Bittersweet Mixology: The Importance of bitters behind the bar
Have you ever asked yourself what is that strange looking small brown bottle with the funny paper label that doesn’t fit is?
That’s Angostura Bitters, one of the oldest and best-known brand of bitters on the market. Australia is one of the highest selling markets for Angostura bitters thanks to our love of a Lemon Lime & Bitters.
There's been a boom in bitters in recent years, not only in sales, but also in availability and diversity, with more and more craft bitters available.
But what are bitters? Why are they so important? And where do you start with them in your bar?
Firstly, where did bitters come from?
Rumour has it that they existed in an early form in China, as early as 7000 BC! It was actually aromatic bitters that helped make the first and most basic cocktails when drinks were often taken to settle the stomach and nerves. It was said in the early 1800’s, that a cocktail is defined by the use of bitters, sugar, water and spirit.
Another iconic bitters brand is Peychaud’s – both this and Angostura were originally created in the 1820s as medicinal tonics for the cure of a stomach ache. But, during the prohibition years many bitters companies went out of business, with Angostura just surviving, according to bitters expert, Mark Bitterman.
What makes bitters, bitters?
Craft cocktails and rediscovering lost classics have caused a resurgence of the use of bitters in cocktails today. But, what exactly does it consist of, this curious little drink?
Mostly, aromatic bitters are an infusion and maceration of barks, roots, berries, flowers and often other parts of plants in a neutral grain alcohol. These days there are several hundred differing flavours of bitters on the market, all ranging in diverse combinations of ingredients, using spices, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
Punchdrink.com hits the nail on the head when they say; “what has been described as the salt and pepper of the cocktail world has transformed into an entire spice rack.”
And the reason is that, just like the salt, pepper, herbs and spices we add to our cooking, bitters might only make up a tiny portion of the ingredients, but if you don’t include it when it’s needed, then your cocktail maybe lacking in complexity.
In fact, it is often said to be more noticeable by its absence than by its presence. The bitters actually triggers our taste buds and therefore makes a cocktail more enjoyable.
How to use bitters
While some mixologists are testing out new styles of cocktails with crazy amounts of bitters, the usual method is to add a ‘just a dash or two’. Some classics are:
- Manhattan - rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters.
- Old Fashioned - sugar (or sugar syrup), Angostura bitters, whiskey and a splash of water
- Sazerac - Cognac, sugar, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe.
Much like other unsung heroes of cocktail making, bitters has a really interesting history and continue to be an essential bartending ingredient.
What about the bitters bottle?
Bottles vary between brands, meaning you can't get a consistent pour each time. Also the bottles they come in, are designed for mass production and are generally flawed. Using a sturdy, durable and top-quality bottle design, your can avoid the common problems of lids falling off and, more importantly, inconsistent measures.
Über bar tools bitters bottles have a screw top, stainless steel lid, and are designed to provide a consistent pour, which guarantees a better cocktail. A lot of bartenders prefer to decant the bitters into the Bitters bottle for aesthetic and functional reasons. The bitters bottle design comes in a range of sizes, plus the tempered glass bottle boasts a classic design which will looking stunning behind the bar.