Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Angostura bitters rationing, scary headlines, cocktail trends and you

I almost wrote on Facebook "Oh nos!!!!!1 They're takin' our Angostura bitters away, hide the women and children!!!1" in response to a friend linking me to a Gothamist post basically similar to an earlier Eater post on the Angostura bitters shortage that was posted the day before. However, I've realized over the years that sarcasm doesn't really carry all that well on the internet sometimes.

At the end of a long work day the headlines were alarming since this is something threatening the supply a good cocktail. However, I still chuckled at William Tigertt's funny tweet: "Panic! Angostura bitter plant shutdown. NYC distributors rationing 3 bottles per account. Hording begins as cocktail doomsday clock hits 11."

Yes, if Angostura were to disappear off the face of the earth, it would be tragic, but luckily that wasn't really the story. Angostura bitters will not never exist, ever, you're probably just going to have to wait a bit for it. In fact, guys, it's January! The Bitter Truth folks announced that their line bitters will be available in the United States starting this month (and y'all can stop hitting up Stephan Berg).

Of course, I won't poo-poo just how much of a pain this is going to be for bartenders and managers. But at the same time, if you're a regular reader of Nation's Restaurant News (wink wink nudge nudge) when it comes to day-to-day operations, shortages, discontinuations, hiccups, or any number of things are all part of being in the industry and the controlled chaos that is the back of the house.

If anything, from talking with bartenders who work in the bars and establishments that a shortage of this nature would affect, I always got the impression they also juggle with this sort of thing all the time in different scales. Two words for you: seasonal fruit. In fact, if we want to start up some widespread rioting and the looting of fruit stands and produce sections across America in the impending Cocktailopocalypse, let's talk about cold weather in Florida threatening citrus crops. (My next blog entry title, "Yo Angostura, imma let you finish bringing the supply back up, but the lack of citrus due to unseasonably cold weather is what will clearly spell the doom of cocktails for all time. FOR ALL TIME" or "I have no lemons, but I must squeeze").

Though, honestly, with my years of watching horror and disaster movies, I'm going to have to take a quick break here to knock on wood simply because displaying this sort of naysaying is how most of these movies start: "Pffft, a volcano? In Los Angeles? Please, I'm going to go about my daily life despite ominous talking heads on the morning news warning me about...OH GOD I JUST STEPPED IN LAVA. WHY."

Joking aside, on a day-to-day basis, there are many things on cocktail bar's menu that can go wrong. Ever sit at one of the city's fine cocktail establishments and order a drink only to have your bartender tell you, "Oh, we actually didn't get [cocktail ingredient] today, but I can make you a variation using something else" or "We're out of [cocktail ingredient], but if you're interested in this particular spirit/flavor I can also whip something up for you."

Angostura is irreplaceable, of course, however, let's not forget that our greatest weapon in the fight to stave Cocktailopocalypse isn't any one ingredient or an inanimate thing. It's bartenders and their knowledge. You know, sort of like how the proverb goes: "Give a man a fish..." etc., etc.? Except, it's more like, "Well, who's going to fish the fish if there's no one around who knows how to fish anyway?" One of the things I've heard a couple of times is that one of the biggest hits to cocktail culture recovery after Prohibition was the diaspora of the skilled people who worked behind the bar. Not having good aged spirits around didn't help either, but even with great products we need those who know how to use it.

I truly do hope that bartenders will be able to get through the inconveniences and this shortage is only temporary.

At the same time, as we talk of bitters, we should also keep in mind that there are people out there who work hard to try and recreate incarnations of other bitters of the past and others experiment in creating bitters and flavorings all their own. So even in times hardship and shortages we also have people always working towards innovating and creating.

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