1.25 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon
1.25 oz Ruby Port
3 Dashes Dr. Heather Duncan’s Christmas Bitters
1 Whole egg
1 tsp Vanilla Syrup (see below)
Add all ingredients to mixing glass and dry shake (no ice) for five seconds
Fill with cubed ice and shake for a further 10 seconds
Strain into a goblet
Garnish with a grating of fresh nutmeg
Featured Glassware: Bernadotte Claret by Villeroy & Boch
* * *
“I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.
Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves.”
- Proverbs 7:17-18
Even the Bible knows that spices get our lustful juices flowing – the above quote is only just one such example from the good book. But what is it about roots, barks, pods, and seeds that produces aphrodisiac results? The effect is the result of an inseparable one-two punch of smell and taste. “Smell is the only sense that connects directly to [the] brain’s limbic system – the centre of taste, emotion, and memory,” write perfumer Mandy Aftel and chef Daniel Patterson in their book, Aroma. We associate cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and allspice with the holidays – of cookies and of hot cider – and then there’s the old trick of simmering mulling spices on the stove if you’re trying to sell a house – the aroma awakening primal responses in potential buyers and leaving indelible marks on their psyches.
War has been fought over spices. Nations have risen and fallen. The island of Manhattan was secured by the British from the Dutch in exchange for nutmeg-producing islands in the East Indies (nutmeg is high on the aphrodisiac list), but the belief in the evocative powers of spice extends much further back than the Age of Discovery. While ancient examples of spices being applied as aphrodisiacs certainly are not uncommon, one of the best examples comes from the relatively more recent The Perfumed Garden, Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi’s 15th century sex manual (we’re all adults here, right?):
If you wish the woman to be inspired with a great desire to cohabit with you, take a little of cubebs, pyrether, ginger and cinnamon, which you will have to masticate just before joining her; then moisten your member with your saliva and do her business for her. From that moment she will have such an affection for you that she can scarcely be a moment without you.
While I can’t say that I’ve tried that one myself (I’m not saying that I haven’t, either), the link between spices and the feelings associated with lust and love are undeniable. In a study published by Dr. Alan Hirsch of Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, penile blood flow of volunteers was monitored as they were exposed to various smells – from cinnamon buns to “oriental spice”. The smells of pumpkin pie and lavender produced a 40% increase in blood flow, closely followed by the smell of donuts (31.5%). The volunteers had been, apparently, recruited via ads running on a classic rock radio station, which some claimed had a demographic pre-disposed to donuts (I’m not making this up). Also, the true spices, such as “oriental spice” seemed to work the greatest magic on participants who were more sexually active.
A similar study was conducted with mice, which were separated into three groups — with one group being fed cinnamon. The research covered many areas, but for the purpose of our story, we’ll note that the (male) mice that ate the cinnamon showed increased genital size as well as an increase in sperm production. Of course, it is exactly this kind of research which fuels the claims behind male enhancement products like ExtenZe, which is chiefly composed of something called the “ExtenZe Sexual Response Enhancement Blend”. What’s in the blend? Herbs and spices like ginseng, stinging nettle, licorice, hops, as well as (!) deer antler.
Health and sexual supplements are nothing new. Consider the snake oil salesman of the Old West who would ride into town and peddle a magical elixir which cured everything under the sun. One such elixir boasted to be “A useful remedy in all complaints arising from Weakness and Slugishness of the Digestive Organs, Malaria, Colic, Diarrhoea and Colds” – it claimed to have received “23 Awards at Principal International Expositions” and be manufactured by “Purveyors to H.M. the German Emperor and King of Prussia”. To receive such benefits, all that was required was a tablespoon of the elixir before meals and before retiring. Now, if all of those claims sound a bit suspicious, they might indeed be, but the 19th century public embraced these tonics, even going so far as to dash them into their cocktails – in fact, the original Cocktail was born exactly when someone dashed a few drops of one of these herbal remedies into a Sling. These remedies are, of course, better known today as “bitters”, and all of the claims above were once made by Dr. J.G.B. Siegert & Sons with regard to their Angostura bitters, a bottle we proudly include in our 12 Bottle Bar.
So what are bitters, exactly? Nothing more than herbs, spices, roots, barks, flowers, and whatnot macerated in alcohol to draw out all their funky, wonderful oils, tastes, and aromas. By definition and practice, bitters are supposed to be non-potable, meaning you can’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) drink them straight. Hence, the addition to mixed drinks. In the days of yore, bitters and tinctures were a convenient way to preserve the curative, health-promoting, and aphrodisiac qualities of fragile herbs and spices, which certainly wouldn’t have lasted on long voyages. Today, they make cocktails better by filling in the gaps and helping the other flavors co-mingle.
“If you have to have one bitter in the arsenal, it’s Angostura,” Avery Glasser of Bittermens, just one of many bitters makers which have sprung up to support the current cocktail revival, recently told Eater.com. “It’s the most classic—like the black pepper of the cocktail world. The next flavor you should have is orange bitters, but it’s when you get to the third bitter that you can start to have fun.” Since we cover Angostura and Orange Bitters as part of 12BB, we thought we’d take this holiday lifting of our own bottle restrictions to explore some of the other bitters on the market – which meant that we turned to Adam Elmegirab, award-winning bartender, consultant, and peddler of Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Bitters.
I first met Adam, who is based in Scotland, on one cocktail forum or another, and like the venerable Gary Regan, he was immediately kind, hospitable, and welcoming – an ambassador to the trade. No question I threw out was beneath Adam, and he has proven an infinite resource on subjects ranging from Scotch and Advocaat to Scottish Premier League football. Last year about this time, Adam was regularly posting about how Tom and Jerry was getting him through the long Aberdeen winter, which meant it was only a small leap for me to know that he would make a perfect guest for this year’s holiday bash. I wasn’t wrong.
Adam’s drink, the Ruby Flip, is an excellent showcase not only for bitters and the spices therein but also for the emotions conjured by spices and the holiday. Of the drink, he offers:
“The festive season is one I hope we all spend with loved ones, as that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? It’s a time that’s full of memories and this particular beverage is one I created with that in mind. A variant on the Coffee Cocktail, it’s a drinks style that’s a particular favourite of The Love of My Life, and the ingredients used are also adored by TLOML. Even the name relates to TLOML and not the port called for in the recipe as you may have thought. The combination of flavours really do play off each other and there’s few beverages better for settling the stomach after a large meal.”
The TLOML for Adam is one Heather Duncan, creator of the Christmas Bitters used in the Ruby Flip. It was back in 2009, at the start of Adam’s bitters business that Heather announced one day that she had studied his technique and listened to his tutelage enough that she was ready to make her own brew. “You can’t make bitters,” Adam told her, not realizing how wrong he was – and how talented Heather was. Of the bitters’ profile, Adam writes; “Dr. Heather Duncan’s Christmas Bitters are dark ruby-red in colour with an enticing nose of freshly baked gingerbread, clove, and spiced fruit. An initial soft sweetness swiftly moves into a complex middle with clove-studded-orange and a host of festive spice all dancing on your tongue before a long bitter finish welcomes the return of hot gingerbread, spiced cookies and clove.” Now, it that isn’t spices evoking holiday emotions, I don’t know what is.
The drink is indeed full of Christmas-y flavors: port, the base for seasonal classics such as Bishop, warming whiskey, vanilla syrup (dissolve 2 parts vanilla sugar in 1 part water), and, of course Heather’s spicy bitters. The whole egg, which makes the drink a Flip, takes things into the realm of eggnog, not that there’s a real resemblance. If you’ve never imbibed such, egg drinks – whether it’s a winter Snowball or a summer’s Lawn Tennis Cooler – can be quite refreshing and satisfying, and the overall profile of the Ruby Flip is very reminiscent of artisanal chocolate – creamy, wine-like, and spicy. As always, be mindful of your guests when using raw eggs, and ask if anyone has an allergy.
Speaking of spice, as many have noted, it really is the best way to think of bitters – as bar spices which accompany and enhance drinks in much the same way as traditional spices accompany and enhance food. Perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy bitters is in a simple Dry Martini with a relatively neutral gin. I like to experiment this way, and Adam’s Dandelion & Burdock bitters (based on a traditional British beverage going back to the 1300s) are some of my favorites when applied thusly. A Champagne Cocktail isn’t a bad way to go either – the key is to create a delicious, yet relatively blank, canvas against which the bitters can shine. From there, the sky’s the limit. We highly recommend anything in Adam’s line – his original Boker’s (a long, lost classic), Spanish, and Hellfire, along with those we’ve mentioned above. They’re part of our Holiday Gift Guide, which tells you where you can order them online. Of course, should you be wishing to exploit the more libidinous aspects of spices, look no further than Adam’s Aphrodite Bitters, made exclusively with arousal-producing botanicals. Talk about a Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
A Lagniappe: What one person sees in another is purely a subjective pursuit, but here is Adam’s Love of His Life with her dad, proving that the man has fantastic taste in more than bitters: