Drinking Culture

Brad Thomas Parsons on His Book Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All

The former Seattleite’s book drops November 1.

By Seattle Met Staff October 31, 2011

Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons hits shelves November 1. Photo courtesy Ten Speed Press.

Brad Thomas Parsons, a former Seattleite and Amazonian who skipped town for Brooklyn one year ago, calls himself a “completist.” What he means by that is, when he gets into something, he gets into it. Like, obsessed.

He’s also not afraid to ask questions. In fact, that’s how he came to develop an expertise in bitters, the subject of his forthcoming book Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All. “I love eating at the bar. I love asking questions,” Parsons says. “That’s how you learn things.”

His bitters curiosity began in Seattle, where he remembers sitting at the bar at Spur back when David Nelson mixed drinks there. From the book:

“In 2009 I wrote a short piece on homemade bitters for Seattle Met magazine…At the bar Spur in Seattle, where David Nelson was bartending when I wrote the piece…there were nearly two doxen squat glass bottles lining the bar, each filled with one of Nelson’s homemade bitters and tinctures. When David said, ‘You know, it would be pretty ingenious if someone wrote a book on bitters,’ his words stuck with me….”

The book features scenes at bars in Seattle and NYC, where Parsons completed the project, as well as input from tenders in both cities (including Nelson, Keith Waldbauer, and Jim Meehan, who owns New York’s PDT). Rounding out the book are historical bits, anecdotes, and recipes and how-tos for the home user.

You can learn more about Bitters when Parsons hits Seattle for several engagements mid-November, including one at Book Larder on the 16th. Meantime, Parsons recommended several of his favorite bitters for home bartending, plus tips for proper tasting of them.

Bittermans Bittermens: Parsons suggests Burlesque Bitters in place of Peychaud’s. He also likes the grapefruit and Xocolatl mole flavors, though cautions it is hard to find. Classified as a spirit, look for these bitters in liquor stores.

• “Not a lot of nice things are said about Fee Brothers,” Parsons admits, but he likes the Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters. “You can taste a subtle difference” thanks to the aging.

• Bittercube out of Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. Go with the Blackstrap.

To get a whiff of the aromatics, put a few drops in your palm, rub palms together, and then cup them over your nose. To taste them, put three drops in a club soda or sparkling water. To note the subtle differences between the droplets, experiment with an old fashioned at home or in the bar, controlling for other ingredients. Or, Parsons has people try a Manhattan with and without bitters to show them what effect they have on a cocktail’s balance.

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