Bittered Sling

Bittered Sling

The first Armagnac cocktail I ever tried was at Heaven’s Dog in San Francisco, CA. Heaven’s Dog bar manager Erik Adkins (who happens to be on of my favorite bartenders) had placed an unassuming cocktail on the menu called the Bittered Sling.

First, a little bit of cocktail history: a sling predates the cocktail and by basic definition is comprised of spirits, water and sugar. A cocktail is nearly identical but with the addition of bitters. When the cocktail first came onto the scene it was described as a “bittered sling.”

Erik’s interpretation was a cocktail with Armagnac, sugar, (presuming Erik probably uses gum syrup), bitters stirred over a hand cut ice block and garnished with some nutmeg on top. Armagnac was a delightful choice to highlight this deceptively simple cocktail. Readers with a keen eye will note this is not all that different from an Old Fashioned, but with a more classic garnish, nutmeg. The Bittered Sling can also be easily adapted to use other spirits, rye whiskey, in particular, works quite well.

To give this cocktail a whirl at home you’re going to need to buy some Armagnac. Depending on where you live this may prove to be difficult. Once you start to research, you will find that there is a lot of really expensive Armagnac out there, most of these are extra aged products that are better suited to drinking neat than in a cocktail. I recommend looking for Tariquet Classique or Marie Duffau Napolean, both are quite lovely on their own and not too expensive ($35 US). If you can’t find anything in your local stores you can try ordering online from a place like K&L Wines.

The next thing that gives this cocktail a touch of class is the ice. There’s nothing wrong with your usual ice but if you really want to impress your guests try one of the following. You can hand cut ice blocks like Erik does at Heaven’s Dog or buy these awesome extra large silicone ice cube trays from Tovolo. If you want to give hand cutting a try there is a simpler way then how the pros do it, massive ice block or chainsaw not required. Take a Tupperware or Gladware plastic container and fill it with water then freeze it. Once frozen, press your ice block out of the mold and onto some sort of cutting surface that has towel on it. Next, take a very sharp and sizable kitchen knife and carefully chop at the block where you want to cut it. It takes some practice but you’ll find that you can get a pretty clean cut with minimal chipping of the ice. Be warned, small ice bits may be propelled to various corners of your kitchen.

What I like most about this cocktail is how it highlights the Armagnac and how well that Armagnac plays with the nutmeg.

The Bittered Sling

  • 2 oz Armagnac
  • ¼ – ½ oz Simple Syrup or Gum/ Syrup*
  • 2 dashes bitters (angostura works, but feel free to experiment)
  • Garnish with nutmeg on top

Stir ingredients over ice, if you’re using a large ice block you will need to stir longer. Stirring is the key to making this drink correctly, with so few ingredients getting the appropriate level of ice melt is crucial. Lastly, using a microplanner, grate some nutmeg over the top.

*I often make my simple syrup (1 part water to 1 part sugar) from turbinado sugar which yields a very rich syrup. This is why I only use ¼ oz, however you may find you will need up to ½ oz depending on your syrup. Gum syrup is a simple syrup which has gum arabic added to it, the resulting syrup gives a fuller mouthfeel. If you have access to it Small Hand Foods makes a great gum syrup.


7 comments to “The Bittered Sling, an Armagnac cocktail”

  1. Harry

    How funny, I started experimenting with the Bittered Sling after a trip to Heaven’s Dog in February.

    I wanted to try it at home — after all, it’s such a simple recipe — but I didn’t have any armagnac. So I tried it with Pierre Ferrand Ambre, a damn good but affordable cognac. It worked! It didn’t taste the same, but the nutmeg complemented the cognac nearly as well as it did the armagnac at Heaven’s Dog. And I used agave syrup as the sweetener, and that worked well too. I agree with you that a big chunk of ice is important. I’m not sure if the fact that a little nutmeg sits on the cube and gets closer to your nose is a factor in the flavor, but I think so. And I agree that rye sounds like a good alternative to try with this. I make rye old fashioneds periodically, and adding a little nutmeg might just elevate it a bit.

  2. filip

    The bittered sling is extremely versatile, you could probably make it work with any brown spirit. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Doug

    Great Drink. I used maple syrup instead. It added a very nice finish. I’ll have to stop in Heavens Dog my next trip to SF


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