Bitters are making a comeback -- just walk into any bar or lounge today and you'll see more than just the requisite bottle of Angostura bitters behind the counter. Producers are now making bitters with unique and unusual flavorings, and bartenders are even making their own bitters from scratch. In honor of this bitters boom, we've put together a selection of the most unique flavors we think you should try the next time you're mixing up drinks (see the slideshow below).
A Brief History
If you're not familiar with bitters, here is some background. The origin of bitters can be traced back to the 1700s in England, where they were created for medicinal uses such as treating stomach maladies, headaches and even as a cure for hangovers. The use of bitters for flavoring drinks started during the 1850s in the United States when the term cocktail was coined -- it originally meant a drink made with spirits, sugar, water and bitters (the term later encompassed all mixed drinks).
What Bitters Are
Bitters are made from high-proof alcohol or glycerin with barks, fruit peels, roots, seeds, spices, herbs, flowers or other botanicals. We as humans are naturally designed to taste five distinct flavors (salty, sweet, sour, savory and bitter), but bitter is one flavor we're designed to dislike, because it's typically taken as a sign of toxicity. However, in little doses, bitter flavors can be very appealing -- just think of foods that are naturally bitter like coffee, herbs and some fruits and vegetables.
How To Use Bitters
Cocktail bitters, as they are officially known (unlike digestive bitters), add a lot of complexity to drinks. It's a misconception to think bitters will make your drink bitter and unpalatable, because they actually enliven cocktails. Just see for yourself: If you're making a drink and feel it's missing something, try adding a few dashes of bitters -- you'll taste the difference. It's the reason why bitters are termed the "bartender's salt and pepper." Bitters aren't just for cocktails: use it to flavor soda, water, tea, coffee, or even recipes for soups, sauces and marinades. If you're experiencing tummy troubles, drink a clear soda (seltzer or ginger ale) with a few dashes of bitters. After all, bitters do have medicinal properties!
What's your favorite flavor of bitters? Vote in the slideshow and let us know below.
For more about bitters, read "Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas"
Main image courtesy of Rob Ireton, Flickr.