The Bitter Truth
It is said that the appreciation of “bitter” is the sign of a fully matured palate. Bitter is definitely something we acquire not at a young age, but come to love later in life.
Bitters themselves were originally created a medicinal formulas (Angostura is the only on created by a real doctor though) to cure anything from stomach trouble to joint pain. But if we have learned anything, it’s that Mixologist will make a drink out of anything, and bitters is no exception. As a matter of fact the true definition of a cocktail requires the drink to contain bitters!!
Most bitters are highly concentrated and used in small amounts to accent a drink. However there area few that can stand on their own as a base ingredient. I have two favorites like this, both from the beloved country of Italy.
Campari has been made in Novara, Italy since 1860 from the same formula and contains twenty different bitter herbs, aromatics plants, and fruit. Only one person at a time has ever known the full recipe. The most common drinks made with spirit are Campari and Soda and my personal favorite, The Negroni.
¾ oz Gin
¾ oz Campari
¾ oz sweet vermouth
Fernet Branca, also from Italy, is a proprietary bitters made from myth, chamomile, saffron, and cardamom just to name a few of the forty plus ingredients. Fernet has a sneaky flavor profile that doesn’t come all at once. The first second or so, I taste a cacao sweetness then BAM!!! The other incredible flavors come through producing a palate sensation like no other.
In Argentina, Fernet is popularly mixed with Coke. It is also a fantastic hangover sure (nursing one as I write). Fernet is a wonderful substitute for angostura bitters in a Manhattan, which is called a Fanciulli cocktail.
2 ½ oz Bourbon
¾ oz sweet vermouth
¼ oz Fernet Branca
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with Amarena cherry.
Fernet also mixes well with cream as well as crème de menthe.
I didn’t start truly appreciating bitters until my late 20’s. Now a favorite flavor in aperitifs before dinner, I love to sip a cocktail that wakes my palate like bitters does. So next time you are looking for something new, or wanting to challenge and mature you senses, give bitters a try!