Monday, March 1, 2010

The Art of Bitter(s)

I have always loved any kind of bitters, particularly in the winter season.
The legend is that the recipe for Angostura Bitters is so closely guarded that the handwritten original resides in a safe!
There is a history behind every bottle of bitters.
Not only are the recipes artful and chock full of history, check out the bottles and labels! Beautiful!
So...what are "bitters"?
Bitters are infused or distilled aromatic herbs, roots and barks. Occasionally, there are fruits added to the brew, usually citrus. Bitters typically contain 45% alcohol, but recently, I have seen new brands without alcohol on the market. A bitters with Blood Orange caught my eye.
Below is a photo of bitters made in Germany (with alcohol, natch).

Bitters were originally employed and marketed  for medicinal purposes. Today, bitters are touted as a digestif, an apperitif or used to flavor food and drinks, particularly cocktails such as a Manhattan, the Old Fashioned (my personal favorite) and Champagne Cocktails (served at my wedding). Bitters add a dimension to recipes that elevate them to memorable.

Growing up in southern Indiana, Angostura Bitters (Great Britain) were a cupboard staple. My Mother added them to Welsh Rarebits (also known as "Rabbit") - a fabulous, simple concoction of melted cheddar cheese, paprika, bitters, worcestershire, dry mustard and pepper over toast.

Rarebit turns up in 18th century recipes of Great Britain - there are also English, Irish and Scotch Rabbits -
that is another story for another time.
With the kind of winter we are experiencing, this meal is the best. Simple. Quick. Comforting. Bonus - most people have the ingredients on hand - except the bitters!
I read that Angostura Bitters were in short supply at the beginning of this year. The Angostura Orange Bitters are quite lovely - and a tad hard to find. Apparently, they took years to perfect and release for public consumption. The orange type is different than the original aromatic. Try them in a Cosmopolitan, or any martini for a delightful depth.
Being a person of fragile "nerves", I discovered a new-to-me bitters used in Africa and Jamaica for digestion, insomnia and 'nerves'. This stuff is pricey, but has a spicy kick! I do not know if it helps with my insomnia, but I like to think so.

Last, but not least, I must mention Peychaud's Bitters, originally created by the Haiti-based creole pharmacy, Peychaud's. Unlike Angostura, Peychaud's Bitters still use gentian and are an integral part of the New Orleans specialty cocktail, the Sazerac.

Today is March 1, 2010. It is a rainy, dreary, chilly day. Hmmm....a Welsh Rarebit and a good, old fashioned cocktail with bitters might just brighten and cozy things up.

With Love, Light and Beauty...


  1. Angostura aromatic bitters is definitely the best.

  2. Dear Anonymous,
    Peychaud's has an intensely loyal following...I like them all!
    Thank you for your comment.