What are cocktail bitters?
A bitter is a concentrated mixture or formula, usually made with an assortment of botanical materials (herbs, spices, roots, fruit).
Many bitters – including some brands that are still sold today – were originally developed for their medicinal properties.
Although some bitters are alcohol based, most are designated non-beverage and intended to be used as a flavour component in a cocktail and not served neat or on the rocks. As such, a selection of bitters can be found in retail outlets not specializing or permitted to sell alcohol, specifically grocery stores.
The most recognized cocktail bitter brand, Angostura – with its oversized label – was original to Venezuela. The secret blend of tropical herbs and plants was developed as a “cure” for several diseases and illnesses. Today, the formula is still a well-kept secret. Now produced in Trinidad and Tobago, it is considered a must in any well-stocked bar.
Peychaud’s Aromatic Cocktail Bitters, another must-have bar staple, was developed by an New Orleans apothecary in the 1830’s. Mixed with brandy and absinthe, the bitters were the key ingredient in Sazerac, a libation that influenced many future cocktail recipes.
Today, many newer brands have entered the market, including several orange flavoured bitters. Other formulas feature mint, lavender, cardamom, peach, chocolate…and the list is as long as your imagination.
Experiment with a dash or two in a cocktail recipe of your own or try one of these classics;
Place a teaspoon of sugar in an old-fashioned glass (low ball). Add 2-3 dashes of Angostura Aromatic Bitters and a splash of club soda. Rotate the glass a bit to dissolve the sugar, add a large ice cube and top with 2 ounces of rye or bourbon.
In a mixing glass, dissolve a teaspoon of sugar in 3-4 dashes of Peychaud’s Aromatic Bitters and a splash of water or club soda. Add 2 ounces of brandy and plenty of ice. Stir for about 30 seconds.
In a chilled old-fashioned glass, add a teaspoon of absinthe. Swirl to coat glass and discard the excess. Add the contents of the mixing glass to the serving glass. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon.