Van Wees Angostura Bitters; a Carte Blanche worthy of 007

Van Wees Angostura Bitters
Van Wees Angostura Bitters

Angostura Bitters is a staple of the mixologist’s toolkit, but the variety with over-sized label is not the only brand available. Dutch spirit company Van Wees produces a range of genevers, liqueurs and bitters, including one flavoured with Angostura Bark.

The bitters have been produced since the days of VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) AKA The Dutch East India Company.

Originally, the bitters were created to add flavour when mixed with genever and gin. As I had some other juniper-related Van Wees products, I decided to use these as a part of the tasting.

Pink Gin

i) using Three Corners Gin:
The bitters add a spicy complexity to the drink; the cinnamon and cinchona flavours work well, both together and with the simple juniper and citrus of the gin. With the recognisable flavour of spices, this drink is slightly Christmas-y.

ii) using Genever:
This is a very different drink to the Three Corners version; it is richer and maltier, and the bitters add another layer, increasing the depth of the flavour. The result is a drink with a bourbon-like character, perfect for sipping on the rocks.

Pink Gin & Tonic

i) using Three Corners Gin:
This drink has a wonderful, fresh flavour, with hints of ginger and cinnamon, and is more subtle when the Van Wees is used instead of other bitters.

ii) using Genever:
Rich and bitter, malty and herby, this is almost like an aged Negroni, although perhaps a little softer. Fantastic.

Old Fashioned

Truly a classic cocktail and rather tasty; the bitters are quite subtle, but definitely still present and bringing the different flavours together. On the finish there was a superb bitter lift courtesy of the angostura.

Carte Blanche

The Vesper of the 21st century, this drink comes from the latest James Bond Novel, Carte Blanche. It has a nose of citrus, cinnamon and cinchona. There’s slightly more flavour and bitter warmth than you get when using the usual bitters; it also less sweet. I have to say, this was a great improvement on the two other Carte Blanche’s that I have had. Delicious, and the bitters really make the drink. Truly excellent.

Amaretto Sour

A pleasant mix, with an almond biscuit-iness that contrasts well with the lemon juice. Once again, the bitters act as a catalyst, tying the flavour of the drink together and adding complexity.

With Lemonade

I added a few drops to a glass of cloudy lemonade (this drink’s ABV is less than 0.5%, which is equivalent to botanicals brewed soft drinks). The bitters add some complexity to the lemonade, as well as livening it up a bit; very tasty and very refreshing.

In Conclusion

There are lots of bitters on the market today, but I think that for a good all-round cocktail bitters, Van Wees Angostura Bitters would definitely be one to consider. As they were designed with juniper in mind, they work particularly well in gin cocktails.

But, for me, my favourite would have to be the Carte Blanche, as Bond fan, I was disappointed the first time I mixed the drink using other bitters. But when I used Van Wees Angostura Bitters the drink was transformed into something worthy of 007.

By David T. Smith

Summer Fruit Cup

Marolo Chinato: an indispensable ingredient

Marolo Chinato
Marolo Chinato

I’ve recently undertaken a relatively extensive Red Vermouth Tasting and one of the products I came across whilst researching this was Marolo Chinato. This is not strictly vermouth but a product with very similar characteristics and so I thought I’d try it out in some classic red vermouth cocktails.

What is Chinato?
Chinato is wine that has been steeped with cinchona bark and flavoured with a variety of other roots, fruits, herbs and spices. It is typically served as a digestif.

Marolo was started in 1977 by Paolo Marolo, with the aim of taking a rustic, local product and transforming it into a distilled art. The Chinato is made at the Santa Teresa Distillery using two “Bain Marie” (water bath) stills, one filled with white pomace and the other with red. The product is infused with cinchona bark and a variety of other rinds and herbs, such as gentian, cinnamon, rhubarb, clove and coriander. Finally, the Chinato is aged in acacia and oak barrels before bottling. Marolo also make a range of aged and non-aged Grappa.

Marolo Chinato

[Served neat at room temperature]
A very dark red, in a similar way to red vermouth, but this has an even deeper colour.
Taste: Hints of cinnamon and thyme initially, with some sweetness; this is followed by a more bitter edge. Overall, the drink was complex and herbal, with a similar lasting finish to tonic water.

With Chocolate
I’ve noticed that quite a few Italian winemakers have started to talk about pairing their wines with chocolate and so I decided to try it with the Chinato. I would suggest using dark chocolate, between 60-75% cocoa. The dark, clean bitterness of the chocolate goes well the rich complexity of the Chinato; a very good match.

[25ml Dry Gin, 25ml Chinato, 25ml Campari; Add ingredients to a tumbler add ice and stir]
This was a superb shade of dark crimson and a wonderfully smooth drink. The flavour of the gin came through first, then the deep, herbal warmth from the Chinato, before the final bitter finish from the Campari; at the very end there was a sweet lift that neatly rounds off the drink.

[50ml Rye Whiskey, 25ml Chinato, 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters; Stir with ice, strain & serve in a cocktail glass]
This was less sweet than most Manhattans, so would be a good option if you prefer your cocktails on the dry side. There were dry, herbal notes throughout, with a very long, warm finish. If you’d like the drink a little sweeter, I would suggest adding a Maraschino Cherry. Really rather good.

[25ml Gin, 25ml Chinato, 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters, 2 Dashes Triple Sec; Stir with ice, strain & serve in a cocktail glass]
The juniper of the gin is a good match for the bitter cinchona and gentian of the Chinato. (This is not too much of a surprise as it is cinchona that makes tonic water bitter and we know how well that mixes with gin)
It was a similar recipe to the Manhattan and the dry herbal notes were there. However, the drink was less woody and less smoky; these characteristics were replaced by the clean smoothness of the gin.

Fruit Cup
[20ml Gin, 15ml Chinato, 15ml Ginger Wine; Add ingredients to a tall glass, add ice, fruit garnish and 150ml of lemonade or ginger ale]
Like a refreshing fruit cup, but more herbally intense and rather complex, with a touch of bitterness at the end. I think this is a great way to enjoy the Chinato and a long drink is a nice summery alternative to a Manhattan.

Rob Roy
[50ml Scotch Whisky, 25ml Chinato, 2 Dashes Angostura; Stir with ice, strain & serve in a cocktail glass]
This cocktail is essentially a Manhattan made using Scotch instead of Rye, so your choice of whisky can really change the drink. In order to try something that was a contrast to rye whisky, I decided to go for a smoky Islay.
If you like peaty whisky, then I think this will be a good cocktail for you: the intense smokiness of the whisky was still prevalent, but this was intertwined with the bitter herbal elements of the Chinato, making it a drink that was absolutely packed with flavour.

Swiss Family
[30ml Chinato, 5ml Pastis, 2 Dashes Angostura; Stir with ice, strain & serve in a cocktail glass]
The strong anise from the pastis complements the herbal aspect of the Chinato in this cocktail; it tasted like a complex, full-bodied cocktail, even though it was just Marolo mixed with Pernod. Excellent!

For anyone who is interested in the early days of cocktails and vintage drinks, red vermouth is an indispensable ingredient, whether it’s in the Classic Manhattan or in the ancestor to the Martini, The Martinez. But in sticking with the tried and tested brands of vermouth, you can easily overlook some alternatives that, whilst not strictly vermouth, can produce a similar effect whilst also adding a little something extra to your mixing; Marolo Chinato is certainly one of these.

By David T. Smith

Summer Fruit Cup