If gins and whiskies are the big, fat, celestial love gods of the mixology universe, bitters are a bartender's obsessed-over, oft-hoarded little fetish objects: twee phials packed with alchemistic potions made from unpublished recipes that cocktail nerds like me can wax on about until we belatedly realize everyone else has left the room. Heck, I even arrange my bitters bottles all Sleeping with the Enemy neatnik-like atop my bar like I used to do my Smurf figurines (in their Smurf village, amongst their mushroom houses -- not atop a bar, or because I was trying to kill Julia Roberts).
Unfortunately, the current proliferation of small-batch bitters products can diminish the line between cocktail nerd and cocktail snob. It kind of reminds me of the Great Brooklyn Music Scene Paroxysm of '09, with the name-checking of bitters brands like Bittermen's, Fee Brothers (the company I keep) and Regans' akin to referencing your close, personal relationship with the latest Panda Bear or Japanther album -- with the added stress test of feeling like a total uncool dweebheel if (*gasp*) you don't make your own bitters???
It could go that way, were it not for the great equalizer that is Angostura Bitters. Angostura's like the New York City subway: Whether you're a Wall Street fatcat or a starving artist, you rely on it. Every bar in the world has a bottle of Angostura, yet it's achieved a revered and rarefied status thanks to its singular, secret recipe of herbs and spices (it's also the KFC of bitters!) that dates back to 1824.
So when I decided to try replicating Death & Company's Bumboo cocktail despite not having on hand two of the drink's three called-for bitters (Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters, Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters -- the latter a sold-out, special-edition bitters), where else would I possibly turn but to my trusty Angostura? The Jerry Thomas' Bitters contains angostura bark... and, well, Angostura Bitters, named after its city of origin, famously does not, but I'd figure out a way to make it work (which I did, actually, by adding a fourth bitters to the drink).
The Bumboo is deceptively simple, at least when you sight-read it off Death & Co.'s menu. Although its list of ingredients is as formidable text-wise as every other drink on the page, it's really just dark rum, sugar, vanilla and bitters. So kick off your dweebheels, give this recipe a go and one-up the drinkerati with your mastery of a bona fide Death & Co. creation.
(Adapted from Death & Company)
2 ounces Rhum Barbancourt
1/2 ounce vanilla syrup
1 teaspoon simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
1 dash Fee Brothers Peach Bitters
Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir briskly until you feel a little chill coming off the glass. Strain into cocktail glass.