A brief history of bitters

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A brief history of bitters

Bitters, considered the salt and pepper of the drinks world, are back in a big way, with bartenders supplementing their ol’ faithful bottle of Angostura with a host of artisanal tinctures.

BITTER INFUSIONS are said to have been around since Egyptian times but became prominent in the 1700s, when they started being made and sold as medicinal tonics. Common ingredients used to infuse the high-proof alcohol included barks such as cinchona, roots such as angelica and gentian, citrus peel and herbs.

BY THE EARLY 1800s, the taste of bitters was being masked with alcohol, giving rise to the word “cocktail”, first used in the American publication The Balance & Columbian Repository, where the editor described it as “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters”. IN 1919, THE NATIONAL PROHIBITION LAW was passed in the US, which saw all but a few bitters – including Angostura and Peychaud’s – fall by the wayside.

A RENEWED INTEREST started in the noughties, when Regan’s Orange Bitters no. 6 went on the market in 2005 – the first new commercially available bitters since Fee Brothers’ Orange Bitters in the 1950s. When Angostura launched its own orange bitters in 2008 – its first new one in over 180 years – the course was set.

Angostura was created in the 1820s as a medical tonic by German doctor Gottlieb Siegert to bolster Simón Bolivar’s troops in Venezuela. The aromatic bitters’ recipe is top secret, but suspected to contain gentian, clove, tamarind and cinnamon. angostura.com

Jorgensen’s Distillery near Wellington has experimented with bitters for a while and its most recent was an orange bitters with quassia and wormwood for bitterness, and lightly roasted orange peel, kumquat, caraway, clove, fennel, cardamom and caramelised sugar for flavour. Hop and grapefruit, fynbos, and organic chocolate nib and smoked jalapeño bitters are in the works. jd7.co.za


Bitter and twisted has never tasted this good. Combine one part soda, one part Woolies’ sparkling ruby grapefruit and three dashes Angostura bitters over ice in a highball glass. Garnish with fresh strawberries.

Discover more cocktail recipes here.

TASTE Article by: TASTE

The TASTE team is a happy bunch of keen cooks and writers, always on the look out for the next food trend or the next piece of cake.

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