Potent and particular, mole bitters might seem an unlikely contender for anyone’s go-to modifier. Behind the bar at Latin-focused Leyenda, however, the bitters—originally inspired by Mexican mole sauce and developed to pair with tequila—have become something of a staple. And for owner Ivy Mix, the appeal of mole bitters extends well beyond its south-of-the border associations.
“I think that people should realize that it’s not just something to go with tequila,” says Mix, who uses Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters. “It can go into anything, and it’s definitely a valuable player in an arsenal.”
With dominant notes of chocolate, cinnamon and spice, the draw of mole bitters lies less in its resemblance to authentic mole flavor and more in its unfamiliar, hard-to-pinpoint characteristics that add depth and nuance to a drink. Like most bitters, mole serves to enhance the other ingredients and draw out subtleties in the base spirit and additional modifiers.
“When you put it into drinks, it adds a kind of blanket of nuance to things,” explains Mix. “[Its flavors are] not too abrupt, and they’re not too recognizable.”
While Mix first discovered mole bitters when working at Brooklyn’s Fort Defiance, it wasn’t until she opened Leyenda over a year ago that she realized how frequently she turned to the tiny bottle when creating new menu items. “I wanted mole in every single drink” she recalls. (She does confess that, despite her love of the bitters, she’s not a fan of the sauce it takes after. “People think it’s delicious, but it’s not for me,” she says.)
Even beyond Leyenda’s roster of Latin-inspired drinks, for which mole is a natural fit, Mix turns to the bitters to boost classics, too, like the Old Fashioned or a neat pour of Scotch: “It really does work in just about everything.”
Mole Bitters, Three Ways
Mix’s advice on deploying mole bitters in stirred drinks is simple: “Use with caution.” Without citrus, mole bitters can be overpowering—but this same quality allows them to hold their own against the bold flavors of whiskey and mezcal and, in the case of the latter, draw out the subtle earth and fruit notes beneath the spirit’s smokiness.
“If [a cocktail] is shaken,” explains Mix, “the whole molecular balance of the drink is different.” Citrus, spirit and bitters coalesce, with mole forming a bridge between the more spirituous elements and the subtler modifiers. In the Sonambula, the combination of mole and Peychaud’s bitters highlights the nuances of chamomile tea, which might otherwise read as flat.