It’s time we talk about an important addition to all liqueurs, bitters. Bitters are a category of their own. Bitters are cocktail enhancers, just as salt and pepper add to virtually every savory meal. A pinch of salt or pepper can really change the dynamic of your meal. And bitters do the exact same for a cocktail. So let’s learn about them…
What are Bitters?
Bitters are botanicals that are largely concentrated and have an alcoholic base. Traditionally, bitters are made by soaking botanicals such as roots, herbs, spices, fruits and more, in clear or neutral alcohols. In 1803, there was the first recorded use of bitters as part of the definition of a cocktail. A cocktail was described as any alcoholic beverage containing an alcoholic base spirit, sugar, water and bitters. Since then, bitters have been a staple behind the bar and though there was a brief period where their popularity dipped, now with classic cocktails being back in fashion, there has been a massive rise of bitters popularity.
Originally, bitters were commonly used in medicinal tinctures and helped to aid the sick. To this day, bartenders use bitters to aid people when they feel sick. A couple dashes of bitters in soda water can be helpful with a heartburn or a splash of bitters, Coke and Sprite can help cure a stomach ache!
Types of Bitters
Originally when someone would ask for “a dash of bitters” they were generally referring to the original Angostura House Bitters. These were the most popular brand of bitters, but don’t ask us for the recipe. That, is a mystery. However, if you want to know the flavor, we feel it’s got a bit of a cinnamon-like flavor. Common classic cocktails with these bitters are Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and Whiskey Sours.
They also came out with an Orange bitters which is quite complementary to citrus drinks.
Another type of bitters if the Peychaud’s bitters. Peychaud’s is not like the typical botanical bitters, rather it’s much stronger anise flavored to pair well with absinthe based drinks. Talk about an apothecary turned mixologist!
As bitters flourished in the 19th century, more people started making bitters. Larger bitters producers hit the stand like the Fee Brothers who produced specifically flavored bitters such as Celery, Rhubarb, Old Fashioned and more.
More recently we’ve been seeing specialized bitters from newer producers like Inspirit Bitters. They have bitters such as Lavender, Coffee, and Pineapple Habanero that help prepare cocktails to their full potential.
Another popular style of bitters, especially today are natural bitters. These are generally made by small-batch manufacturers who utilize local natural products (i.e. non-GMO, organic, and hand farmed). This has seen a huge spike in popularity recently with both a large jump in popularity via classic cocktails, and of course, supporting local clean farmers.
And the last style of bitter we wanted to share with you are digestive bitters. As we said before, bitters were created for their medicinal properties originally. Therefore, these bitters were originally created to help sooth stomach and promote healthy digestion. These are still used today. Many of these bitters use specific herbs and natural remedies to help with digestion. These botanicals include gentian root, dandelion and angelica, to name a few.
but wait…What about “Amari” the Italian bitters?
Amari is the Italian word for bitters. However, these bitters are different from the bitters we’re talking about. The bitters explained in this blog post refer to the bitters that are cocktail bitters. Amari are “Potable.” Potable means that they are much lower in concentration. You can have a couple ounces of Amari in a drink, but we wouldn’t recommend more than a few drops of cocktail bitters. Cocktail bitters are generally higher in both concentration and alcohol. Popular Amari are Aperol, Montenegro, and Campari to name a few. So, don’t go and get those mixed up!