Cocktails are a lot like fashion; trends that were once old will eventually become new again. So is the case with the latest burgeoning movement in cocktailing- Bitters.
Bitters, like many popular spirits got its start as a medicinal aid in the early twentieth century when Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert began selling it to British sailors as a cure for sea-sickness and other stomach issues. It quickly became popular as an appetite stimulant, either as an aperitif or digestif. While most Bitters have an herbal or bitter taste, some are flavored with fruits or other essences.
Today, the most commonly known Bitters are Angostura Bitters, Peychaud’s Bitters and Campari but a slew of new Bitters have recently entered the scene and are helping to spur a resurgence of the classic bar staple.
The best part about this Bitters-renaissance is that the new flavors lend themselves to a more unique experience than traditionally seen from the classic Bitters (don’t get me wrong- Peychaud’s and Angostura will still be mainstays in any well-stocked bar). Additionally, now Bitters are more accessible to the everyday bartender or cocktail groupie (yours truly) making for a better bitter experience.
First up; Bittermens Bitters. (Re)introduced in January 2011 and straight outta Brooklyn, this Bitters line began with the Xocolatl Mole Bitters and quickly expanded to more than ten fabulously original flavors (click here for full list). They can be purchased at the Bittermens General Store or sampled at Amor y Amargo. Try any of their amazing Bitters with Tequila and you are sure to have a winner on your hands.
Scrappy’s Bitters out of Seattle come in an AMAZING range of flavors from Chocolate to Celery. These pair perfectly with any spirit…particularly delicious is the Ragazza Cocktail which uses their Grapefruit Bitters (also available in the recipe section of our site).
Not to be overlooked is Bitter-Brooklyner, A.B. Smeby Bittering Co. which produces local, seasonal Bitters. Flavors run the gamut from Black and White-like the cookie-(a mixture of Mexican Chocolate, Tahitian Vanilla and Raw Cinnamon) to Lemon Verbana (fresh verbana, young ginger and lemongrass). These Bitters are available on their website or at a number of bars throughout the city such as The Modern and PDT.
If you are unable to find any of these Bitters locally, you can always make your own (slightly ambitious, but well worth it). It is actually easier than you might think. Here is an excellent recipe for Cherry Bitters or for a super simple Bitters recipe, try this courtesy of Art of Drink. This is one I will be trying myself (as soon as I locate the snake-root).
I encourage you to try a Bitters cocktail the next time you are out for a drink, or even better make your own…and remember, dont be bitter, be better! (okay, I’m through with the lame Bitter puns)