Bitters, or How to Make Your Cocktail Extra Good

Bitters are alcohol infused with various botanicals to produce a strong, well, bitter flavor. The concoctions began as patent medicine, purported to cure a wide variety of ills and complaints, but live on as cocktail flavoring.

peychauds bitters

CC Image courtesy of _gee_ on Flickr

While a few years ago, it was difficult to find any sort of cocktail bitters aside from a dusty bottle of Angostura,  nowadays companies are producing bitters in countless varieties, from orange and grapefruit to habanero, lavender, chocolate – pretty much anything you can think of that might be delicious. Some of  the brands I like are the German The Bitter Truth, who makes a fantastically astringent grapefruit one, and Bittermens, based in New Orleans,  who do a wide range of inventive bitters, including my favorite, ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters.

There are also diehard bitters enthusiasts who’ve worked hard on recreating some once-beloved, now-extinct brands like Abbott’s and Boker’s. I can completely get behind that kind of obsessiveness.

Not generally meant to be drunk on their own, a couple of dashes of cocktail bitters often add a depth and complexity to a cocktail that pushes it from “OK” to  “Heck YEAH”. If you’re messing around with drink recipes and make a drink that needs something, that ‘something’ is likely to be bitters. Start with the classic Angostura, and as you explore give some of the more exotic flavors a try.

Do you have a BarBot that uses bitters in any of its drinks? I’d love to hear about it.

If you’re interested in the history of bitters and want to find out more really cool things to do with them, even things that don’t involve cocktails (gasp), I highly recommend reading Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons.

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