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Erin Rosar
 
November 25, 2014 | Cocktails | Erin Rosar

Bitters 101

 

Bitters have recently been placed in the limelight as being the magic ingredient of great bartenders around the world, allowing them with a few carefully selected drops to make a good cocktail, great. But, now that they are all the rage, many people are still unsure about what the “little bottles behind the bar” actually are so here’s a quick course in Bitters 101.

  • In the 1700’s bitters were used primarily as a method to deliver herb-based medicine to cure everything from headaches to sleeping problems to stomach upsets and digestion. These concoctions were made by using an alcoholic base mixed with a secret recipe of herbs and spices that were prescribed and administered by physicians of the time.
  • By the early 1800’s, the word cocktail was used to describe a mix of spirit, water, sugar and bitters.
  • In 1824, A German doctor in Angostura, Venezuela created Angostura Bitters while looking for a remedy for stomach issues. Today the same recipe is still used and they remain one of the most well-known producers of bitters around the world.
  • Pharmacist Antoine Amedee Peychaud created his famous bitters in Santo Domingo. When he brought them to New Orleans they quickly found a loyal following. Peychaud is not only known for his bitters but also for creating the first official cocktail in the mid 1800’s – the Sazerac, a special blend of French brandy and a dash or two of Peychaud bitters.
  • Bitters were a common ingredient in bartending prior to prohibition. Bartenders had over a dozen to choose from and in fact, they were so common that the term “cocktail bitters” came from them being included in the weekly bar stock delivery.
  • Prohibition (1919 – 1933) saw bitters nearly disappear as drinking habits changed and the evolution and growth of the wine and beer industries took over and cocktail creation took a back seat.
  • Today, we have a revival of the classic and artisan bitter being created once again as keen and creative bartenders look to take cocktail recipes to a whole new level.
  • Many credit the TV show Mad Men for the cocktail renaissance that is happening, and others give credit to bartender and author Gary Regan, who in 2005 created Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6 and reintroduced cocktail fans to an iconic style of bitters that was almost forgotten.
  • Exciting flavours that bartenders and home enthusiasts are playing with are rhubarb, celery, grapefruit, maple, and of course the beloved savory herb and spice mixes.
  • Bitters can be used as the extra bit of “spice” to a great cocktail and add an extra level of flavour and aroma for everyone to enjoy. Don’t be afraid to play with bitters - just remember that a little goes a long way, so just start with a drop or two. (Bitters can be used in cooking too)

Try adding a dash of Angostura bitters to your mulled wine or rum punch for some extra spice, or a few drops of cherry and/or rhubarb bitters to your next Manhattan.

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