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Top Five: Bitters

Adding depth and complexity to many a great cocktail, we take a look at the eclectic world of bitters

Bitters might have started out as monks’ tinctures, promising to cure anything from hair loss to sweaty feet, but these days they are an essential part of any well-stocked bar. Original bitters were based on artichokes, gentian and the bark of the cinchona tree (the original source of quinine). These days you have bitters that are specific, such as rhubarb, mint, and even mole, but what remains consistent is the bitter's extremely concentrated taste – you only need a few drops to add a lot of flavour to a drink.


1. Boker’s Bitters. Founded by John G. Boker in 1828, and the choice bitters for most barmen in New York, Boker’s had to close during the Prohibition but was thankfully resurrected nearly a 100 years later to again produce its famous bitters based on the original recipe. The flavours are extra dry, super-strong and medicinal.


2. Peychaud’s Aromatic Cocktail Bitters. Antoine Amedie Peychaud, an apothecary in New Orleans, gained fame in the very early 1800s for his liquid tonic and he called it “Bitters”. Added to the ever popular Cognac, it soon had the locals hooked. As it was also eminently suitable for cooking, its fame quickly spread around the world. Often used to bitter draught beer.


3. Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6. Gary Regan couldn’t find any good orange bitters on the market, so he created his own in 1992. He eventually got the taste and the complexity right and this fabulous addition the bitters market is now produced and marketed by the Sazerac Company, USA. There are other orange bitters on the market, but nothing as complex and fragrant as Regans'.


4. Fee Bros Rhubarb Bitters. Fee Bros have been around for a very long time making a large range of different bitters. They are aimed at the chef as much as the bartender. The rhubarb bitter is different from most bitters as this might be the first time the unique flavour of rhubarb escapes the kitchen and inspires creative bartenders around the world.


5. Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters. Mexican chocolate bitters have often been imitated by other brands but Bittermens’ is the original and still the best, combining the flavours of dark, bitter chocolate, cinnamon and various unspecified aromatics. This makes a superb addition to an Old Fashioned.

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