Words by: Simon Difford
Bitters are alcoholic beverages prepared with herbs, spices, roots, fruits and peels infused in alcohol or glycerin. Popular ingredients include gentian, quinine and orange peel. As the name suggests, they typically have a bitter or bittersweet flavor. The original bitters were medieval therapeutic drinks and throughout the ages bitters were marketed as an elixir.
Though bitters are essential ingredients in a good proportion of the world's classic cocktails, they are usually the smallest bottles on a bar and poured in the smallest quantities.
Though brands such as Angostura and Peychaud's now predominate, historically bars would produce their own bitters and many bartenders are once again making their own signature bitters.
Released in late 2015, these German Cucumber bitters list their ingredients as being: “water, alcohol, cucumber, natural herbs & spices, mustard seeds.” Stewed school dinner cabbage and Asian picked cucumber.
Launched at Tales of the Cocktail 2015, Jameson Wild Sloe Berry Bitters are based on a sloe berry distillate which has been slowly matured with Jameson Irish Whiskey and a bitters mix including wormwood, gentian and ginseng. Sarsaparilla, sloe berry, jammy plums and whiskey soaked oak.
Since 1889, the makers of Suze have blended gentian roots and plants to create bitters. In 2015 they applied this knowledge to develop a range of aromatic bitters. Flavoured with gentian, nutmeg and anise, Suze red Aromatic Bitters were developed with the help of French bartender, Julien Escot. Pungent gentian with well-judged nutmeg and anise. Faint lily blossom.
Since 1889, the makers of Suze have blended gentian roots and plants to make bitters. In 2014 they applied this knowledge to develop bitters for bartenders. Flavoured with gentian, Bergamot, sweet and bitter orange peels, Suze Orange Bitters were developed with French bartender, Joseph Biolatto. Pungent, fresh zesty orange with faint floral orange blossom.
Since 1889, the makers of Suze have blended gentian roots and plants to create bitters. In 2014 they applied this know-how to develop a range of bitters for bartenders. Flavoured with gentian, cinnamon and cardamom, Suze Aromatic Bitters were developed with French bartender, Fernando Castellon. Pungent cinnamon, clove and cardamom with cracked black pepper and faint zesty orange.
Fee Brothers have combined robust Blackstrap molasses with nutmeg and coffee to create what they describe as an “historical Caribbean taste”. These bitters are non-alcoholic and based on glycerin. Perhaps use in tiki cocktails and cocktails based on heavy dark rums. Smoked cola, burnt toast, chicory coffee and cinnamon.
Gaz, formerly Gary Regan is a USA cocktail authority famous for his The Joy of Mixology book and generally being a much loved character in cocktail circles. He launched his bitters, which are made by the Sazerac Company in 2005. Dried orange peel and rooty spice.
Released March 2014 after a similar U.S. product resulting from a collaboration with Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters Company. Created by Willian Grant & Sons master distiller Lesley Gracie, these UK bitters are flavoured with botanicals from Iceland, including moss, angelica leaf and crowberry. Curry leaf-like aromas with bay leaf, angelica, vanilla and cloud berry.
Aged in barrels that were previously used to age Ransom Old Tom Gin for 3 to 6 months, itself developed in collaboration with the revered drinks historian and author David Wondrich. Based on glycerine and flavoured with “oil of bitter orange terpeneless, gentian and other natural flavours.” Pungent waxy naval and mandarin orange zest with faint orange flower water.
These Black Walnut Bitters were blended by Joe Fee himself. Joe normally operates on the marketing side of the business leaving production to his sister. Based on glycerine and flavoured with “natural black walnut flavour and other natural and artificial extracts and flavours.” Nutty, bark-like cola with notes of chocolate and faint spice.
Flavoured using the fragrant petals of the bitter (Seville) orange tree, orange flower water is commonly used by chefs in pastries, puddings and cakes. It is the make-or-break ingredient in revival cocktail classics such as the Ramos Gin Fizz. Soapy orange blossom.
Old Time bitters are so named because they are based on recipes from the 19th century, containing aromatic spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and clove. Cinnamon immediately appears on the nose alongside more subtle nutmeg.
Aromatic bitters made with “water, alcohol, natural flavors (gentian root, cherry, spices), caramel color” aged in barrels previously used to matured Woodford Reserve bourbon. Pungent amaretto and maraschino cherry with light rootyness, allspice and white pepper.