Forget Fernet: Real Bartenders Shoot Angostura

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Shortage be damned.
After a long late-night shift, bartenders have been known to knock back shots of Fernet-Branca, that bracingly bitter, herbal elixir reputed to make the feebler among us recoil in disgust (or defeat). The latest trend among the truly hardcore drinks slingers is to throw back a shot of Angostura bitters.

"All the cool kids do a shot of Fernet-Branca after work. It's almost like a secret handshake," says Damon Dyer, a bartender at Louis 649 and Clover Club. "But if you want to shoot a little bit of bitter spirit, put half an ounce of Angostura back in your gullet. It's delicious."

Although he says he didn't come up with it, Dyer likes to take credit for the spread of the Angostura shot trend, which he has introduced to fellow bartenders and adventurous drinkers alike.

"I once taught a seminar and had an entire room put back a shot of Angostura," he recalls. "Oh, and the looks on their faces. They were offended by the idea. Yet every single person in that room, to their credit, did it. And I watched their expressions of shock and revulsion slowly fade into appreciation and satisfaction. It's a remarkably complex, refreshing shot of spirit. It's like extract of Christmas. Of course, the recipe is kept under lock and key, but to fully appreciate Angostura -- or any spirit, really -- you should put back a shot of it. Yeah, I really dig the flavors in Angostura."

At 44.7 percent alcohol, it boasts a higher proof than most vodka and rum, and is a surprisingly good base spirit for cocktails. Just ask Painkiller's Giuseppe Gonzalez, whose recipe for a Trinidad Sour calls for an ounce of the stuff.

But isn't it a waste to shoot Angostura, especially in light of the recent shortage? "Not if you really enjoy it," is Dyer's answer. Now, that's the spirit.


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