There are some classic cocktails that use bitters as a key ingredient, the Negroni being a primary example. The problem is with the modern North American palate and its fixation on sugar laden drinks. Sweet, salt and sour seem to be fine but most North Americans shun bitter flavours. There is a small, but growing, minority that does enjoy bitter flavours, and I’m a card-carrying member. But, it took me some time to get to the “enjoyment” point. Because of my experience I often go easy on people and try to find cocktails that ease people into bitter flavours. The Red Moon is a perfect example of a Becherovka cocktail using this bitter from the Czech Republic.
I’ve been on a kind of a bitter kick lately and I’m not sure why. But, it has inspired me to look for some interesting bitters, of the stomach variety, to taste. Along the way, I came across Becherovka, which I had always noticed on the liquor store shelf because of its unique bottle, but never really gave it much thought. After looking at a bunch of Italian Amari, I notice a number of international bitters and of course Becherovka was on the list. In a moment of compulsion, I purchased a bottle and started to do my research.
When you crack open the bottle and take a whiff, the first thing you’ll notice is the scent of cloves and cinnamon. I was kind of surprised since most bitters I’ve tried have strong herbal note, not the spicy aromas found in Becherovka.
Upon tasting it is a fairly easy going bitter, not Fernet or Unicum, and much less sweet than most other bitters. It borders on being almost dry. The spicy flavours are again present and you can’t help but think Christmas punch, but bitter.
Most bitters are created to be enjoyed solo, but they can also lend themselves to being mixed. Becherovka is a good example and this, I believe, is because it isn’t exceptionally sweet.
The most popular cocktail using Becherovka is the Red Moon cocktail. It’s a fairly simple, and light, long drink.
Red Moon Cocktail
1¼ oz Becherovka
5 oz Blackcurrant juice
1½ oz Club Soda
Instructions: In a highball glass packed with ice add Club Soda, Becherovka and Blackcurrant juice, stir and serve.
The currants combine pleasantly with the clove and cinnamon from the Becherovka and the finish has a juniper-like flavour. Aside from being a December holiday drink, it would probably go pretty well on a patio in July.
The one problem I have with the drink is that it lacks a decent kick. So, as usual, I decided to fiddle with the formula and come up with my own version.
Blood Moon Cocktail
1¼ oz Becherovka
¾ oz Vodka
4 oz Black Currant Juice
Top Club Soda
Instructions: In a highball glass packed with ice, sprinkle a small pinch of salt. Add the Club Soda, Black Currant juice, vodka and Becherovka. Stir to combine and serve.
The reason for the “blood” in the drink name is because of the addition of salt. If you’ve ever played net in street hockey, without a goalie mask, you know that blood tastes salty, but not necessarily in a bad way. Maybe I just associated salty flavours with competitive male aggression and victory, hence my positive memories of saltiness. Anyway...don’t worry I’m sure I only suffered minor brain damage playing all those years.
Salty flavours can be used in cocktails, even fruity ones, but you need to keep the quantities low to bring out the flavours properly. Too much and you’ll think you are drinking brine. Too little and what’s the point. This is something you need to experiment with to become competent.
The addition of salt in the Blood Moon Cocktail brings out the fruitiness in the Blackcurrant juice and eases the bitterness of the Becherovka. The vodka merely cuts the sweetness and gives regular drinkers a bit of that alcohol kick. If you really want to make this drink sparkle, skip the Club Soda and just serve it out of a pressurized soda siphon.
This drink is a great introduction to the bitter category. It isn’t truly bitter, but it hints at it and is just enough to make you think about it.
*If you can’t find black currant juice, you could probably get away with using Cranberry juice.