What Are Bitters?

The use of bitters can be traced back for centuries, although it's thought that the origin of bitters may have been in ancient Egypt, when herbs were infused in wine. Certainly, by the Middle Ages, botanical ingredients were being soaked in distilled alcohol; the resulting tinctures were taken medicinally. Historically, these tinctures, elixirs and bitters were concocted to treat various ailments including, but not limited to, digestive maladies.

Bitters are the result of combining botanical and/or aromatic herbs, bittering agents, alcohol and water. Botanical ingredients might include seeds, leaves, spices, herbs, flowers or fruit peels. Typical bittering agents are usually bitter herbs, barks or roots. Bitters differ from tinctures in their inclusion of bitter ingredients.

The use of bitters in cocktails dates to 1806, when the term "cocktail" first surfaced in a newspaper in New York. These cocktails were to contain, "spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters..." Bitters are the perfect counterpoint to sweet stuff in a drink! They make for a better, more rounded, and balanced cocktail. Furthermore, bitters can be used in cooking and in non-alcoholic drinks with a very pleasant effect.

Photo Credit (this page): Simon Blakesley Photography