Bitters, the secret ingredient of bars
Ambrosia|January 2021
Many cocktails are laced with Bitters. An integral part of a bartenders armoury Bitters, give a different perspective to the taste profile on a cocktail. A Bitter report.
Lopamudra Ganguly.

For most bar professionals and cocktail fanatics bitter is not a secret, but a requirement. But for most newcomers or casual drinker it might sound like something unappealing or alien. All of us however have seen the tiny bottle with the yellow cap and oversized label on a bar counter, specially on a cocktail bar. It's not surprising however, bitters and cocktails have gone hand in hand throughout the history of bars. In fact the first published entry noting the birth of cocktails which can be found in the May 13, 1806, edition of the Federalist newspaper The Balance, and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York. The exact text says, “Cocktail is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head.” One can almost hear the whispers of an old fashioned around the statement. That is not the first mention of bitters however. At 1712 England the first bitter recipe was patented under the name Stoughton Bitters. Back then this curious concoction was treated as a medicinal drink. A cure all from stomach ache to gout. It was only when colonial America embraced the cocktail and helped bitters make the leap from patent medicine to flavuoring agent, making bitters a staple of bars all across the world.

So what, exactly, are bitters? Bitters are an aromatic flavouring agent made from infusing roots, barks, fruit peels, seeds, spices, herbs, flowers, and botanicals in high-proof alcohol (or sometimes glycerin). It is rather surprising for someone not familiar with cocktail bitters to understand how something named bitter be useful for preparing delicious, complex cocktails or drinks. Since humans and many animals are hardwired to be averse to bitter flavours, since they’re a warning signal that what you’re about to ingest might be toxic. But us two-legged creatures over time have managed to discover that not all bitterness is that. especially when it’s delivered through coffee, chocolate, eggplant, grapefruit, hops, artichokes, and naturally bitter herbs and lettuces. In fact we have developed an unique likeness to it. Chefs in kitchen have been using the simple technique of using bitter flavours as a cleansing agent, compelling you to have one bite after the other. In the bars however, bitter is not as simple as the taste profile associated with it's namesake. Bitters are the ultimate matchmaker: just a dash or two can bring a perfect balance to two seemingly incompatible spirits. Adding bitters can tamp down an overly sweet drink, help cut through richness, unite ingredients, and add an aromatic spiciness. The secret sauce hidden behind every good cocktail bartender.

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