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Rocco Milano on Exploring the World of Bitters

Private Social bar manager Rocco Milano.
Private Social bar manager Rocco Milano.
Photo credit: Private Social/Facebook

Originally invented as a cure for indigestion, bitters are currently enjoying a major comeback in the cocktail world, with new artisanal producers popping up all over the country. Bitters are sort of like the salt and pepper of the cocktail world—just a little dash can help deepen flavors and turn a good cocktail into a really great cocktail. But for the uninitiated, all those tiny, mysterious bottles can be slightly intimidating. Eater spoke to Private Social bar manager Rocco Milano about how to delve into the world of bitters.

Rocco's many bitters concoctions at Private Social.

What drinks benefit from the addition of bitters?
Anything that you're looking to add a little more definition to or, for lack of a better world, a little more 'oomph' to. Bitters is a tremendously wide and diverse category. There's orange bitters, grapefruit bitters, I have mole bitters at the bar. Aside from the bitters that we make, the two bitters houses that survived Prohibition, Angostura which is used for numerous Tiki or fruitier cocktails, and of course Peychauds which survived purely on the strength of New Orleans as a city, those two bitters houses managed to make it through so those are pretty much standards. But there's so many new bitters companies coming out and producing such a wide range of products, that whatever flavors you want to add, you can, to get a little bit better structure and form.

For those new to bitters, what's an easy way to introduce them to your home bar?
If you just want o see how bitters impacts a drink, make a Manhattan with and a Manhattan without. Two parts whiskey of your choice, two parts sweet vermouth. Taste that, then add a couple dashes of angostura bitters and see if that doesn't bring out some additional flavors. Or do the always-popular hiccup cure: Angostura bitters on a lemon wedge. I had a woman threaten to punch me if it worked, because she was like 'how dare you keep this knowledge from the world!' It does work, I have a 100 percent success rate with it.

What kinds of bitters are you making behind the bar at Private Social?
We've got about fifty different tinctures we make and use in various drinks. There's sherry, hibiscus and hops; cocoa and coffee; our famous Skyrim bitters [inspired by the RPG and used in the Skyrim Sazerac]; during the summer we did a kumquat and lime; strawberry lavender; cola and cherry.

Private Social

3232 McKinney Avenue, Dallas, TX 75204 214 754 4744