Bitters were essential to the invention of cocktails. The first reference to the term, in a newspaper article from 1806, explained: “A cock tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” So without bitters, we don’t have cocktails!
Other tidbits from Dale’s talk:
- Bitters were patented as a as a digestive aid in 1690.
- They were sold as medicine, mostly because taxes were cheaper that way, but they also got sold as snake oil cure-alls.
- Angostura bitters are named after the town in Venezuela, not after the angostura tree.
So we tasted each of them! Some notes:
- Angostura has a lot of baking spices – allspice and cinnamon notes
- Abbott’s is even more bitter, but with some hints of orange
- Bitter Truth has a licorice flavor
- Pimento is super-bitter! DeGroff joked that one bartender is using just a single drop of it in his Manhattans
- Fee Brothers had a sweet, cinnamon flavor, like a Red Hot candy
And then everybody got a full-sized Manhattan, each made with the bitters of their choice.
But really, my favorite part may have just been DeGroff telling stories about his life as a bartender. If you don’t know – he’s the founder of the craft cocktail movement. Basically, he was the first guy in the modern era to think “Hey – maybe cocktails should actually taste good!” But his vision of a bartender isn’t just a guy who knows drink recipes: