Before we delve into the final and long delayed installment in the Wedding Gift Booze Review series, let’s take a moment to talk about bitters. Though the recent cocktail revival has spurred a subsequent revival in use of bitters, it’s still an element of cocktail culture that is often overlooked. Produced through distillation and infusion of various flavors, bitters generally have a similar alcohol content by volume as most liquors. However, the intensity of flavor is such that most drink recipes call for no more than two or three dashes per cocktail.
The first bitters were invented in the early 1800s by Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German who served as Surgeon General under Bolivar in the fight to free Venezuela from Spanish control. Siegert originally developed the potent distillation as a medicine and it was marketed as such when the Doctor established his distillery in the port town of Angostura in 1830. To this day, Angostura is still the dominant brand and de facto choice for any recipe that calls for bitters.
So when did medicine make its way into cocktails? Conventional wisdom tells us that it happened in the early 1900s. In the early days of the cocktail, the primary function of a mixed drink was to serve as “hair of the dog” the morning after heavy drinking. Mixing fruit juices, sugar, and other ingredients with your booze helped to make it more palatable first thing in the morning and while you’re at it, why not add some medicinal bitters to help your headache and nausea? A century later, the medicinal properties of bitters have long been dismissed, but we can still appreciate a well-crafted Old Fashioned.
The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters are very similar to Angostura (which are also aromatic bitters, as opposed to orange, mint or other flavored bitters) though the flavor is slightly different. Both brands, on their own, have an herby, woody flavor to them. The flavor is not unlike sucking on a tea bag – in a good way. Tasted side by side though the difference between the two is marked and will affect the taste of your cocktails. While Angostura is overtly citrusy, The Bitter Truth has a more floral, botanical flavor to it.
I’d be hard pressed to say that one is better than the other. They’re different animals and will throw a different cast on the cocktails you make with them. At the very least, exploring these differences is a wonderful excuse to drink twice as many Manhattans.
For more on bitters: