Bitters refers to an alcoholic liquid that serves as a flavouring agent made by infusing a neutral spirit with some botanicals, like roots, herbs, tree barks, seeds, spices, etc.
They were originally developed and sold as medicines, with several claims on many health problems they could solve. However, bitters have made their way into the world of cocktails.
While some bitters are primarily used for mixing other drinks and tagged as cocktail bitters, there are also those that can be consumed just like that, and are known as digestive bitters. Unlike cocktail bitters which are usually more flavoured and should be consumed in drops (used in mixing drinks), bitter liqueurs can be consumed in large quantity. Cocktail bitters come in tiny bottles with a dropper attached to the cap. Consuming it directly in quantity can affect your taste buds.
Yes, just like the name, bitters oftentimes bitter or bittersweet, and that could leave one wondering why bother using them in the first place. Bitters have a way of adding a new twist to some drinks. In most cases, it serves to add to the primary tastes you get from the drink, making it a bit more complex and adding to its flavour profile. It’s like what salt does to the margarita.
Some classic drinks contain bitters as part of their ingredients, but you can also go ahead to try them out in others and create new recipes with the addition of bitters. One way you can feel the difference is by creating two versions, one with bitters and another without it, and see what difference it makes.
Some of the most popular types of cocktail bitters include Peychaud’s bitters (developed in 1830 by Antoine Amedee Peychaud), Angostura bitters (developed in 1824 by Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert in Venezuela); these are known as aromatic bitters, and they add a hard-to-tell flavour to cocktails. There are also the orange bitters that add a citrus flavour to drinks.
To use bitters for your cocktails, just add a few drops. This could come in with the other ingredients before you shake with your shaker or stir the drink. You can also add the bitters to the glass first (to coat the glass with the bitters) before adding other ingredients.
With more bitters brands springing up, creating different flavoured bitters, more flavour profiles are becoming available for bartenders and mixologists to create amazing cocktail recipes with.