What exactly are bitters? No they are not a nickname for being upset or grumpy. They are a wonderful little additive that can take a drink to a whole new level of flavor!
Lets take it back to the beginning:
The earliest origins of bitters can be traced back as far as the ancient Egyptians, who may have infused spices and herbs in jars of wine for medicinal purposes such as aiding digestion. Many styles of digestive bitters made today reflect herbal tonic preparations whose roots are claimed to be traceable back to Renaissance era pharmacopoeia.
Fast forward a number of years, Bitters are continued to be developed, and distributed for medicinal purposes. In the early 1800’s The English used bitters in a drink called Canary wine, similar to the Egyptians. Bitters, however, really exploded in American Colonial times, up through Prohibition. It was typically any drink consisting of spirits, water, sugar, and bitters… There is a lot of debate on when it went from being used on its own as a medicinal treatment to when it went into a cocktails.
Around 1824, Johann Siegert, a doctor in Venezuela, began making Angostura as a stimulant for the troops to help them with malaria and keep them on their feet. As we get to the golden age of the cocktail, in the mid-late 1800’s, bitters became frequently used in early alcoholic drink creations.
Now what are Bitters actually made of:
Bitters are crafted utilizing a neutral or base spirit infused with various spices, herbs, fruits, seeds, botanical matter and more. Typically, you the main ingredients are water, base alcohol, sugar, and then depending on the flavor of bitters one wishes to create a various amount of different botanical matters will be added for a range of flavors.