Coffee bitters and the Antigua Old-Fashioned


With my dual interests in cocktails and coffee it was only a matter of time before the two collided in the same glass. Most recently I’ve been experimenting with coffee bitters. Many roots and barks can be used as bittering agents, so why not the pleasant bitterness of coffee beans? My friend Lance Mayhew and I have tried out several recipes for coffee bitters and with batch #5 we’ve hit on a combination that I find very satisfying. We use Lemonhart 151-proof rum as a base and add in a few complementary flavors like orange peel and star anise. The final product has a distinct coffee aroma and taste without overpowering the other ingredients; it might be more accurate to call these coffee-orange bitters given the strong orange note they produce. (Coffee geeks will be interested to know that the beans are Stumptown’s Costa Rica Herbazu; how much of a difference origin makes in these bitters is yet to be determined.)

My favorite use for the bitters so far is in a rum Old-Fashioned. I’ve tried this with a number of rums, searching for a spirit to give the drink the right amount sweetness without tipping too far in the direction of strong caramel flavor. My favorite so far is English Harbour, an Antiguan rum with just enough time in barrel to give it depth. It’s well-suited for a classic Old-Fashioned preparation:

2 oz English Harbour rum
.5 tsp superfine sugar
2 dashes coffee bitters

Stir all ingredients to dissolve the sugar, add ice, and stir again. Finish with a strip of orange peel.

The rum Old-Fashioned with coffee bitters has been a popular off the menu item at Carlyle for a couple months now and will be making the jump to prime time later this week.

Update 4/12/10: The recipe for our coffee bitters has been posted here.


7 thoughts on “Coffee bitters and the Antigua Old-Fashioned”

  1. Can you explain the bitters-making process in more depth? What spirits can you use, what’s the right proportion of spirits to various types of ingredients, how long do you let them steep, and is there any cooking or other preparation involved? Thanks!

  2. I’ll second jbr – I’d love to see y’all’s recipe for the coffee bitters. As luck would have it, I have LH 151, star anise, orange peel…:-)

  3. Wow…
    i just found this because my buddy Jared fwded this to me. He and i were at Modern Spirit making bitters last Mon (July 12th) and i handed him some coffee bitters that i had made. He asked “what would these be good in?” i said “a rum old fashioned”.
    My bitters have so many ingredients i couldn’t even recount them all.. they took six or seven months and included multiple infusions of coffee and aging with oak spirals..
    i think i am going to look at you recipe because i LOVE these bitters but there is no way i can repeat it.
    By the way they are great in a Manhattan also… jes saying.

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