For his 2 hour class, DeGroff gave a historic overview of aromatic bitters that included the history and origin of many key botanicals and spices used to make bitters. It's quite the process and we learned some unique historic facts, including the use of crimson-colored cochineal beetles to dye certain alcohol products back in the day. He also suggested one his current favorite reads, The Drunken Botanist, as a helpful historic guide to botany and its tie to alcohol and cocktails (which I'm listening to right now on Audible). DeGroff encouraged us to taste 5 prepared Manhattan cocktails on their own and next with the addition of different types of bitters to help us discern how the bitters do, in fact, change the flavor profiles of the Manhattans. And aroma, of course, it very important too. Smell before you taste. Many Americans may have an aversion to bitter flavors, hence growing up with soda pop and sweets. Italians do it right, he says, serving the bitter apertivos with soda, and/or over ice, because the worst sip is the first sip and the best sip is the last sip.
"Bitters is a balancing agent," says DeGroff. Balance is one of the hardest things to get right, so if you can get close enough, in my opinion, you're already winning.
If you weren't able to make it to this year's Golden State of Cocktail to hear the master mixologist speak, then stick around to watch my 3-part video collection of his seminar: