Bitters are a type of alcoholic beverage or flavoring agent that is characterized by its strong, aromatic, and intensely bitter taste. They are commonly used in cocktails, mixed drinks, and sometimes even in cooking to add depth and complexity to the flavors. Bitters are typically made by infusing various herbs, spices, fruits, roots, and botanicals in a high-proof alcohol base.
Key characteristics of bitters:
Bitter Flavor: As the name suggests, the defining characteristic of bitters is their bitter taste. The bitterness comes from the botanicals and other natural ingredients used in the production process. While bitters are undoubtedly bitter, they are also balanced with other flavors that provide complexity and depth.
Aromatic: Bitters are highly aromatic, often releasing a potent and pleasing fragrance when smelled. The aromatic nature of bitters adds an olfactory dimension to cocktails and enhances the overall drinking experience.
Alcohol Base: Bitters are made by steeping the various botanicals and flavoring agents in alcohol. The alcohol acts as a solvent, extracting the flavors and aromas from the ingredients. The most commonly used alcohol base is high-proof spirits like grain alcohol, although some bitters may be made with lower-proof spirits or wine.
Variety of Flavors: There is a wide range of bitters available, each with its unique flavor profile. Some common types of bitters include Angostura bitters, Peychaud's bitters, orange bitters, and aromatic bitters. Each type of bitters may have different botanicals and ingredients, leading to variations in taste and aroma.
Cocktail Ingredient: Bitters are a key ingredient in many classic cocktails, such as Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Negroni. They are used in small quantities, typically just a few dashes, to impart their distinctive flavor and balance the sweetness in the drink.
Digestive Aid: Historically, bitters were often consumed for their supposed medicinal properties, particularly as digestive aids. While their role as a digestive tonic has diminished over time, they are still associated with certain traditional herbal remedies.
It's important to note that bitters are highly concentrated, and a little goes a long way. Due to their potency, they are usually added in small amounts to beverages. Bitters should not be confused with liqueurs, which are typically sweetened and have a lower alcohol content.