The Bitter Truth, An Exposè on Bitters


For bitter lovers there’s nothing else that can set off the deep of complexity of a cocktail than the right usage of a bitter.  Bitters were once a common bar ingredient, an alcoholic preparation flavored with botanical matter and herbal essence, considered to be a necessary component in the early concept of cocktail. Bitters seem it originate back as far as the ancient Egyptians who infused medicinal herbs with wine and into the “Middle Ages” where people prepared concentrated herbal bitters and tonic.  Secret formulas for preparing bitters include variety of herbs, spices, bark, roots distilled in base liquor and fruit for medicinal and flavor properties. Bitters are highly concentrated tinctures (alcoholic-extraction of the plants).

 The concept of using herbal bitters, as preventive medicines, with Canary wine was later adopted by British in 19th century. The very first commercial bitter was compounded in 1824 by German physician Dr. Siegert for medicinal uses to cure sea sickness and stomach maladies.

The idea of cocktail first hit the American air in 1806. Bitters go way back to the early days of American cocktails, when pharmacist Antoine Peychaud added a dash or two to the alcoholic libations served up at his apothecary shop in 19th Century New Orleans.

The popular bitters emerge from this period were Angostura bitters, Paychaud’s Bitters and Orange bitters.

Cocktails are a stimulating beverage, blend of brandy, gin or any other liquid, with bitters, sugar and very little water.

Bitters are spice rack of the cocktail world. Cocktail bitters can transform the cocktail by balancing its sour and sweet flavors and inducing whole new flavor profile and dimensions. These bitters are highly concentrated and a judicious amount, in drops and dashes, can arouse the diversity of flavors and aromas in drink.

Bitters are the must-have ingredient to in classic and stirred cocktail like Manhattan, old-fashioned and Champagne Cocktail.

Bitters add interest to almost any drink by inducing a drastically different flavor profile. Adding drops of these bitters can add complex flavor and balance to the cocktails.

As the name give the notion of bitterness, this magical ingredient won’t make your drink bitter but better instead.  Human taste buds can pick up five to six basic flavors salty, sweet, bitter, sour, umami sometimes savory and astringent taste. These basic taste of bitters interact in very interesting ways and by exploiting all these tastes, can give rise to the more complex combinations. For example, introducing salt to bitter and sour drink can suppress the bitterness and adding bitter to sweet drink can damp its sweetness.

These bitters are available in small bottles along with eyedroppers, each with its own properties to introduce unique taste to cocktails. Be very careful while adding bitter as too much of it can spoil your drink.  But done right with a keen understanding of spirit mastery bitters will a new world to your cocktails adding depth complexity and finish.