You might have noticed that these little magic potion bottles are essentials in many favorites, from Manhattans to Planter’s Punch. When you get the craving to mix up one of these gems you might look up an ingredient list only to find that this is the one ingredient you don’t have. Well, it’s time to make a stop at the liquor store. By the time we’re done with this post, you’ll be an expert on why bitters make drinking oh so sweet.
Bitters are made up of a concentrated mix of alcohol, sour, or bitter botanical ingredients. They can come from such aromatic fixings as: bark, roots, fruit, orange peel, and much more. These botanicals are infused into a flavorless alcohol base to create a potent potion. In many ways, bitters are like the salt of cooking. Just a few drops enhance the whole palate experience.
Though there are a wide variety of bitters, they can be lumped into three categories: aromatic (the most popular), medicinal, and herbal. Herbal bitters can be rich in tarragon, thyme, or mint and are often used to nourish digestive health. The original purpose of bitters was to cure medical ailments from seasickness to malaria. Rumor has it that the Egyptians pioneered them first.
The Alchemist: Angostura
If you’re just beginning to explore bitters, Angostura is a good place to start. This little concoction is over two hundred years old, dating to the 19th century. The alchemy of angostura consists of more than 40 ingredients and is only known by a handful of people, so the legend goes. Angostura is the touch of British gentleman that gives an Old Fashioned and Manhattan its smoky depth. Pour into your rocks glass and don’t forget the last touch: the ice sphere.
Southern Belle: Peychaud’s
Peychaud’s is a staple ingredient in the New Orleans classic, the Sazerac. Peychaud’s is a gentian-based herbal bitters invented by Antoine Peychaud. Antoine was a Creole apothecary from the French colony Saint Domingue who settled in New Orleans in 1795. This bitters is a bit gentler with a light body, sweet flavor, and notes of flora. The kind of bitters you take home to mom and dad.
Tutti Frutti: Regan’s Orange No. 6
Fruit bitters (especially citrus) are immensely popular. Orange is the classic. Regan’s Orange No. 6 was famed by Gary Regan in the 1990s. Regan based his recipe on one he found in the 1939 book, The Gentleman’s Companion. Use it in an Old Fashioned or any bourbon drink. Billiards and cigars sold separately.
New Kids on the Block
With the rising popularity of craft cocktails, renewed interest in bitters has inspired an assortment of new flavors from grapefruit to coffee to lavender. There is even such a thing as chocolate bitters, perfect for a sweet cocktail in need of a nutty complement.
You might be intimidated by bitters at first because of their unsavory name. We recommend experimenting with the classics first, but don’t be afraid to try a wildcard. Remember, entertaining is about having fun!
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