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Bitters: The Production

The first bitter was produced in Angostura, Venezuela in 1824. Meant as a cure for sea sickness and stomach aches, it quickly became an alcoholic drink for sailors. When it started to catch on, the House of Angostura was established and export to England and Trinidad began where it was used in a number of cocktails.

Bitters became the important ingredient for the drink “Pink Gin”, which is a drink that originated in The Royal Navy. By mixing Plymouth gin with Angostura bitter, you get the pinkish drink called Pink Gin.

Bitters are also consumed as an aperitif to stimulate appetite or settle the stomach before a meal or a night of drinking. Over the years, bitters have been added to increasingly more cocktails and is currently considered as a common bar ingredient. Its importance was very obvious from the reaction during the Bitters shortage in early 2009. Currently it is even added to soups, salads and pies. For a drink that can be added to so many different recipes, it is hard to believe that it is actually non-potable and is not meant to consumed neat or on the rocks.

But this doesn’t stop the Dutch from drinking the orange variety on the rocks to celebrate Queensday.
 

Bitters Production
There are main players in the making of Bitters: The Bittering Agent, The Flavor and The Solution.

  • The Bittering Agent

This ingredient is important since it is the one ingredient that will make the drink bitter. Common ingredients are cascarilla, cassia, gentian, orange peel and quinine. These are all plants, herbs and chemical compounds originating from South America, Asia, the Caribbean and Europe. However, most bitters’ flavors are derived from the bitter herb Gentian.

  • The Flavor

The flavor agent differs from producer to producer. Simple bitters have one flavor, such as orange, peach or grapefruit.
 

  • The Solution

The solution will be the liquid in which the other ingredients are steeped into to release their flavors. This is the alcoholic ingredient of the bitter. For lighter bitters, producers use vodka or gin and the darker bitters include whiskey, rum or brandy. The alcohol is also a way of preserving the other ingredients.

Once the ingredients are determined, they are all placed into a jar and remain there for days to a couple of months. When it has achieved the desired flavor, it is filtered, sweetened and then bottled.