Back to basics

17 July, 2017

In essence, then, bitters are the dividing line between Sex on the Beach with a pink umbrella and a sparkler, and a more savoury, mature adult cocktail, so in vogue in style bars across the world.

But the ever increasing focus on bitters-lined alcoholic drinks stems from other trends too – modern consumers seek out natural products, authenticity, provenance, and at least the visage of healthiness. Bitters tick all those boxes.

Turn the clock back and alcohol and herbs were the basis for any number of drinks consumer instead of water, which carried all manner of illnesses and diseases, many of them potentially fatal. It is no coincidence that most drink salutations include references to health and good cheer. And nowhere is the link between healthiness and alcohol more marked than in this area.

“When the first settlers came to America in the 17th century they couldn’t rely on professional medication,” says Berg. “Bitters were considered as medicine not as a beverage.

DRINKING EXCUSE

“At some point bartenders started using bitters in mixed drinks to improve them, since good quality spirits were hardly available in the 18th and 19th century. By adding medicine to booze it also gave people a good excuse for drinking.

“That is why bitters became so popular and the defining ingredient in a drink category called ‘cocktails’.”

Berg adds: “The use of bitters underlined the healthy benefit of the cocktail and added additional flavours and complexity.

“Since water wasn’t as clear as it is today and contained germs and other bacteria, cocktails with bitters were already consumed in the morning to offer some protection from illness.”

But the trend towards bitters has gathered apace, and industry experts are convoked that it will continue.”

And that’s 2,000 words. Wasn’t too bad, was it? Certainly nothing like writing about plastic widgets.

IS IT OR ISN’T IT

ANGOSTURA

Angostura is one of the oldest contemporary mixers. Formulated around 1824 by a German doctor in Venezuela for stomach illnesses, it found its way to Trinidad and England where it was picked up by the British Royal Navy as a cure for sea sickness and gastric ailments but also, more importantly, for the officer class’s pink gins.

Conclusion: Yes it is.

JÄGERMEISTER

Jägermeister has become a major player in the party drink and shots market where it is often drunk as a Jägerbomb, where a shot is dropped into an energy drink. For a long time all round the world the brand’s owner focused on not being perceived as a bitters brand. It focuses on young adults and has a programme of sponsored youth-oriented events such as rock concerts. The brand’s main competitors are local shot brands or international shots such as Jack Daniel’s or Jose Cuervo.

It has been very successful in this aim so:

Conclusion: No it isn’t.

VERMOUTH

Cocktails are classically described as spirits, bitters and a garnish. A Martini is a classic cocktail of gin, vermouth and a garnish. So is vermouth classed as a bitter?

Not necessarily. Bitters are alcoholic infusions of (bitter) herbs. They were originally used for medicinal and digestive purposes as well as cocktail ingredients. The classical description of a cocktail is correct. But it is incorrect to think that the vermouth is the bitters. It would be part of the distilled liquors as one of the spirits. The bitters in a pre-Prohibition Martini would be orange bitters.





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Joe Bates

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In Cannes last month as I dashed around from stand to stand and from interview to interview amid a whirl of product launches and cocktail parties, I heard one question asked over and over again.

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