Widow’s Kiss

By Robert Hess

The Widow's Kiss dates back to around 1895. This was during a time when a "new" age of cocktails were coming into existence as bartenders were letting it expand beyond it's previously held definition of "spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters". They were experimenting with the use of vermouth (and hence the Martini and Manhattan), as well as various herbal liqueurs which would have previously been simply sipped neat. The Widow's Kiss doubles up on it's elixir content by using both Chartreuse and Benedictine. If you can only find green Chartreuse and not yellow, you can substitute if you cut back by about a third.

Recipe

Ingredients

2 oz Calvados

1 oz Yellow Chartreuse

1 oz Benedictine

dash Angostura Aromatic Bitters

Instructions

Stir with ice.

Strain into a cocktail glass.

Comments
Kimberly Patton-Bragg 18 May 2009
7:14 am

One of my favorites! Thanks for sharing it.

Ruben 18 May 2009
8:47 am

A bit too much booze incorporated into this drink for my taste ;D

J. 18 May 2009
9:14 am

I agree, Robert. No enhancing necessary to that glass. It’s beautiful as is. Might you be able to post any links that could direct us to some beautiful (classic) glassware like this? Also, where can I buy that mixing glass with the lip on it?

George R. Welch 18 May 2009
5:31 pm

Robert,

I am new to cocktails, but I am learning fast, mostly under your tutelage.  One reason I find your technique so attractive is that you are fastidious about measuring the ingredients.  Like you, I find that by doing things carefully, I can produce consistently great results.  I have also found that I often like my results better than what I get in many bars.

But you have a major inconsistency.  You will measure spirits, juices, and liqueurs carefully to the fraction of an ounce, but you always specify bitters with the totally undefined “dash”.

How much is a dash?  It seems to completely depend on how you shake the bottle, and it is seemingly impossible to do that consistently.  Since so many cocktails involve bitters, it is very frustrating that this important ingredient—sometimes the most important!—is left to guesswork.

This basically turns me off to cocktails involving bitters (the vast majority) because there is no way to get it right, and that saddens me.

Is there no way to measure bitters with the same precision that you would measure, say, fresh lime juice?

Otherwise keep up the great work!  I love your tutoring.

—George R. Welch

J. 18 May 2009
6:15 pm

George, I don’t hope to replace an answer from Robert, but I can’t agree with your claim of his inconsistency about bitters measurements. Any respectable cocktail book will state either one or two “dashes” of any given bitters. If you’re paying attention to his pouring of bitters in his videos, then that should settle the matter. A dash is one “shot” of bitters (meaning the little burst that comes out of the bottle with one shake). If you want to be sure how many dashes to use in a given one of his drinks here, then simply see how many times he shakes the bitters bottle. Easy.

George R. Welch 18 May 2009
6:47 pm

J.  Many thanks for your comment.

Yes, I can count the number of times to shake the bottle—that’s no problem.  The point is that the amount that comes out in each shake is not reproducible.  It depends on the angle of the bottle, how hard you shake it, and probably wrist action as well.  I also doubt if the “shaker” is so consistent between brands that this would not vary a lot.  It just seems *wildly* inaccurate when compared to the care that Robert takes with all his other measurements.

To me, it is very frustrating, because I can’t make a reproducible cocktail that involves bitters.

Perhaps I need to purchase a milligram balance?

Let’s hope Robert chimes in :-).

—George

Robert Hess 18 May 2009
7:34 pm

George, I feel your pain.

Bitters indeed are a slightly “carefree” addition to a cocktail. As I regularly like to comment, bitters in a cocktail are like salt in a soup. And more often then not, it is common to see a cooking recipe as listing:

“salt and pepper to taste.”

Huh?

And with bitters, not only do you have a different amount of bitters being delivered based upon “how” you dash them, but also from the type of dasher tops that one producer does, and even more critically, from a “full” bottle, to a partially empty bottle.

What’s a guy (or gal) to do?

A dash is a very, very. small amount. Too small I think to accurately consider measuring, unless it is on the back of a knife.

Instead, I think this is frankly where personal experience and taste comes into play.

I see bartenders who are afraid of bitters, slowly tip the bottle so only a couple of drops fall into the drink. While somebody like Gary Regan will dash away with abandon.

If you are really concerned about strict consistancey, I’d recommend picking up some eye-dropper bottles, and putting your bitters in there, and then measuring out your bitters one drop at a time. Or do like I do, and follow Gary’s lead. :->

-Robert

Robert Hess 18 May 2009
7:41 pm

J.

For glassware, I am always looking for new and exciting sources for getting interesting products. Unless you live in the Seattle area, listing where I got this particular glass will only cause you frustration. Instead I’d recommend checking out antique stores in your area to find interesting, and often inexpensive, cocktail glasses.

As for the mixing glass I am using… the video system we are using is set up to allow you to click on any product I use and allow you to find out where to buy it, which is not only cool, but also helps pay for our show :->... however I notice that this show isn’t marked quite right, and it is pointing to a normal “boston” mixing glass on KegWorks.com (which is a great site by the way), instead of where this glass actually comes from, which is MisterMojito.com. It, and the strainer which he sells which specifically fits it, are great products, which I regularly use. Let Dave know I sent you! :->

Ian 18 May 2009
7:46 pm

I think something to amplify about what Robert said is that there is no single “right” recipe. There is only your own personal “right” recipe, according to your own taste.

So what you need to consider is not “how big is a dash?”, but rather “is every dash from that bottle of bitters the same dash?” With practice you can judge how much will flow from the bottle when you shake it, and you can learn to get about the same amount each time. After that you can vary the amount each time you make the recipe until you find what suits your taste. If you follow someone else’s proportions exactly, you will find out how they like the drink, but that may not be how you like the drink.

For instance, I tend to find Robert’s taste tends towards the sweeter side of things, so I will often use a little more of the sour or less of the sweet than Robert does in recipes in order to meet my own preference. Mixing drinks is an adventure, and if you found every recipe published for a given drink was the same, it would be a miracle!

George R. Welch 19 May 2009
2:22 am

Ian and Robert,

Thank you for the follow ups.

Ian, what I am finding is the opposite of what you said.  Even with practice, I simply cannot make a consistent “dash”.  It depends on every aspect of how you hold the bottle and shake, and I cannot make it the same way on two different days.  Of course I agree with you about personal taste.  My point was just the inconsistency of carefully measuring some ingredients and just guessing at another.

Perhaps I’ll try Robert’s dropper suggestion.  Chemistry supply stores probably sell them that can dispense with precision.

—George

Robert Hess 19 May 2009
7:36 am

George, you can also check “herbalist” stores for eye droppers. That is typically where I pick up mine. I often carry a small set of bitters with me in small eyedropper bottles just in case I’m dying for a Pegu Club, and am at a bar with no orange bitters… :->

George R. Welch 19 May 2009
11:21 am

Robert,

Thanks for the suggestion.  I didn’t want to make such a big deal out of it, but I think this dropper idea will definitely be the way to go.  For some drinks, like the Widow’s Kiss we are following up here, it isn’t so important.  But for others it seems really critical.  An example of the latter is your very own Black Feather (which I *really* like!).  To my taste on that one, no bitters is too bland and too much spoils the delicacy.  In fact, that’s the one that I find hardest to get right.

When I get my dropper maybe I’ll do a “Black Feather” evening, trying lots of different amounts of bitters, similar to the Martini experiment you suggest on your drink boy site.

Mmmmm.

Georges Remi 23 May 2009
6:52 pm

George, I think with experience (given that you have identified yourself as “new to cocktails”) you might find the concept of the dash to be part of what makes cocktails a little more exciting and interesting.  There’s nothing wrong with deciding 1/8 tsp = a dash (for example) but that does eliminate one of the nuances of cocktail making.  To each his own obviously but, for some reason, one of my favorite parts of making a cocktail is dashing the bitters into the mix.  Your point is well taken about how the spirits themselves are being so well measured and the bitters aren’t but at least for one that has been doing this a while I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Great work Robert, have enjoyed your Cocktail Spirit videos for a while (and this drink was great timing as I had just the week before picked up a bottle of Yellow Chartreuse).

George R. Welch 23 May 2009
8:08 pm

Georges,

Many thanks—I can easily imagine that you are right.  But since I am new to this, I think I need to understand it better before I can play fast and loose.  Since my first exchange with Robert, I have acquired a dropper bottle where I can control the amount of liquids to within a few percent of a ml.  With experience, I may well go back to the “dash” but for now, I want something reproducible so I can properly understand what I am doing.

Best,

—George

George R. Welch 24 May 2009
5:11 pm

Robert,

I don’t know if you are still following this thread, but I thought you might like to hear the results of some of my experiments.

As you suggested, I have procured some dropper bottles, and with some experimentation I find that I can now dispense liquids with a precision of a few hundredths of an ml (milli-liter).

First, I got a small glass, and experimented with “dash"ing Angostura aromatic bitters.  I would “dash” the bitters into the glass, and then tediously try to measure how much liquid was produced using a calibrated 1/8 tsp measuring spoon.  Actually, since the bitters have so much alcohol, the surface tension is low and it was straightforward to swirl the “dash” into the spoon.  As I expected, the amount in a “dash” varied tremendously, depending on how I held the bottle, and obviously how hard I shook it.  Based on these experiments, I would conclude that a “dash” of Angostura aromatic bitters is somewhere between 1/16 and 1/4 tsp, or roughly 1/4 - 1 ml.

Inspired by your Martini experiment (http://www.drinkboy.com/Articles/Article.aspx?itemid=18), I needed to test this on a cocktail, and my cocktail of choice is your own signature Black Feather.

I produced 5 cocktails, with 0, 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, and 1.0 ml of Angostura aromatic bitters.  (1 ml is nearly a fifth of a tea-spoon, and requires a significantly hard “dash”.)

First, I tasted the one with no bitters.  Actually, it was fine.  Was something missing?  Hard to say.

Second, the one with 0.25 ml.  Definitely no change up front, but I could absolutely detect something bitter on the end.  I then tasted a tiny drop (0.04 ml) of pure bitters, to remind myself what it was.  Yep, that was what was coming out at the end.  It is interesting that you don’t get the Angostura up front, but it seems comes on the end of the flavor cycle, after you have swallowed the sip.

Next, the drink with 0.5 ml.  Still, nothing up front, but more noticeably puckery-ness on the end.

Next, the 0.75 ml amount.  Maybe I can taste the bitters up front.  After the swallow, it’s not even subtle.  Too strong.

Next, the 1.0 ml drink:  Yuck.

Well, this was fun.  The bad news is that I still have to make dinner for the kids and act like a responsible father, so most of this gets thrown out.  However, I am happily sipping the drink with 0.25 ml of bitters.

What’s the conclusion?  Perhaps that I am not yet as much into bitters as some people :-).  What amounts to one *really* hard dash (maybe two light dashes?) is too much for me on this drink.

What’s next?  Maybe I’ll see how orange bitters work in a martini—something I’ve always been afraid to try before!  :-)

Anyway, if you’ve read all this long message, I definite want to thank you for being such an inspiring teacher.  As a person who teaches for a living (in some sense) I really tip my hat to you.  Your “cocktail spirit” is wonderful.

If you ever find yourself in College Station, Texas, give me a call and I’ll fix a “Black Feather” to suit you no matter how many “dashes” you like!

—George

Robert Hess 25 May 2009
4:19 am

Great job George! It is exactly these sort of “Personal Journeys” that I think are both important and exciting to truely discover what cocktails mean to you. For aquainting yourself with bitters, I might also recommend getting a small bottle of ginger ale, 7up, and club soda. Pour yourself two glasses of each (with ice) then add a “dash” of bitters to one of them and give them a little stir.

Not only will this not have as many flavors as a Widow’s Kiss flying around, but it will also be almost alcohol free, and so not interfere with cooking for your kids :->

Everybody has different tastes, which leads to a wide variety of possible ways to “properly” make any drink. Some of the tastes differences are due to familiarity, but others are due to genetic differences which lead to different flavors being more or less desireable.

-Robert

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