Rhubarb cacao bitters with wattleseed brings together the piquant flavour of rhubarb with raw cacao and Australian indigenous spice wattle seed along with citrus notes from orange zest and lemon myrtle, fruit and spice from strawberry gum and cinnamon myrtle, star anise and ginger. Rhubarb pairs well with chocolate and with the nutty chocolate flavour of roasted wattleseed.
~Seasonal, local, sustainable~ My own recipe for rhubarb cacao bitters with wattleseed explores the pairing of rhubarb with chocolate adding raw cacao and wattleseed and other indigenous Australian ingredients including lemon myrtle, cinnamon myrtle and strawberry gum and local raw organic honey to give a unique local and more sustainable character to cocktails. The base spirit is a locally made Vodka crafted by Archie Rose in Sydney. Australian indigenous ingredients are available from Herbie’s Spices and The Australian Superfood Co.
When I made these bitters about a month back the rhubarb was at the height of its season coming in huge tall delicious bunches that were cheap at the market. It seemed fitting to preserve some of these tart pink beauties at their very best in these wonderful bitters. Wait until you find a beautiful bunch of rhubarb and then you can make your own bitters with this recipe.
Note though that the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous – do not add these to the infusion – give them to your worms or compost instead. I’ve included one in these photos as removing the leaves was part of the process of making the bitters and because the lovely green of the leaves offered a beautiful colour contrast to the pink and red of the stalks.
~History of the cocktail – bittered sling~ Bitters are a key ingredient in cocktails – one early definition of the cocktail appearing in The Balance, and Columbian Repository, May 13, 1806, recounted in Bitters: A spirited history of a classic cure-all with cocktails, recipes and formulas (Parsons 2011: 198) includes bitters as an essential ingredient and as part of the nick-name of the cocktail – the ‘bittered sling’:
“Cocktail is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters – it is vulgarly called bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head.”
~Medicinal essences, elixirs, cure all concoctions – precursors to the cocktail~ The history of bitters, involving seasonal ingredients and spices infused in alcohol to create what Wayne Curtis (2007: 2803-4) in And a bottle of rum calls an ‘essence’ or ‘elixir’, stretches back further than that of the cocktail, with early versions being medicinal in character (Curtis 2007: 2803-4; Budiaman 2015: 256-7; Parsons 2011: 206). Parsons (2011: 213) in his amazing book Bitters writes:
“Bitters are an aromatic flavoring agent made from infusing roots, barks, fruits, peels, seeds, spices, herbs, flowers, and botanicals in high-proof alcohol (or sometimes glycerin). Long reputed to possess medicinal properties, bitters were billed as the cure for whatever ailed you, whether it was a headache, indigestion, stomach cramps or constipation.”
Budiaman in his book Handcrafted bitters (2015: 256) explains that in Ancient Egypt for example, wine was infused with herbs to treat maladies. Budiaman (2015: 257, 260) further details that in the eighteenth Century bitters were used as a cure-all for various ailments of the stomach, digestion, kidney, liver and blood, as well as a hangover cure when mixed with brandy. These earlier medicinal concoctions of bitters and alcohol began to include sugar as a key ingredient to improve taste and are the precursors to the cocktail (Budiaman 2015: 267; Parsons 2011: 206-7).
~Flavour~ Another key property of bitters is their ability to create unique, deep and complex flavours that can help marry together other ingredients in cocktails, Parsons (2011: 232) in Bitters elaborates:
“Bitters are the ultimate matchmaker: just a dash or two can bring perfect balance to two seemingly incompatible spirits. Adding bitters can tamp down an overly sweet drink, help cut through richness, unite disparate ingredients, and add an aromatic spiciness.”
~History of use of Australian indigenous ingredients~ My rhubarb cacao bitters with wattleseed include a blend of Australian indigenous herbs and spices with their own rich history of use for food and for medicinal properties. Wattleseed was traditionally used as a food high in protein, cinnamon myrtle has been used as a remedy for indigestion, heart burn and colic, strawberry gum has antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial properties, lemon myrtle has anti-microbial properties.
~Rhubarb flavour pairings~ These rhubarb cacao bitters with wattleseed are amazing in pickled cocktails adding depth, complexity and warmth because of the piquant rhubarb paired with chocolate, toasted wattleseed, citrus and spices. They also offer a delicious tart twist to the quintessential Australian lemon, lime and bitters – add a few dashes to a tall glass filled with ice and a slice or lemon and lime and pour over some mineral or soda water.
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Rhubarb cacao bitters with wattleseedPrint Recipe
- 750 ml preserving jar
- 1 ½ cups Archie Rose vodka
- 1 cup rhubarb, washed and cut into 2cm lengths (Note: the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous do not include them in your infusion, add to your worm farm or compost instead)
- Zest of 1 orange
- Small knob of sliced ginger
- 2 teaspoons wattleseed
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon myrtle
- ¼ teaspoon strawberry gum
- 1 leaf lemon myrtle
- 1 star anise
- 2 tablespoons raw cacao nibs
- ¾ cup water
- 40 mls runny honey (2 parts raw organic honey to 1 part hot water – cooled)
Place all ingredients in a clean preserving jar, except the water and the runny honey
Allow the mixture to infuse for 2 weeks in a cool dark place, shake daily
Strain twice through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth
Decant into a clean preserving jar or other container and add the water and runny honey
Enjoy in cocktails and with lemon, lime, mineral or soda water and ice for a tart twist on lemon, lime and bitters.
~Inspiration~Inspired by New York bar tender Greg Seiders’ recipe for Rhubarb bitters in Imbibe: liquid culture May 24, 2012.
~History of bitters, recipes & cocktails~
Brad Thomas Parsons (2011). Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas Ten Speed Press: Berkeley.
Will Budiaman (2015). Handcrafted Bitters: Simple Recipes for Artisanal Bitters and the Cocktails that Love ThemRockridge Press: Berkeley, California.
Wayne Curtis (2007). And a Bottle of Rum, Revised and Updated: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails Broadway Books: New York.
~Bitters in cocktails~ For more fascinating facts about cocktails and bitters and how to use them in amazing cocktail recipes see the following cocktail manuals:
Sean Muldoon, Jack McGarry and Ben Schaffer (2015). The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual: Secret Recipes and Barroom Tales from Two Belfast Boys Who Conquered the Cocktail World Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, New York.
Harry Craddock (1930, 2018 reprint). The Savoy Cocktail Book Dover: New York.
Jerry Thomas (1887, reprinted 2015). The Classic Guide to Cocktails Amberley: Great Britain.
~More rhubarb bitters recipes online~ For more rhubarb bitters recipes online see:
Marcia Simmons DIY rhubarb bitters. In Serious Eats
Catherine M. Allchin (2016). It’s rhubarb season: Time to make cocktail bitters. In The Seattle Times