We’re sweet on bitters. Bitters have been around since Egyptian times and were used as medicines until the early 19th century. In 1806 when the term “cocktail” was born, bitters were considered one of the four required ingredients in a cocktail, along with spirits, water and sugar. Early American cocktail culture brought bitters to prominence, taking them from medicines to flavouring agents. Then sadly most brands were wiped out through the Food and Drug Act and Prohibition in the early 20th century.
The most established brand, and one of the few to make it through Prohibition, is Angostura, which has been around since 1824. Angostura is indispensable behind the bar – like the pepper in your spice cabinet. But if all you had was pepper, your food would get boring pretty quick.
Through the return of “cocktail culture,” several companies have jumped up to fill the void and add some colour to that liquid spice rack. Bittered Sling, Fee Brothers, Bittermans, Bitter Truth, Peychauds and our Twisted & Bitter are but a few.
Bitters might seem intimidating. Which flavours should I try? How much do I use? There’s no right answer. Generally bitters add depth and balance out sweetness in cocktails. That said, some bitters out there are actually sweet! Just like cooking, it takes a while to get familiar with your ingredients. (Taste your bitters so you know what you’re working with.) And like cooking, few people start cooking without a few good recipes. Try the recipes below. You can also find more recipes – both cocktail and culinary – on our Twisted & Bitter website.
Explore, practice, make a couple of the same cocktail and add a different bitter to each.
Get to know your bitters. You’ll be glad you did.