Beta Cocktails

  • Recipes made so far: 30/55
  • Difficulty level: 3/5
  • Originality: 5/5

Beta Cocktails was originally published as Rogue Cocktails in 2009 by bartenders Kirk Estopinal and Maksym Pazuniak who were both working at Cure in New Orleans at the time. It was a little pamphlet of 40 irreverent and boundary-changing cocktails, many of them exploring the bitter end of the spectrum. After its success, it was revised and reissued as Beta Cocktails (due to a trademark infringement claim) at TOTC in 2011.

Boring damned people. All over the earth. Propagating more boring damned people. What a horror show. The earth swarmed with them.

Charles Bukowski

The book, a collection of 55 recipes contributed by many bartenders, popularized cocktails with bitters as the base (the famous Angostura Sour based on a drink by Charles H. Baker), embraced amari, combined ingredients in unexpected ways, and generally challenged preconceived notions about the structure of drinks. This small booklet had a huge impact on creativity in the bar community. Even years later, it is still worth owning because there aren’t any others that pushed the envelope as much as this one while still remaining approachable.

From the archives…

February 5, 2012

The Start and Finish

I am not sure I liked that one. I used 1/4 oz pastis instead of 1/2 oz absinthe because I don’t have absinthe (and don’t love it in large amounts). It was a little too “all over the place” for me, with strong – and not always harmonious – herbal flavors introduced by the vermouth, Lillet, Averna, with a strong anise finish.

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Burned popcorn

This one is very good, with flavors from the flamed orange peels and aged rum playing well with the bourbon.

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March 2, 2012

The Search for Delicious

It’s interesting how the salt changes the taste of the Cynar. I like it a lot.

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March 22, 2012

I made the Warning Label tonight: Demerara rum 151, Cynar, Punt e Mes, orange bitters, grapefruit bitters (made by a friend), Campari rinse, lemon twist.

It is a well balanced cocktail, quite bitter as expected but the 151 helps tone it down somewhat with some caramel notes. You can smell and taste the grapefruit at the end with the Campari/grapefruit bitters combo. I feel it is a little on the syrupy side. Its flavor is very typical of most cocktails in the book.

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December 12, 2012

The Arbitrary Nature of Time (with bourbon). The Campari + cherry liqueur combination is a good one. It’s a strong and bitter drink but the cherry liqueur tempers it a bit. The cherry liqueur marries well with the chocolate from the bitters.

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January 10, 2013

After the Arsenic and Old Lace from the other night, I was looking for something with a little more … va-va-voom. I looked through my copy of beta cocktails and the All Fair’s caught my eye. Usually the drinks from that book are challenging for my husband, but since this is essentially a Manhattan with rum, I thought I should give it a go. I happened to have the rum that it called for (El Dorado 12 year). The other ingredients are sweet vermouth (I substituted Dolin for Carpano Antica), curaçao (substituted Clement for Marie Brizart), mole bitters, salt “tincture” (aka salt solution), and an orange twist.

The cocktail is the first in a series of three that are meant to depict the evolution of a relationship. This one is clearly the honeymoon phase; you can tell right away by its beautiful smell. It is a very aromatic cocktail with layers of rich flavors highlighted by the mole bitters, and just a hint of salt at the end. Like spending your honeymoon in the Caribbean – it’s described as an “Island Manhattan” in the book. It’s very easy to fall in love!

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The name and style of the cocktail seemed familiar, but it took me a day to figure out why. The cocktail is clearly based on the Fair and Warmer from the Savoy cocktail book, a cocktail I tried a few months ago which is also a Manhattan variation with rum (the version I had tried was the Bartender’s Choice app adaptation of the Savoy creation and has different ratios). The ingredients in the Fair and Warmer are white rum, sweet vermouth, curaçao, and an orange twist. The changes in the beta version are the use of aged rum instead of white, and the addition of bitters and salt. It elevated this already enjoyable drink to something even more memorable.

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January 23, 2013

Variation on a Theme

2 oz Hayman’s Old Tom gin

1/2 oz cherry liqueur

1/4 oz Campari

1/2 barspoon Maraschino liqueur

1 dash Regan’s orange bitters

Stir, strain

Orange twist garnish

Hayman’s Old Tom gin may not work in Chris’ Lindbergh’s Baby, however it is great in this drink. This cocktail is a beauty of balance (and restraint). Cherry and orange flavors intermingling in harmony. I really like it.

As a side note, I could not find it in the book but it was on the Beta Cocktails website. [The cocktail appeared in Rogue Cocktails]

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January 28, 2013

The Heering Flip with Luxardo cherry liqueur, mole bitters, whole egg, salt.

It tasted like a very nice hot chocolate, spice and all. The finish was quite bitter though.

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April 19, 2013

I tried Don Lee’s DLB (Don’s Little Bitter) last night (rhum Barbancourt 8yr, Fernet-Branca, lemon juice, simple syrup, Angostura, orange, and Peychaud’s bitters). It’s a good thing that I had only made a half cocktail, because all I could taste was burnt rubber with a touch of grapefruit. The flavors were way too crazy for me. I had to drink it very slowly because there was too much going on and my brain could not process all the weird sensations.

I forgot to add that it managed to mess up my taste buds because when I tried my husband’s Manhattan after a few sips of the DLB, the Manhattan tasted overwhelmingly bitter.

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April 30, 2013

Left to my own devices, I decided to go for something from beta cocktails, Erik Ellestad’s Ashtray Heart. Equal parts Smith and Cross rum, Punt e Mes, and dry vermouth in a mezcal-rinsed glass. Book says to discard the grapefruit twist but it was shown in the accompanying photo, so I used it as a garnish.

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Bitter and smoky (but not overpoweringly so), slight orange/caramel taste, grapefruit finish. Well done.

Erik kindly provided the updated version of this recipe, so here it is for everyone’s benefit.

Ashtray Heart

1 oz Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum
1 oz Dry Vermouth
1 oz Punt e Mes Vermouth
1/4 oz Smoky Mezcal (for rinse)

Rinse chilled cocktail glass with Mezcal and pour out into a sidecar. Stir cocktail with ice and strain into Mezcal rinsed glass. Squeeze grapefruit peel over glass and discard. Serve with sidecar of Mezcal.

 

May 3, 2013

Two Cups of Blood (Tonia Guffey): another equal parts cocktail, this time with mole bitters, Punt e Mes, Suze, mezcal + orange bitters and grapefruit zest (discarded).

Spicy, smoky, bitter. Mezcal and Suze played very well together. It had the tinny taste of blood as advertised (which is also perfect for Rafa’s new profile picture!). Maybe not quite as good as blood but still very nice.

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May 8, 2013

The Last Mechanical Art (Maks Pazuniak): equal parts Campari, Cynar, Punt e Mes, mezcal; orange zest. Burnt rubber, gasoline, smoke. Another slow sipper.

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August 15, 2013

I really liked the Fatigue. A deliciously bitter banana-cinnamon smoothie.

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September 23, 2013

The End of the Road

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September 26, 2013

Hotel Room Temperature by Kirk Estopinal. The third one in a series portraying the various stages of a relationship. I had tried the All’s Fair before and liked it a lot. I decided to cut to the chase and go straight for the last one. They all have the same ingredients and amounts; just the method of prep is different.

This one is served at room temperature. I find it amusing that they still specify a garnish in this context (apparently a good bartender always carries a peeler around!).

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In any case, I got quite a different vibe from the first one. The vermouth is the first flavor to draw you in, then the rum takes over and it’s quite intoxicating. Beware. The salt (of tears?) does not become obvious until the very end.

November 5, 2013

Italian Heirloom (Maks Pazuniak) with Cynar, blended scotch (I substituted Glenfiddich 12), Laphroaig, pinch of salt, lemon peel. This one has the particularity of using the oils from multiple lemon twists.

After the shock of the first sip (sweet, bitter, smoke, gasoline…), it grew on me, and I enjoyed the herbal notes of the Cynar with the essential oils from the lemon.

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November 14, 2013

Another one from Maks Pazuniak.

Growing Old and Dying Happy is a Hope, Not an Inevitability (aka Growing Old for short): Cynar, Rittenhouse rye, salt, absinthe rinse, lemon peel.

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This cocktail was actually the precursor to the Italian Heirloom. It’s a very nice cocktail with Cynar as the base and a pinch of salt to control bitterness. Absinthe nose (I used a spray of St. George – original recipe calls for Herbsaint). First I tasted the lemon oils and the herbal notes from the Cynar, then some sweetness and caramel. The finish is nicely bitter and the cocktail feels very fresh.

December 3, 2013

A Moment of Silence (Maks Pazuniak): rye, apricot liqueur, Averna, Angostura bitters, apple brandy, Campari rinse. For the apple brandy, the recipe calls for Lairds bonded; I substituted calvados.

I find that the taste of Rothman & Winter apricot liqueur can be candy-like and unpleasant in cocktails when used in large quantities. In this cocktail, it disappears and blends harmoniously with the other ingredients. (Note that the original recipe specifies Marie Brizard which is what I plan on buying when this bottle is empty.)

I got a very pleasant bittersweet orange flavor from the cocktail, with a great “bite”. Tons of interesting flavors from the Averna and Angostura, without a heavy feel. Great drink for a contemplative mood.

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December 4, 2013

My cocktail last night was the Bitter Giuseppe. Less bitter than I remembered. This is the version published earlier this year in Imbibe magazine, which differs from the one in beta cocktails with an increased amount of sweet vermouth (1 oz vs. 3/4 oz), orange bitters (6 dashes vs. 2), and lemon juice (1/4 oz). This updated version is also included in the Art of Shim.

Stephen Cole uses Carpano Antica Formula, but it’s very good too with Cocchi vermouth di Torino, which plays well with the chocolate notes in Cynar.

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December 13, 2013

Here is an Angostura Sour that I made the other night: Angostura bitters, lime juice, simple syrup, egg white; a variation on a Charles H. Baker’s recipe. Egg white shaken by hand (“dry” first with the lime juice) which worked great this time.

Aesthetically it’s not the most-pleasing; the cocktail is very dark with a maroon color and the foam is colored as well. Flavor-wise, mostly cinnamon and lime. Bitter but less than you would imagine. Good digestif for an upset stomach.

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Rafa posted something on Kindred yesterday about the Michigander, a creation by Jason Schiffer of 320 Main in Seal Beach, with apple brandy, Cynar, lemon juice, and honey syrup. On Cocktail virgin slut it says that it is reminiscent of another cocktail combining rosemary and Cynar, Rosemary’s Baby from Rogue Cocktails, so I decided to try that instead. It’s not included in Beta Cocktails.

First you have to light up a fire with fresh rosemary and Grand Marnier. It was fun and burned for a long while. I used 1/2 oz of Grand Marnier (instead of 3/4 oz) since someone had mentioned in the comments that the cocktail was a little sweet.

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It’s actually not a good idea to do this in your mixing glass, because it was very hot by the time the flame had died off and I had to transfer the rosemary-infused Grand Marnier to another vessel for stirring. The other ingredients are applejack (I went with calvados), Cynar, orange and grapefruit bitters.

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The orange flavor of the Grand Marnier was not detectable. The rosemary flavor was subtle and completed the cocktail, which tasted like a caramel apple with a little bitterness. Rich but not too sweet.

March 21, 2014

Heart of Glass for me last night. Interesting room-temperature drink created by Troy Sidle. For this one, first you coat a glass with bourbon (the recipe calls for Eagle Rare 10 years, I went with St. George Breaking & Entering). Then you mix separately 1.5 oz bourbon with 3/4 oz each Cynar and sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica is specified, I used Cocchi vermouth di Torino) and 17 drops of Angostura. I only made a half cocktail so I used 8 drops… The whole thing sounded a little OCD to me but I went with it; I transferred the ango into a suitable delivery device and patiently counted each drop. This is all done without ice, so a little bit of water is added for dilution (~ 1/2 oz).

The mix is added to the coated glass and a bunch of orange oil is added – I used three fairly large pieces of orange peel, and you can see the oil sheen at the surface.

 

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It’s close on paper to Audrey Saunders’ Little Italy (rye vs. bourbon, etc) but the vibe is very different because of the serving temperature.

I really liked it. It did not feel bitter to me at all except a bit in the finish, but I am so used to Cynar now that I may not be a very good judge.

Of course the song is still stuck in my head, even the morning after.

April 8, 2014

I liked the Under the Volcano. I used Siete Leguas añejo.

 

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July 15, 2014

After trying Underberg for the first time on Sunday (it was less bitter than I expected and has a very strong licorice flavor), I tried Charles Joly’s Red Light (genever, Grand Marnier, Underberg). It was created with Bols genever; I substituted St. George dry rye gin. It was surprisingly drinkable and worked great with the dry rye gin, the crisp flavors of which seemed to resonate with the other ingredients.

 

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September 1, 2014

Teenage Riot (Tonia Guffey) with Cynar, rye (Bulleit), dry vermouth (Dolin), dry sherry (Lustau Jarana), orange bitters (Regan’s), flamed lemon twist.

Lemon aroma, bitter, herbal, dry. It did not last very long.

 

 

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On an unrelated note, my bottle of sherry seems to possess superpowers. It fell from the top shelf of the fridge to the (stone) floor which it hit, but then just rolled without breaking (this is what happens when I try to carry 3 bottles out of the fridge at the same time). A small miracle.

November 10, 2014

Alright. Let’s get this thing over with. After All Fair’s and the Hotel Room Temperature, it’s time to try the last one of the series, Flip Out. No regrets; it’s all good.

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November 20, 2014

Racketeer (Stephen Cole) with Rittenhouse rye, Vida mezcal, Punt e Mes, Benedictine, yellow Chartreuse, Peychaud’s bitters, Laphroaig. I went full Punt e Mes for the vermouth since someone had commented on Kindred that it was too sweet with the Carpano Antica specified in the original recipe.

It’s Manhattan-ish with a double dose of smoke.

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December 12, 2014

Little Secrets (Brad Bolt) with El Dorado 5, El Dorado high strength (Plantation overproof), lime juice, St Germain, rhubarb bitters (cherry bark vanilla bitters). It really needs the 7 drops of bitters to cut through all the other ingredients. It’s an interesting take on the Daiquiri.

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January 7, 2015

From last night, I needed something aromatic and strong after a very long day. It delivered. :)

The Warning Label (Maks Pazuniak in beta cocktails) with Lemon Hart 151 demerara rum, Cynar, Martini Gran Lusso vermouth (substituted for Punt E Mes), Campari rinse, Regan’s orange bitters, Boy Drinks World grapefruit bitters.

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January 21, 2015

I finished my bottle of Campari with Maks’ Campari “Martini” – Campari and salt tincture, orange twist. It’s a really nice way to enjoy Campari, and a great demonstration of what salt can do in cocktails.

Campari "Martini" (Maks Pazuniak @maks_p) with Campari and salt tincture #betacocktails

November 20, 2015

The Teenage Riot is a great drink, even better with amontillado sherry compared to dry sherry.

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Teenage Riot (Tonia Guffey) with Cynar, Rittenhouse rye, Noilly Prat extra dry vermouth, Lustau dry amontillado sherry, Regan’s orange bitters.

January 14, 2016

Eeyore’s Requiem (Toby Maloney) with Campari, Tanqueray gin, Cynar, Fernet-Branca, Dolin blanc vermouth, Fee/Regan/Angostura orange bitters, expressed orange peel (x3)This is slightly sweet from the Campari, but I didn’t feel that it was overly sweet. It was bitter but felt balanced overall. I thought it was a great drink. I got into the “zone” as soon as I had the first sip, which is usually a good sign. Everything seemed to really come well together.

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One thought on “Beta Cocktails

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