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Excursion – Master of Malt Bitters And Beyond

by Oliver Klimek on April 19, 2012

Regular readers may know that I don’t mind the occasional mixed beverage, no matter if with or without whisky. Quite a few of the classic cocktails – like the Manhattan to name a famous example made with whisky – require the use of an ingredient that is called Bitters which is basically an alcohol based mixture of plant extracts with an overall bitter character derived from a main ingredient like wormwood or others.

The most famous traditional bitters certainly are Angostura and Peychaud’s. Bitters have led a pretty dusty life on bar shelves in the 20th century but recently there has been a kind of renaissance, and quite a few new brands of bitters have come to life like The Bitter Truth, Bittermens, Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Bitters and also online whisky retailer Master of Malt.

Having found a little spare money I did some shopping at MoM to stock up on ingredients for mixing experiments I have grown to enjoy every now and then. Don’t bother, whisky people, I will spare you detailled reports. This isn’t supposed to be a proper review anyway, just a random bunch of musings.

Master of Malt is a bit special in that the largest part of their bitters range consists of what they call ‘single variety bitters’, but they also have a few traditionally concocted bitters like the Cask-Aged Whisky Bitters shown in the title picture.

“The ingredients are individually macerated with 8 year old bourbon whiskey, overproof rum and vodka, before blending and cask ageing in a cask that previously held 38 year old Glen Grant!”

This is nice stuff indeed, but be carfeul using it as it is rather heavy on cloves and cardamom. These bitters are an obvious choice for the Manhattan, but using a naturally spicy whisky like rye I tend to prefer traditional Angostura because that is a bit fruitier. But with bourbon or as a Rob Roy with a nice fruity single malt, these bitters are doing a very good job.

I have read a few critical comments about the usage of a 38 year old cask and not stating the duration of that ageing, and I have to agree at least partly. If the cask was not re-toasted, then the wood influence should be minimal unless the maturation took several years which I doubt. If the process was all about the wood, it might have been better to use a younger cask, and if it was about the old Glen Grant still left in the cask, they could have just sacrificed a bottle of that and skipped the cask ageing.

The naming of the ‘Single Variety Bitters’ is another point of debate. There has been an argument on Twitter among some manufacturers about the validity or even legal necessity to call extracts from single plants ‘bitter’ even if the are not bitter at all. Apart from any legal discussion, I admit that I would prefer to restrict the use of the word ‘bitter’ to the traditional kind of mixed elixirs, simply to avoid confusion.

But that’s just semantics. I really like the idea to have a construction kit for flavours that allows you to bring specific aromas into a drink. And that’s not even restricted to mixed drinks, I can well imagine uses in cooking or baking too.

The range is rather extensive including traditional bitter aromas (wormwood, gentian, angelica, …), oriental spices (cloves, cumin, cardamom, …), fruit (sweet orange, curacao, cherry) but also oddities like coffee, cocoa, chipotle or the infernal Naga chili.

In my view, the decision to use traditional bitters or single flavours is not very different from cooking or barbeque. Should I use a prepared spice mix or should I use indiviual spices in my chili or to rub my baby back ribs? Single flavours give you the ultimate freedom but of course there is always the risk to mess it all up. It depends on personal preference, experience and taste.

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