You are what you eat & drink

The Bitter End

Angostura Aromatic Bitters

Angostura Aromatic Bitters

For anybody who knows anything about drinks, you at least know about the famous Angostura Bitters, even if you’ve never used them.

But what do bitters do?

They impart a hint of the particular flavour to the drink or cocktail. Angostura for example adds a hint of orange.

But there are as many bitters as there are flavours, and there are as many drinks that have bitters as there are bitters. The range of flavours is enormous.

Bitters often enhance the flavour of drinks, much like you’d add salt to food; they are sort of the ‘salt and pepper’ of the cocktail world.

But what are bitters?

Bitters are a concentrated infusion of anything that has flavour into a high proof spirit; and while the alcoholic content may be 44% they are not considered alcoholic beverages because you don’t… ah, shouldn’t drink them straight for they are far too strong in flavour. They are measured into drinks as drops, not poured.

A dash here, a dash there….Photo: Melissa Hom Image source: Sloshed

Bitters are easily recognised, coming in small variously shaped bottles that more resemble something from an apothecary than a bar.

Which belies their origin: Originally they were medicinal. Bitters are attributed restorative properties, good for stomach ache and other ills. In fact the first bitters, Angostura were ‘invented’ as a tonic in Angostura (now Ciudad Bolivar) in Venezuela around 1824, later the process was transferred to Trinidad.

Another orange bitters from the island of Curacao

Another orange bitters from the island of Curacao

There are also ‘potable bitters’, typically a digestive drink that follows a heavy eating binge. Famous bitters of this type are Fernet-Branca, Jägermeister, and Unicum. Oh, you’ve seen those and never realised what they were… this is the case for many

Aperitif or digestif bitters, Jägermeister

Aperitif or digestif bitters, Jägermeister

Jägermeister literally means Hunt Master, but you can read the legend on Wordswithimages Blog.

The subject of bitters is truly endless. This is just to whet your appetite and send you scurrying for your search engine to find out more.

You will never come to the bitter end.


4 responses

  1. I’ve got a bottle of Angostura (classic) and Angostura Orange bitters at home. But now they are becomming more available here in the UK – although they are taxed as actual alcoholic spirits now – Crap 😦 i shall endeavour to try more. Peychauds Bitters are a famous brand that i’ve never had the joy to try.
    A lot of older cocktails use bitters like there is no tomorrow, but now they are making a come back (Cucumber, Creole, Celery [a good shout for a bloody mary], and many others – like you said the list is endless) newer cocktails using them are created all the time.
    Love this post by the way 😀


    August 21, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    • >Fervent, I have heard of Peychauds, but never seen them. I have always used Angostura, but there is a whole new world out there just waiting to be tried.



      August 22, 2013 at 10:48 am

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