An unfortunate aspect of working in the spirits industry is that everyone always wants to meet for a drink. It’s hard to remember the last time I had a coffee meeting that wasn’t an Irish Coffee meeting. Also, I’m pretty well known as a drinks writer, so when I do go out to the bars and restaurants of Portland I’m constantly asked to try drinks that bartenders are working on to get recommendations and suggestions on how to tune them. Now, add on top of that the spirits I need to sample to review for sites like Whisked Foodie and my own DrinkSpirits.com.
I love my job (who wouldn’t?) but the net effect off all this is that I end up having a lot of alcohol. Sometimes it can get to be too much and I find that I simply need to take a break. Just because I’m not drinking doesn’t mean I can stop meeting people for drinks, or that I have to retreat into my home and wait for my “dry” period to pass.
When I am taking a break from drinking, I often rely on a very simple drink that almost any bar can make, something that is easy to sip with more complexity and flavor than having a soda. Angostura makes perhaps the most well-known bitters in the world, used in most of the key spirit-forward classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan. Angostura is a mix of herbs, water, sugar, gentian, and spirit that acts like a binding agent in drinks (bringing all the flavors together). Although Angostura is spirit based (and has 44.7% alcohol), the amount you use in a drink is fairly small. I did some measuring; five dashes of Angostura equals ¼ teaspoon, which has 0.550 ml of alcohol. To put that in perspective, a low alcohol beer with 3% alcohol would have 7.09 ml of alcohol in an 8 ounce serving, or 14.0ml in a pint. You can get intoxicating qualities from Angostura, but you need to use a full one to two ounces.
Since Angostura is packed with flavor, just a little of it can have a big impact on what you are drinking. My favorite non-drink drink is to put five dashes of Angostura bitters into soda water. I sometimes substitute Sprite or 7-UP if I am looking for something a little sweeter. This easy combination is a wonderful stand-in to drink at a bar when you are taking a break from alcohol. It’s also something that I tend to turn to if I have a cold and need to be out in a social situation where there’s drinking, and again I don’t want to drink.
Angostura is also very easy to find. Not only can you get it at most liquor stores, but I’ve seen it at many grocery stores and even at Target. I’ve found it to be so enjoyable that I often add it to my sodas even when I am not on an alcohol break. Angostura is also really good in coffee, spicing it up in a way that makes it feel much more seasonal and wintery.