When one uses the word “bitter”, it is often used to describe a state of anger, resentment, or hurt feelings, something acrid or unpleasant. However, in the world of cocktails, “bitters” is a necessary part of any well stocked bar. Imagine your kitchen cabinets devoid of spices that add flavor to your signature dishes and baked goods. Without vanilla extract, cinnamon, black pepper, garlic powder, oregano, rosemary, salt, most of what our palates come to expect when we sit down to enjoy our meals would be bland and flavorless. Usually, most recipes only require a dash or a pinch of a certain flavor-enhancing additive to give the finished product that special kick. This is where bitters comes in, when the discerning bartender wants to add that particular hint of something special to a cocktail to make the customers mouth water and come back for more.
Historically, bitters was created as a tincture and diuretic by early 19th century pharmacologists to rid the body of toxins, using particular botanicals such as bark, fruit peels, flowers, herbs, and seeds. These concoctions were not designed to be consumed outright, rather mixed into a beverage to cure what ails you. Over time, the science behind creating these extracts was refined and specialized, with today’s market dominated by leading brands such as Angostura and Peychaud’s, while independent manufacturers continue to rise in the liquor industry specializing in unique blends and flavors that are bound to enhance your cocktail experience. When you feel like something is missing to your drink of choice, give it a dash of bitters to delight your senses as it can add aroma and ambience, stimulating not only your taste buds, but your olfactory as well. Consider bitters a bit of aromatherapy to add to your stress reducing tonic or nightcap.
Do yourself a favor and research what this historically essential cocktail ingredient can do for your next party, or ask your favorite bartender. Experiment first, for there are a myriad of options available for a wide range of tastes from spicy to herbal to citrus, and it can even be used for cooking! As with any experimentation, the fun is in the creation and satisfaction of knowing it came out just right. Bottoms up!
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