Friday, 11 November 2011

Christmas Bitters, by Heather Duncan and The Elves

Many of you will know the story behind the creation of Christmas Bitters, something that ranks as one of the best and most thoughtful presents I've ever been given, but assuming some of you don't it's worth explaining a little of the history;

Before you begin, please click play on the video above, then continue reading.

In October 2009 during a conversation regarding the trials and tribulations involved in the production of a quality bitters, Heather told me she believed she'd learnt so much by following my progress, and listening to me talk about the subject incessantly, that she was confident she could make bitters. I had no doubt that Heather had listened intently and had picked up various tidbits having helped throughout the early days of my research into, and experimentation of, Boker's Bitters (which then spawned Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters), but I doubted whether enough had been stored away. "You can't make bitters," I declared, underestimating just how talented she is...

Unbeknown to me Heather decided to do everything possible to make the bitters she promised she could, in this instance a Christmas Bitters. In order to keep this present under wraps she contacted Santa Claus (no, really) who allowed her to borrow two of his Elves so long as he had them back by Christmas Eve (seriously). One of the Elves set about designing a beautiful label so that the bitters would stand out, whilst the other let Heather use his grotto and some tools from his workshop. Lastly, Heather focused on devising a recipe and set to work. Let's just say that I may have had a wee tear in my eye on the morning of 25th December 2009 when presented with a few bottles of Dr. Heather Duncan's Christmas Bitters. Who was to know that humble pie was a Christmas delicacy?

Though a handful of Heather's original batch made their way to bars in Scotland, England, France and America, the next 24 months were spent fending off requests for Dr. Heather Duncan's Christmas Bitters, right up until October 2011 when some mysterious happenings started taking place in and around my house.

It all started when I received some junk-mail addressed to 'The Elves'. Like most of you will have experienced, all sorts of rubbish starts dropping through the letterbox in the lead-up to Christmas so I didn't really think anything of it.

Then, whilst carrying out a stock count, I spotted that some botanicals and bottles had gone missing. Again, I didn't read too much into it and put it down to an oversight regarding a delivery that hadn't arrived yet.

The next oddity was the appearance of botanicals, namely currants and cranberries, that I couldn't recall purchasing. I'm always experimenting with recipes for products and have hundreds of botanicals in my workshop so presumed I'd forgotten about an earlier idea I'd had hence why they had come to be in amongst my existing stock.

Things changed on the morning of 31st October when I was awoken by what sounded like my office window closing. Scottish weather in October is a time where you'd rarely open windows during the day let alone leave them open at night so I knew something wasn't right. I ran through to find nothing untoward, the window was closed as expected and everything seemed in order. That was until I spotted a small green & red hat (like the one pictured above) outside my office window. "Surely not..."

Weighing everything up there was only one explanation for it, The Elves had returned and they had unfinished business. I knew what they were after so I decided to set-up a trap for them. Gathering a few bottles and some festive spices, I left them on my kitchen worktop and headed to bed to wait.

Within minutes the sound of tiny footsteps could be heard, I crept through to my kitchen, held my camera round the corner and took a picture (above). Caught. In. The. Act. This was when I realised that The Elves and Christmas Bitters were back...

The Elves didn't want to give too much away regarding the bottlings though I eventually learnt that themselves and Heather had used overproof rum as a base spirit, with three different roots as bittering agents. Dried cranberries and currants are offset with a host of freshly ground festive spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove and star anise. A citrus edge is provided by dried orange and lemon peels, extra depth from cacao nibs, mace blades and coriander seed, finally finishing with a hint of port to round everything off.

Macerated for no less than two weeks, the Christmas Bitters then go through an exhaustive filtration process before being bottled. The first handful have been bottled with another 250 to be produced for release in early December before The Elves have to head back and prepare for Christmas day with Santa Claus (I'm not making this up).

Dr. Heather Duncan's Christmas Bitters

Dr. Heather Duncan's Christmas Bitters capture the spirit of Christmas in a bottle. Initially created in 2009, these have been reborn by a handful of Elves who didn't want to see Heather's work left in the past.

Elf-crafted, elf-bottled and elf-labelled, Christmas Bitters are a unique addition to any bitters collection adding depth to simple serves such as a Horse's Neck, a point of difference in classics such as the Pink Gin or Corn & Oil, or in original libations such as the award winning Rum-Plum-stiltskin.

Tasting Notes: Dr. Heather Duncan's Christmas Bitters are dark ruby-red in colour with an enticing nose of freshly baked gingerbread, clove, and spiced fruit. An initial soft sweetness swiftly moves into a complex middle with clove-studded-orange and a host of festive spice all dancing on your tongue before a long bitter finish welcomes the return of hot gingerbread, spiced cookies and clove.

To round things up I'm going to leave you in the capable hands of Heather. If the music above is still playing please scroll up, press pause, then scroll back and listen to Heather singing, with her dad Bryan on guitar and backing vocals, instead. I did tell you she is talented...

There's also a couple of recommended serves provided, one of which was created by Heather, whilst the other is a twist of a favourite of the new doctor in town.


50ml / 2oz Havana Club Especial
25ml / 1oz Ruby Port
4 Dashes Dr. Heather Duncan's Christmas Bitters
25ml / 1oz Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Fresh egg white
20ml / 0.75oz Homemade Plum Syrup

Method: To your mixing glass, add egg white, lemon juice and plum syrup in that order followed by remaining ingredients. Dry shake for five seconds then with ice for a further ten seconds
Glass: Chilled wine goblet
Garnish: Snap orange zest over drink and discard
Ice: N/A
Notes: Heather's winning cocktail from the Havana Club Cocktail Competition at Mim Bar & Lounge

Christmas Tree

50ml / 2oz English Harbour 5 year old
12.5ml / 0.5oz Falernum
4 Dashes Dr. Heather Duncan's Christmas Bitters
Barspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Method: Add all ingredients to glass, fill with crushed ice and swizzle. Top with crushed ice and swizzle again if necessary.
Glass: Highball
Garnish: Lime zest spiral (use a vegetable peeler to create a long strip)
Ice: Crushed
Notes: Adaptation of the classic Corn & Oil and aptly named after an oil well Christmas Tree

For purchasing information please contact me directly at as these won't be available with my distributors or retailers, they're going fast and before we know it the festive season will be over.

Why not buy your favourite bartender a bottle for Christmas?


Adam Elmegirab
Bar Consultant / Compounder
Evo-lution / Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters

Web: /
Facebook: Adam Elmegirab / Evo-lution Bar Consultancy / Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters
Twitter: @AdamsBitters

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