitter, and stirred cocktail? “I enjoy this style of drink any time, especially in winter,” remarks Lindley, “on cold winter nights in Toronto. Something rich and spirit forward will warm you to your toes if it’s made well.”
San Diego bartender Jake Bliven of Ironside Fish & Oyster has a different take, “I don’t particularly buy into that mode of thought. Being back in my hometown of San Diego, our winters are still comprised of seventy degree weather which most of the country would argue is a far cry from actual ‘seasonal’ weather. I guess my opinion would be that it’s probably not best to be throwing these down during the brunch hour.” Another vote for sipping. Wise advice.
Perhaps the best time to enjoy this style of cocktail is not in fact a time of year, but rather a time of day. “While most people enjoy these types of cocktails before dinner, adding an amaro to a Manhattan-style cocktail makes for a great after dinner drink or a nightcap especially when paired with an assortment of chocolates,” advises Gleason. “While I may not want a Manhattan for lunch in the summer, I sure wouldn’t say no to one with dinner, any time of the year.“
When the time is right and the company is warm, something brown, bitter and stirred is sure to slake your thirst.
Courtesy of Jake Bliven of Ironside Fish & Oyster in San Diego
According to Bliven:
“The recipe I chose to feature utilizes little aging with the base spirit and light bitter notes coming from the style of vermouth and a Southern California bitter company. Winter is hard to come by in San Diego and sometimes lighter expressions of this style resonate more in our geographical region.”
- 1 1/2 oz. Toasted Pepitas-Infused Reposado Tequila* (Such as Pura Vida)
- 1/2 oz. Verdelho Madeira, such as Blandy’s 5 year
- 1/2 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
- 1/4 oz. Giffard Banane du Bresil
- 2 dashes Miracle Mile Chocolate Chili Bitters
- Canela-Dusted Dehydrated Banana Chip
Preparation: Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a canela-dusted dehydrated banana chip.
*Pepitas Infused Tequila
- 1 cup Pepitas Seeds
- (1) 750 ml Bottle of Reposado Tequila
Preparation: Toast 1 cup of pepita seeds in a skillet for five minutes and add to a jar filled with 750 ml bottle of reposado tequila. Let sit at room temp over night or until desired and strain into clean bottle for permanent storage.
Courtesy of Evelyn Chick from The Harbord Room, Toronto
According to Josh Lindley:
“Bars in Toronto excel at making fantastic drinks in this style. Evelyn Chick from The Harbord Room has a spin on an Old Pal that is out of this world, called an Old Boy.”
- 1 1/2 oz. Pike Creek Canadian Whisky
- 3/4 oz. Martini Bianco
- 1/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
- 1 barspoon House Picon
- (See Link for Jamie Boudreau’s Amer Picon Recipe)
- 4 dashes Celery Bitters
Preparation: Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe with an orange twist.
Tongue-Tied & Cautious
Courtesy of Gioconda St. George, Beverage Director at Estrella in Los Angeles
According to St. George:
“I love this cocktail. It’s herbaceous, the citrus aroma gives a nice lift, it’s soft, with a kiss of smoke from the mezcal. Not too heavy of a cocktail, so it’s perfect anytime of the year.”
- 1 1/2 oz. Mezcal (Such as Scorpion)
- 1 oz. Thai Basil Infused Dolin Blanc*
- 1 oz. Cynar
- Grapefruit Peel
Preparation: Stir with ice. Strain into a coupe. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
*Thai Basil infused Dolin Blanc
- 20 Thai Basil Leaves
- (1) 750 ml bottle of Dolin Blanc
Preparation: Combine 20 Thai basil leaves per 750 ml bottle of Dolin Blanc. Place in a container and allow to infuse over night or up to 24 hours. Strain and put back into a clean bottle. Keep refrigerated for longer use.