Stampeding with The Silk Road

Posted by Claire

Howdy, folks.

For our non-Calgarian readers, today is the first day of the 2015 Calgary Stampede, which is a 10-day celebration of everything Western. If the hot weather didn’t already have us dreaming about backyard barbeques and summer drinks, this definitely moved those things to the top of our priority list. In honour of that, we’ve released two videos showcasing easy ways to incorporate spices and bitters into your summer entertaining.


The first video addresses a common question we get at the Calgary shop — namely, how to use our steak spices (or any dry rub) to season a steak.


The second demonstrates a Silk Road twist on the classic Caesar, Calgary’s most iconic cocktail. It’s called the “Hell and High Water” as a nod to the 2013 floods that inundated both the Stampede grounds and our neighbourhood, and we’ve played on the name by enhancing the seafood elements of the drink.


If you’d like to read up on the spices we use in the videos, here are the links to their descriptions on our website:

Have a safe Stampede, everyone. Yeehaw!



A Bitter Thrill to Swallow

By Vanessa Gillard

Bitters add a dash of flavour to almost anything. Whether you're baking or bartending, bitters will become your favourite  secret.

Bitters add a dash of flavour to almost anything. Whether you’re baking or bartending, bitters will become your favourite secret.

Nestled in a grand vintage French china cabinet in a bright corner of The Silk Road is row upon row of vibrantly labeled, colourful little bottles: our selection of cocktail bitters. Many people are intrigued by these mysterious infusions and often have questions about what their uses are. As intriguing as their uses and ingredients are, their history is an interesting one as well.

Bitters originated as cure-all stomach remedies that were peddled to people young and old. One of the oldest and best-known brands, Angostura Aromatic Bitters, was invented in 1824 by Dr. Johann Siegert, the acting Surgeon General for the armies of Simon Bolivar. They were indeed used to remedy the stomach ailments of Bolivar’s soldiers, who were frequently caught ill by their intense living conditions. Dr. Siegert named his medicinal concoction after the town where he lived: Angostura, Venezuela. Bitters increased in popularity through the 19th century, but because they were indeed bitter to drink, they were frequently mixed with other things.  The most popular mixer became, predictably, alcohol. This led directly to the invention of the cocktail. According to an Imbibe Magazine article, Origin of the Cocktail, the term “cocktail” originally described “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.”

Nowadays, bitters are used to add depth of flavour to cocktails. They are never the main attraction in a drink, but their contribution is large: the difference between an Old Fashioned with bitters and without is unmistakable (in fact, without bitters, it’s simply not an Old Fashioned). Bitters can be likened to extracts used in baking: a little goes a long way. Bitters can also be used to flavour non-alcoholic drinks and are particularly nice in brightening up plain soda water. Also, cooking with bitters can be just as exciting as playing bartender; bitters are great in everything from marinades to sauces to salad dressings.

Bitters are basically alcoholic infusions of botanical plants (root, barks, berries, leaves) and spices. The plethora of bitters flavours available from small upstart companies and the time-honoured giants is a reflection of the widespread resurgence in the popularity of Mixology, the likes of which has not been seen since prohibition. There are tons of flavours, but for those who’d like to devise their own bitters recipes The Silk Road has a great selection of botanicals, including gentian root, wormwood, quassia bark and more.

The Silk Road has a wide array of bitters available, from the classic Angostura Aromatic, which is essential to cocktails like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned, to the intriguing Bittermen’s  line that includes flavours like ‘Elemakule Tiki which has an allspice and cinnamon flavour followed by a touch of lime and ginger; great with rum. My personal favourite is Scrappy’s Cardamom bitters; a lovely addition to a particularly citrus-laden gin and tonic.

If you are looking to start your own collection, an aromatic bitters and an orange bitters are probably the most essential flavours to start with. If you can’t decide, a great alternative to buying your bitters by the bottle is grabbing a sampler set; we have several varieties from Bittered Sling and Scrappy’s.

With spring just around the corner, why not dazzle at your next barbeque or back yard soirée with a couple newly acquired bartending skills and all the perfect bitters to accompany them. Bottoms up!

Recipe: Yuzu-Lemon Bitters

By Colin Leach

A selection of the bitters available at The Silk Road.

A selection of the bitters available at The Silk Road.

Cocktail bitters are becoming more and more prevalent in good drinks mixed in good bars. 10 years ago, Angostura Bitters was the only brand available in Canada. Most bars and some home liquor cabinets had one of the distinctive bottles with the yellow cap and weird paper label sitting neglected in the back. But nobody really seemed to know what they were or what they should be used for. Now, thanks to the artisanal, DIY ethos and obsessive attention to authenticity that permeates everything from bartending to pickle-making, there’s a whole range of bitters brands and flavours available. These range from the very traditional orange and celery, to the more obscure habanero, sarsaparilla and Thai curry. There’s something for every palate and every type of cocktail. Savoury bitters are great in drinks like caesars or gin & tonics; citrusy bitters work great with gin and tequila; darker, stronger bitters are great in whiskey drinks; and just about anything can work in a martini or Manhattan.

Bitters, in a nutshell, are strong infusions of herbs, spices and roots that are added to cocktails to enhance the flavours and add an undertone of bitter complexity. Most are made with an alcohol base (since alcohol is needed to extract the flavours from the spices and botanicals), but they are classified as non-potable alcohol, so they can be sold in shops like ours (as can vanilla extract). You use so little that they are perfectly safe in virgin cocktails or just splashed into soda water. The amount of alcohol they add to a drink is negligible.

Making your own bitters at home is a really fun and interesting project for someone who wants to feel like an alchemist. You get to work with interesting and strange-smelling plants, you get to have jars of colourful infusions resting in cupboards, and at the end of it all, you have wonderful and delicious tinctures that you can use in your own cocktail-making efforts and give as gifts to imbibing friends.

If you’re interested in making bitters at home, we can’t recommend highly enough Brad Thomas Parsons’ book Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All. It’s a wonderful book with history, shopping guides, cocktail recipes and 20 or so recipes for making bitters. But to get you started we’ve developed a recipe for our very own Yuzu-Lemon Bitters. Yuzu is a wonderful and unique citrus fruit from Japan that is more or less impossible to find outside of that country (at least in it’s fresh form). We carry dried and granulated yuzu peel, and we’ve paired that with fresh lemon peel for this recipe.  All you need apart from some spices is 3 fresh lemons, some honey, a large jar or two, and some high-proof vodka or grain alcohol (we use Everclear, which is available here in Alberta). Some small dropper bottles or woozy bottles are also useful for packaging the final product. The whole thing takes about a month.

Yuzu-Lemon Bitters

Some of the necessary ingredients.

Some of the necessary ingredients.


Fresh zest of 3 lemons
¼ cup dried yuzu peel
6 cracked cardamom pods
½ tsp whole coriander
½ tsp gentian root
½ tsp hops (1-2 flowers)
1 tsp cut lemongrass
¼ tsp Szechuan peppercorns
2 cups Everclear grain alcohol
2 Tbsp honey



  • Place peels, spices and botanicals in a mason jar and cover with grain alcohol.
  • Seal the jar and let the mixture stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks. Give the jar a good, vigorous shake once a day.
  • Strain the alcohol into a clean mason jar through a cheesecloth to separate the liquid from the dry ingredients. Once the majority is strained, gather the cloth into a ball and squeeze it to release as much liquid as possible. Store the infused alcohol for now.
  • Put the solids into a saucepan and add 1 cup of water.
  • Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  • Pour this mixture into the original (now empty) jar, cover and allow to sit for 5 days. Again, shake vigorously once a day.
  • Strain the water through cheesecloth and discard the solids. Then add the infused water to the jar of infused alcohol.
  • Add honey to the bitters mixture.
  • Seal the jar and allow the mix to sit for 5 days, shaking occasionally.
  • Strain again and pour into small bitters bottles. Label.
  • For optimum potency, use within a year.
Peeling lemons.

Peeling lemons.

Adding alcohol.

Adding alcohol.

Ready for infusion.

Ready for infusion.

Summer Cocktail Recipe – Rosita’s Garden

Submitted by Colin Leach

Rosita's Garden

Rosita’s Garden

This cocktail is my adaptation of an old Mr. Boston cocktail called the Rosita. I’ve sanded off the bitter edges and made it a little more savoury with cucumber and celery bitters. Those two flavours pair really well with the orange of the Aperol and the vegetal taste of tequila. It’s a perfect pre-dinner drink for the back yard.

1½ oz Reposado Tequila
½ oz Sweet Vermouth
½ oz Dry Vermouth
½ oz Aperol
1 dash Celery Bitters (I like Bitter Truth)
1 slice of cucumber

Muddle cucumber in a mixing glass. Add the other ingredients and fill halfway with ice. Stir for 30 seconds and fine-strain (through a mesh strainer) into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a thin disk of cucumber.

Dinner with Bitters

Bitters Ham Glaze

Picnic Ham from Regina’s Fine Meats, glaze with bourbon and Angostura Bitters.

We’ve been waiting for an opportunity to try cooking with bitters, and suddenly, Easter dinner presented itself. Bitters are typically used in cocktails, but there are plenty of food applications too. Salad dressings, marinades, sauces and baking are all good vehicles for the super-intensity of good bitters. Brad Thomas Parsons’ excellent book Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All includes a whole section on cooking with bitters. We picked two things out of it to make for Easter dinner: the Bourbon Bitters Holiday Ham Glaze and the Bitters-Sweet Chocolate Malted Pudding.

Bitters Ham Glaze

Dinner with Bitters: bourbon-bitters ham, bacon-stuffed potatoes and grilled asparagus.

The ham glaze is a simple case of combining Angostura Bitters with brown sugar, molasses, vinegar, apple cider and orange juice on the stove. We used a picnic ham from Regina’s Fine Meats here in Calgary. The result was wonderful. Angostura Bitters has been around a long time for a reason – the flavour is spicy, complex and intense. Combined with the other ingredients, it was a perfect complement to the ham. Much more interesting and unusual than straight glaze with cloves studded into the ham.

The chocolate pudding seemed at first like a slightly uninspired choice for Easter dessert (who eats chocolate pudding as an adult?) but it turned out to be a smash hit. The recipe makes for a fairly rich, sophisticated pudding; nothing like a box of instant Bill Cosby store-bought stuff. It calls for chocolate bitters (we used Bitter Truth Chocolate-Mole) and malted milk powder, which as far as we know isn’t available around here. Ovaltine is available, though, and makes a perfectly good substitute. We also used home-made vanilla extract (watch for a blog post on this soon). The pudding was so good and so popular that we immediately made it again the following week for friends.

Some of the ingredients for the Bitters-Sweet Chocolate Malted Pudding.

Some of the ingredients for the Bitters-Sweet Chocolate Malted Pudding.

We’re not going to share the exact recipes here, but if you have bitters around the house and any interest in creative ways of using them, do yourself a favour and pick up Parsons’ book or do some Googling. There are lots of ideas out there and lots of great ways to discover that bitter is better.

Spring Cocktail Recipe – The Delmonico

This is a forgotten classic from New York’s Delmonico Hotel. It’s a great drink to welcome spring. Nothing flashy – just a well-balanced, classy cocktail with botanical and citrus notes. We’ve jazzed it up a bit by using Dr. Adam’s Spanish Bitters in place of the classic Angostura Bitters.

Delmonico Cocktail

Delmonico Cocktail

Delmonico Cocktail

1 oz Gin
½ oz Brandy
½ oz Dry Vermouth
½ oz Sweet Vermouth
1-2 dashes Dr. Adam’s Spanish Bitters
Lemon twist

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Stir well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with a thick strip of lemon peel, twisted over the drink and rubbed around the rim.