The Biter

Stir, don't shake, the Biter.

iStock Photo

When I stumbled upon The Biter in the pages of The Savoy Cocktail Book, I couldn’t find any sort of history on it, but it’s an oldie, dating to at least 1930, and is probably older than that. This libation is a dandy palate-pleaser and great for late summer, as it’s refreshing, tart and easy-drinking.

This drink features two liqueurs that are seeing a resurgence: Chartreuse and absinthe. Chartreuse has been made by Carthusian monks since 1605. The Carthusians, whose first monastery was built in the shadow of the Chartreuse Mountains, now reside in Voiron, France. Their elixir, Chartreuse, comes in two varieties, green and yellow. Flavored with more than 130 roots, herbs, barks, spices and flowers, it’s said that only three monks know the secret recipe. Green Chartreuse gets its color from herbs that are added after the distillation process and allowed to steep. Yellow Chartreuse is colored with saffron, again added after the distillation process. Green Chartreuse is sweet, pungent (55 percent ABV) and herbal. Yellow Chartreuse is lower in proof – 40 percent ABV – sweeter, and has notes of honey and baking spices.

Absinthe derives its name from the plant Artemisia absinthium, commonly known as wormwood. It was banned in the U.S. in 1912 and didn’t come back on the market until 2007. There are a few domestic distilleries that are making quality absinthe, and I recommend North Shore’s Sirène Absinthe Verte and St. George’s Absinthe Verte, which has a strong anise flavor and is very herbal. Traditionally drunk with water and a sugar cube, absinthe can also be the base of a cocktail or used to add depth of flavor, as in The Biter. This stuff is potent, ranging in ABV from 50 to about 70 percent. And contrary to lore, you will not hallucinate when drinking absinthe. You can try, but you’ll pass out before the bottle is finished.

Shaking vs. Stirring

A rule of thumb in bartending is that cocktails containing all booze are stirred, and cocktails with juices, syrups, cream or eggs are shaken. However, many cocktails offer exceptions to the rule, The Biter being one of them. I did tests on these “rule breakers” and found that the method used to combine a cocktail’s ingredients definitely makes a huge difference. With classics, I follow the recipe. With my own creations, I test. If a drink that I stir is lacking something or just not very good, I’ll shake it to see what it does, and vice versa. Try this and see what I’m talking about. 

The Biter

Serves | 1 |

  • 1½ oz North Shore No. 11 Gin
  • ¾ oz green Chartreuse
  • ¾ oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 dash North Shore Sirène Absinthe Verte
  • ice, cracked and cubed

| Preparation | Combine all liquid ingredients in a mixing glass. Add cracked and cubed ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Matt is a bartender, author and industry historian.