Dale DeGroff's Pimento Bitters.
Photo by Phil Jimcosky / Mutineer Magazine.
A pioneer of modern American mixology, “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff is best known for his turn as head bartender at New York’s Rainbow Room, which recently was granted landmark status. Inspired by a Jamaican liqueur he loved that’s no longer on the market, DeGroff just unveiled a new product: Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters. The infusion of distilled high-proof alcohol with pimento berries (a.k.a. allspice), orange peels, demerara sugar and a top secret strain of anise makes a super-aromatic cocktail component that’s richly spiced and comforting, especially in cold-weather drinks. He’s producing the bitters in France, and the product is now available in signed 250 ml bottles with his kitschy tuxedoed portrait on the label. Here, DeGroff talks about his path to bitters and how to use them in a delicious Thanksgiving punch.
Where did you get the idea to create pimento bitters?
At the Rainbow Room I used a product called Wray & Nephew Pimento Liqueur that was made in Jamaica with allspice. It was so intense that I almost used it like bitters—in dashes with rum and other drinks. I was really unhappy when they pulled it off the market. I went to them and said, “Why did you pull this off the market?” And they said, “You happen to be the only customer in the United States of America buying this stuff.” I went years without it and one day, about two-and-a-half years ago, I was fooling around with some vodka and allspice berries and I came up with something that I liked—it was exactly what I was missing.
How would you describe the flavor?
Allspice exhibits notes of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and clove. It’s aromatic—not a focused flavor like rhubarb or lemon—so it has applications throughout the spirit categories. It's intense; I broke a little bottle in the garage and now the whole garage is going to smell that way for a week. That’s exactly the intensity I wanted. Two to three dashes is what I’m recommending (more if you are using the dasher that comes with the 250 ml bottle).
What are some great fall cocktails the bitters could be used in?
From the Rainbow Room days, one of the recipes that used the original pimento dram liqueur was called the Pilgrim Cocktail, which was made with añejo rum and Angostura bitters. Now that I have that flavor back I can go back to making my Pilgrim Cocktail but I won’t need the Angostura.
I also have a recipe for a Harvest Moon cocktail that can be made either hot and cold using apple cider, bitters as the spice, and bourbon. You can serve it cold as a cocktail or you can serve it steaming hot.
Dale DeGroff’s Harvest Moon Cocktail
Individual cold cocktail
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
4 1/2 ounces fresh apple cider
3 dashes Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters
Build in a tall glass over ice and finish with a dash of Dale Degroff’s Pimento Bitters. Grate nutmeg over the top.
25 ounces bourbon
50 ounces fresh apple cider
2 1/2 ounces Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters
Warm all of the ingredients in a saucepan but do not boil. DeGroff likes serving the punch from the hollow of a pumpkin but any heatproof pitcher or glass punch bowl will do.