Alton Brown's Signature Cocktail For Bitter Lovers

Alton Brown, refined man that he is, appreciates a good cocktail. He has recipes for fun twists like a smoky tequila sour, watermelon Negroni, and cucumber-cilantro margarita, but definitely makes room for some tried and true beverages with a Sazerac, daiquiri, and mint julep — which, yes, you should drink a mint julep all year long.

Not only does Brown like to riff on a classic, but he also has created his own signature cocktail. It is called Brown's Bitter Truth, and as the name suggests, it is heavy on the bitters. It has Campari, but really it is more like a boulevardier than a Negroni. A Negroni has equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth — but a boulevardier substitutes bourbon or rye for the gin. It is perhaps Manhattan adjacent, which carries two parts rye whiskey to one ounce sweet vermouth, plus a couple of dashes of bitters. Brown's Bitter Truth is made with equal proportions of bourbon, Campari, and vermouth, several dashes of bitters, and usually an orange twist. Brown likes to use different types of bitters to refresh this simple and endlessly customizable beverage.

The bitters make Brown's Bitter Truth

For bitter lovers like Alton Brown, using this cocktail as a vehicle for a generous amount of bitters is what makes it special. Bitters, more specifically called cocktail bitters, are made with neutral alcohol flavored with a mix of potently flavored ingredients — spices, citrus peel, tree bark, herbs, roots, nuts, and flowers. When they were first created, they were used as medicinal tonics, but these days, bitters are used to add depth, intensity, and intrigue to otherwise straightforward cocktails. Digestive bitters, which can either be drunk as an aperitif or digestif depending on body, are bitter liqueurs like Aperol, Campari, Pernod, Fernet, and various vermouths.

Angostura aromatic bitters, which were created in 1824, are perhaps the most classic cocktail bitters. The exact recipe is kept a secret, but one of the most dominant flavors is of gentian root — slightly bitter, earthy, and with notes of licorice. The Angostura brand also offers cocoa and orange bitters. Peychaud's bitters, which is used in a Sazerac, is another popular option. It is light, sweet, and fruity with flavors of warm spices like nutmeg and clove shining through. The brand Fee Brothers makes bitters with a wide variety of delicious flavors: black walnut, cardamom, cranberry, grapefruit, molasses, tobacco, plum, cherry, and toasted almond to name a few. In an interview for the podcast The Eater Upsell, Alton Brown said he is "obsessed" with bitters and loves to switch up the Brown's Bitter Truth using all different kinds.

How do you prepare a Brown's Bitter Truth?

Alton Brown doesn't share his exact method of choice for mixing this cocktail, but it is easy to take a page from the cocktails the drink is inspired by. Think Boulevardier with equal parts vermouth. For a boulevardier, Manhattan, and Negroni, all the ingredients are measured into a mixing glass and stirred with ice. Stirring a cocktail rather than shaking it cools the liquid without incorporating air and diluting the drink.

Make an original Brown's Bitter Truth with bourbon, Campari, vermouth, and Angostura bitters for something bold and classic, or give this cocktail your own twist. Try substituting the bourbon with rye whiskey, and use plum bitters to compliment the spicy notes of the rye. Use half-sweet vermouth and half-dry vermouth to make a "perfect" cocktail, and use grapefruit bitters to highlight the citrus quality of the dry vermouth. You could even switch up the proportions and lean in a Manhattan direction with two parts bourbon to one part Campari and sweet vermouth, plus cherry bitters to round it out. Serve your Brown's Bitter Truth in a rocks glass over ice, or in a Nick and Nora coupe glass if you want to let the booze shine. Really, you can't go wrong with a cocktail created by Alton Brown himself.