Alton Brown Separates Bitters From the Alcohol

Who says a rocks glass has to be filled with a real cocktail?. (Photo: M. Unal Ozmen/Shutterstock)

If anyone else had posted a picture of himself with a glass filled with sparkling water and bitters, I would have quickly passed it by. But, when Alton Brown posted one, there was no question I was going to try it. He posted the photo on Twitter and Facebook, and gave a little more info on Facebook about his cocktail with no alcohol.

Brown announced that he decided to take a yearlong break from alcohol and that his new go-to beverage would be sparkling water and aromatic bitters.

"Yes," Brown said on Facebook, "most bitters contain around 30% alcohol but we're talking 8-10 drops here so I think I'm good."

In the comments, Brown added some more information. When he turned 53 recently he decided to give himself an alcohol-free year. He said he didn't have a problem but he had various reasons for doing it, including a sharp rise in his alcohol intake and putting on some weight. If you've ever listened to the Alton Browncast, you'll know that he enjoys cocktails regularly. I imagine he wanted to find something that could take the place of a cocktail for him — something in a rocks glass that would simulate the feeling of having a cocktail in hand.

I get that. I've been known to drink sparkling water or club soda with a squeeze of fresh citrus out of a wine glass while I'm cooking. I really enjoy drinking wine while I cook, but I'd rather save the one or two glasses I'm going to have for my meal. So I create a substitute that makes me think I'm drinking wine — if I don't think about it too much.

I wondered if Brown's new go-to beverage would have a similar effect on me. Could I sit outside in the evening, drinking sparkling water with bitters and be content? I gave it a try.

My first thought was "Christmas." Aromatic bitters on its own has a strong clove taste and cloves always taste and smell like Christmas to me. I liked it, but now that I had Christmas on my mind, I wasn't sure it would be the right drink for sipping outside in the summer. I wondered what it would taste like if I squeezed a lime wedge into it. That did the trick. It tempered the clove flavor and added some summery, sunny freshness to the mix. It's refreshing and practically calorie-free.

To recreate my version of Alton Brown's new go-to drink, follow these simple directions.

  1. Fill a rocks glass 2/3 of the way with ice.
  2. Fill with sparkling, club or seltzer water.
  3. Add 8 dashes of aromatic bitters.
  4. Squeeze 1/4 of a lime into the glass.
  5. Stir gently.

I'm not taking an alcohol-free year, but I have recently adopted the "glass of water between drinks" rule. Too often I was finding myself dehydrated in the morning, even after a night with only two drinks. So I'll be choosing this new drink both on nights when I'm not drinking any alcohol at all and on nights when I'm out with friends and need to add water to the evening.