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Paul Costello's Beacon St. Bitters

Posted by Josh Childs  November 18, 2013 08:43 AM

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What I like most about the cocktail culture today is the diversity of people involved- take Paul Costello. Not behind a bar, in fact running his own company, and yet making some of the best bitters around. He generously gives us a recipe at the bottom of his post below, any inquires to:
BeaconStBitters on Facebook or on Twitter @BeaconStBitters
Prior to cocktail hour, Paul can be found mixing up unique marketing solutions for brands like Kimberly Clark, Live Nation, Olympia Sports, and Hinckley Yachts at the Boston-based agency he founded in 2010, Agency 180 (BBJ "5 Startups to Follow"). He is Owner of Beacon St. Bitters, Co-Founder of Pure n' Raw (Caribbean artisan organic foods), an advisor/investor to local start-ups, and business school guest lecturer. He holds a BA from Dartmouth College, MBA from Babson and was recently named to BostInno’s "50 on Fire."

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By Paul Costello of Beacon St. Bitters

Holidays and Sunday dinners at home have always been a very special time with
my family and are how I became interested in bitters. Before my siblings and I were old enough to join in, I loved watching my father prepare pre-dinner drinks – whether it was cracking out ice for Gin & Tonics or the curious process of opening a wine bottle. From their earliest dates, my parents collected unique restaurant cocktail stirrers – and I remember looking through the colorful collection as my dad mixed up something for company or my mother as she cooked. Often, it was an Old Fashioned, which involved the small, distinct Angostura bitters bottle.

Through college and the years after, I didn’t think much about bitters – though I was an avid homebrewer, toured any brewery within reach and tried any new beer I could find. Visiting Europe made me realize just how much a beer could tell you about a region and its history. I soon added the beautiful coffee table book Drinks by Vincent Gasnier to my beer tasting/cooking books. The spirits and cocktails section pulled me in.

Not long after, I began trying to make more than my old favorite: Gin & Tonic. It also helped that more bars/restaurants in my Boston and Chicago neighborhoods were focusing on both craft beers & cocktails. The first bitters cocktail to become a personal favorite was the “Joey Joe-Joe” at Silvertone – which I still order every time. I’m lucky enough to live around the corner from The Hawthorne and Eastern Standard- candy stores for the cocktail hunter.

After receiving a perfect gift for any cocktail lover: Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All by Brad Thomas Parsons, I was determined to make as many of the bitters cocktail recipes my bar could muster. It helped that a good friend took a job in London and was kind enough to leave me his ample bar, including: Campari, Luxardo, Punt e Mes, and all sorts of Gins and Whiskies.

I like tinkering and figuring out how things work, so it was only a matter of time before I wanted to make bitters that matched the taste I wanted for certain cocktails. It also helped that my office is close to both Christina’s spice shop and the Boston Shaker – constant sources of ingredients and inspiration. With a bit of effort and patience, you can make great bitters at home – most recipes include 3 primary parts: high proof spirit (usually 100 proof vodka or rye), flavoring agents (e.g., dried orange zest for orange bitters) and bittering agents (e.g., cloves, cardamom, allspice).

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Not only did starting to make bitters satisfy some personal curiosity, it exposed me to the creative underworld of Boston mixologists and small batch distillers. As Jackson Cannon noted in an interview a while back, the cocktail scene in Boston is a bit unique in that it is one of collaboration and stimulation between these talented individuals. The fact that a marketing agency president can start Beacon St. Bitters and participate in this dialog around new recipes and ideas shows you just how inclusive this local industry can be.

I’ve come to enjoy bitters for their sense of history – their connection to the classic cocktail culture of the past (another great book To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion by Philip Greene). While at the same time, they serve as the “salt & pepper” for the amazing new phase of cocktails being created by industry pioneers. Add to this, they are seasonal in their flavor profiles, and new ideas constantly present themselves- Lavender or Grapefruit bitters with a Gin & Tonic in the summer, leading into Cherry Vanilla or Toasted Orange bitters with Rye-based drinks in the winter. These attributes make bitters a great conversation piece, and their bittering ingredients a natural hangover cure when added to club soda.

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One of the most popular Beacon St. Bitters experimental flavors this summer was Blackberry Pablano Ginger- a perfect enhancer to most tequila-based cocktails:

Beacon St. Bitters- Blackberry Pablano Ginger Bitters
Makes about 20 ounces

1.5 cup fresh Blackberries- clean, muddle in 1 Quart mason jar
1/8 cup Hot pepper (Pablano & Scotch Bonnet work well)- clean, remove seeds and dice
1/2 cup Ginger- clean, peel gently with spoon and slice
1/8 cup Orange peel- zest and allow to dry
Heat on 300 for 5 minutes on cookie sheet to start release of oils

  • 1/2 tsp Juniper

  • 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper

  • 1/2 tsp Coriander

  • 2 Green Cardamom Seeds

  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks Crushed

  • 1/2 tsp Quassia Chips

  • 2 Cloves

After heating, move ingredients to mortar and gently crush with pestle- add to mason jar
Add 2 cups high-proof vodka, stir mixture, seal, store in cool dark place- shake once a day
After 3.5 weeks, add:
3 oz of water
75 oz agave nectar
After 3 days, filter, decant bitters into small bottles and label- bitters should be used within the next year for optimal flavor

Try 3 dashes in your Margarita or favorite off dry Tequilla, Gin or Vodka cocktail.

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This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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