As you likely know by know, our February 3st of the Month is called "Bitter Lovers" and is taking us back into the world of craft cocktails as we celebrate special ingredients like bitters, amaris and aperitifs. For the sake of simplicity, this first of two "bitter blog" posts is all about bitters.
Most people know what bitters are. They've seen a bottle of Peychaud's sitting behind the bar for years. But what many don't know is the role bitters have played in cocktails. We often refer to bitters as the "salt and pepper" of cocktails, providing depth in flavor that you can't get with booze alone. But to say that is really selling them short.
In fact, the very first documented use of the word "cocktail" was in 1806 in The Balance and Columbian Repository. It was simply defined as "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters." That's right. A cocktail was not a cocktail without bitters.
Now, some of you may have recognized that simple definition as the basic recipe for an old fashioned, but it was more than that. It was the starting point for a movement that grew beyond just the old fashioned and into an entire culture. In 1862, a bartender by the name of Jerry Thomas first published a book known as “The Bar-Tender’s Guide,” “How to Mix Drinks” or “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion.” While the book may be known by three names, it did one thing: established the principles for formulating drinks of all kinds - including methods, measurements and ingredients. Needless to say, bitters were a key element even then.
The history of bitters actually dates back even further, with the first mentions occurring in ancient Egypt. Essentially, bitters are an infusion of aromatic herbs and botanicals into an alcohol base. Originally used more for medicinal treatments, bitters have experienced a resurgence of late, appearing in many new and creative formulations.
For the sake of our Bitter Lovers event, you can expect to see a variety of bitters appearing in several cocktails. But don't just think you're going to be drinking old fashioned's all night. Bitters are a common ingredient in many types of cocktails - even tiki drinks.
As an example, here's a list below of the cocktail recipes on our site that include bitters. Take a peek for yourself and you'll see how essential they are to a great drink.