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Eat & Drink

New Toronto company wants to improve your cocktail

Posted by Jen Hunter / December 5, 2013

Bar40 BittersBrad Thomas Parsons, the author of essential bartender's manual Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classical Drink' writes "Gone are the days when a lonely bottle of Angostura bitters held court behind the bar." What was once an ingredient used only in a handful of classics is now an integral part of any good bartender's arsenal. They give a much needed punch of flavour without occupying much space, or diluting the cocktail. It also allows a bartender to have an array of tastes at his fingertips without having to stock a fridge full of expensive perishables. And now Toronto company Bar40 Bitters is looking to take the ingredient to the next level.

Bitters are an infusion of herbs, spices, roots, flowers and other flavourings steeped in high-proof alcohol, along with an added bittering agent such as wormwood, citrus peels or gentian. After about a month of steeping, the flavours start to shine through brilliantly. The sky's the limit on what flavours or flavour combinations can be achieved: Peppercorn bacon, smoke and coffee, curry, and Jamaican jerk are just the tip of the bitters iceberg. No flavour is too bold or too intricate to create.

There's been much attention paid to the emerging bitters scene here in Toronto, with every serious cocktail bar having at least one or two mysterious jars behind the bar including a house recipe or two, but for the home enthusiast, the prospect of tracking down all sorts of rare barks and spices, then sacrificing a whole bottle of booze, before waiting over a month, seems like a big undertaking. Thankfully, there's a huge range available at places throughout the city like BYOB where home bartenders can get their hands on materials with which to experiment. Until recently, most of these were imported (at a hefty cost) from the States and the UK, but it seems that a few locals are now trying to make their own versions available to us amateurs.

Bar40 Bitters advocates a more scientific approach in developing bitters for cocktail use. They've based a range of four varieties on the understanding that the tongue allows one to distinguish five specific flavour profiles: bitter, salt, sour, sweet and savoury (or umami). Ideally, any perfect taste experience should combine the five in some fashion. Owner Jamie Beurklian and business partner Robin have aimed to produce a set that complemented cocktails without dominating them.

By allowing a budding mixologist to augment a drink with a touch of saltiness or a gentle savoury note, the four bitters they've released, used either individually or in tandem, tweak the balance of a drink to bring it closer to that ideal taste experience. Should you be interested in finding ways to better balance your drinks, but don't want to shell out on obscure flavours that might only have one or two possible applications, then this might be the best starting point.

You can pick up Bar40 bitters at BYOB and The Crafty Bartender for $19 a bottle at their online store or in the next drink at your favourite bar. Plans are also afoot for an olfactory set (similar to those really expensive sommelier kits you see in wine stores). Jamie also has a mystery third set in the works as well as plans to bring his sensory approach to other bartending staples like vermouth and amaro.



cocktologist / December 5, 2013 at 02:32 pm
It's not advertised on their site, but if you put at least 4 bottles in the cart you get free shipping.
Peter / December 5, 2013 at 02:38 pm
I tried them at Montauk the other night, they are pretty good. Going to pick up a set.
Rob / December 5, 2013 at 02:46 pm
These are damn good, I ordered a set for myself and for my friend as a Christmas present.
Loper / December 5, 2013 at 02:49 pm
If these are high-proof alcohol bitter how does the LCBO allow these to be sold in stores? As far as I know most of the bitters sold in stores have no alcohol or are considered 'non-potable' (like Angostura)
slinky / December 5, 2013 at 02:52 pm
It's great to support local businesses like these when they do it as well as these guys do.
Hamid / December 5, 2013 at 03:02 pm
I need to try this with some of the drinks I make!
Mr. Cocktail / December 5, 2013 at 03:10 pm
The 4 bottles trick is true, got a set for the bar and got free shipping!
ManhattanTO / December 5, 2013 at 03:21 pm
I tried these bitters in a old fashioned at Archive Wine bar. The drink was fantastic and I enquired about the bitters. They lead me to bar40 online. I ordered a 4 pack and have been serving them at the holiday parties this year, huge hit. The savory is particularly delightful.
TG / December 5, 2013 at 04:06 pm
Website banner at the top of their doesn't look right in Firefox, makes it difficult to load the menus/sub-menus.
Zim / December 5, 2013 at 05:11 pm
Sarah's drink of choice in the parks and patios of T.O.
Nick / December 5, 2013 at 06:35 pm
Really cool idea. Can't wait to see what these can bring to my cocktails. And I agree, really cool gift idea.
Rick Brandsema / December 5, 2013 at 11:31 pm
Glad to see new local stuff! Dillon's Small Batch is my current local fav, but I'll have to try this!
Robin replying to a comment from Loper / December 6, 2013 at 09:29 am
Loper, Amari, Fernets and Campari would qualify as classic potable bitters. We are in the same category as Angostura and are considered a food additive. Actually I use a Sweet/Salt combo to tame down the bitterness and develop layers in the classic Campari based Negroni.
Mark / December 6, 2013 at 11:12 am
Wonderful to see local businesses supporting local businesses.

For all you drink connoisseurs out there, can you recommend when I would use the Sour bitter versus something like Umami?

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