Depending on the circles you run in, bitters could mean several things. If you watch enough British movies, you’ll run across the phrase “a pint of bitter.” While unfamiliar to us in the colonies, this just refers to a pale ale.
The second bitter you may have heard of would be a digestive bitter, an after-dinner liqueur that tastes more bitter than sweet, which would include Campari (my favorite), Aperol, Fernet Branca, and many more. These tend to be drunk straight, on ice, or mixed in a cocktail. You can buy them in full-size bottles and they’re similar in alcohol content to a port or vermouth.
The bitters that I will mention most on this blog, though, are cocktail bitters. Cocktail bitters add subtle flavoring and aroma to cocktails by adding just a dash or even a drop. These come in small bottles – usually 4-10 ounces – and some have very high alcohol content (like 45%), but as they can’t be drunk straight, you can find them at Target and other retailers, as well as grocery stores. They’re good for cooking as well. Brands of cocktail bitters include Angostura (the most popular), Fee Brothers, Bitter Truth, or Peychaud’s. Angostura is known for it’s oversized label:
The smell of cocktail bitters ranges from medicinal to herbal to fruity, depending on the brand and the flavor. Angostura is available in aromatic and orange versions, Fee Brothers and others make celery, grapefruit, aged whiskey, chocolate, and many other flavors of bitters. A traditional Martini recipe is gin, vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters. Manhattans cannot be made properly without aromatic bitters. The flavor of bitters are subtle, but you will likely notice when they’re not used in a drink.
Get a bottle of bitters. Use it in your cocktails, of course, but try it in soda or mineral water as well. To get you started, I’ve got a bitters giveaway for two lucky readers. One will win a bottle of Angostura Orange bitters and one will receive a bottle of Fee Bros. Aromatic bitters. Here’s how you can win:
1. You must be a resident of the United States. 2. Follow @simpledrinks on Twitter. 3. Click here and “Like” Simple Cocktails on Facebook. 4. Comment below. Tell me your favorite cocktail. 5. Winners will be chosen at random on August 1, 2012. I’ll contact them shortly after they win to get their shipping address.The contest is now closed.