Bitters – Everything You Need To Know

The key to making something taste good is to create a nice balance of flavours. And while these flavours can come from any number of exotic sources, there are some things that we use every day that we take completely for granted.

Salt is one of those things. It’s easy to disregard it as just “a pinch here and there” or “swaad anusar”, but the truth is, you really don’t want to imagine a life without salt.

There’s nothing quite as gloomy as unsalted rice…

The same thing applies to drinks as well. While some cocktails benefit directly from adding salt (like a salt rim on a Margarita), there’s one ingredient that does for most drinks, what salt does to food : Bitters.

Maybe you’ve heard of them before, maybe not. But they’re pretty damn cool.

Granted, the name “Bitter” doesn’t inspire much confidence, but give them a chance, and I promise you it will pay off.

Think of it this way : Bitters are bitter the way salt is salty.

oprah

You probably wouldn’t go out of your way to eat a bowl full of salt, and similarly, the best way to use bitters is just a couple of drops here and there, to completely transform your drink.

Without getting into textbook definitions, a Bitter is essentially :

– alcohol
– that is packed with flavour
– super aromatic
– concentrated
– and bitter as hell.

These aromas and flavours could come from spices, fruit, herbs, roots, flowers, or any combination of those.

Umami in a bottle. That’s pretty much it.

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Apart from just that though, what bitters really do is create some depth of flavour – it kind of makes a 2D drink into a 3D one.

And since you’re adding so little, the actual bitterness almost entirely fades out – leaving behind all those background flavours, and ultimately, a more interesting, enjoyable drink.

Russian soldier drinks plain bitters (left),and instead adds just a few drops to his soda (right), circa 1917, colourised.

There’s a bunch of different kinds of bitters, and some are milder than others.

Campari and Aperol are what we call “potable (drinkable) bitters” or “pouring bitters”, because you could actually drink them the just the way they are. That’s also why they come in full size (750ml) bottles.

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You’ve likely seen or heard of these somewhere or the other.

They clock in at about 10-25% alcohol by volume, so potency wise, it’s like drinking a really strong wine.

You usually use about 30-60ml of it in a cocktail, about the same amount as a shot or two.

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The Aperol Spritz is a super famous, easy-breezy cocktail with two shots of Aperol, some sparkling wine, and soda. F**kin delish.

On the other hand, something like Angostura is SO strongly flavoured, that it’s not even classified as drinkable alcohol.

Yeah.

Angostura is almost 45% alcohol by volume, which is in the same range as high strength spirits like whisky and vodka. It’s also super concentrated, and has a strong flavour of cinnamon, star anise, and cloves.

ango

In comparison to Campari/Aperol, you’d only use couple of dashes (usually less than 5ml) of this stuff in a drink. Pretty much the beverage equivalent of a pinch of salt.

The flavour is so strong, that you don’t really need more than that. That’s why they come in much smaller bottles.


The only downside is, bitters can be pretty expensive. They are reasonably priced if you go abroad, but since we import most of them here, there’s a significant mark-up.

A 200ml bottle of Angostura will set you back about Rs. 2000. Oof.

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Hear me out. It’s a lot of money to throw down, but it’s worth it, will last you a while, and won’t spoil.

It’s also much cheaper (about $10-15) in the US, so if someone can bring some down for you, that’s ideal!

A 750ml bottle of Campari is about Rs. 4500.
‘Nuff said.

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So the question is, should you buy them, and if so, which ones should you buy?

– Angostura is great if you’re someone who drinks a lot of soda-based drinks, or even plain soda. Personally, I find Sprite over-sweet, and I can vouch for the fact that even a drop of this stuff will cut that down and make it a lot more drinkable.

Gin and Tonics are pretty great just the way they are.
But add a dash of this stuff? Sublime.

A couple of drops is all you need. 🙂

It’s also a major ingredient in a lot of classic cocktails, so if you want to start making some of those at home, definitely invest in a bottle or two.

– Campari and Aperol, in my opinion, are a lot more specialized. There’s a couple of places where they absolutely dazzle, but they’re kind of niche, and it takes some know-how to make the most out of them.

That, combined with how expensive they are, means that I would not recommend buying them unless you’re really looking to expand your bar, or get into some serious experimentation with alcohol at home.

(I’m actually working on a way to replicate Campari at home at a fraction of the cost. I’ll keep you posted!)

Instead, I’d recommend spending that money on a REALLY good gin/whisky, or spreading it over range of decent spirits to stock up on for all occasions.

Like these! India is coming up with some pretty amazing stuff. Show some love!

That’s all for this now. Bitters are the kind of thing I can go on for hours about, and in the following weeks, I’ll be doing exactly that.

There’s some cool stuff coming up soon. I’m pretty excited about it. 🙂

As always, let me know if you have any suggestions for what we should cover next. Comment down below, or drop us a DM on Instagram.

I shall see you next time.

Salud!

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