Any bartender worth their salt will have a selection of bitters in their cocktail armoury. The mixologist's best friend, bitters are the salt and pepper on the cocktail list. They season, shape flavour, enhance taste and just like with most condiments, a little goes a long way.
But that's where the similarity ends, after all, bitters are boozy, as well as being extremely concentrated and, you guessed it, bitter to the taste. They're made from spices such as cloves – think back to a time you unwittingly bit into a stray clove in a forkful of pilau rice and grimaced at the taste – aromatic herbs, bark, roots and berries.
The top tincture that comes to mind is Angostura Bitters and you only need a few drops of this aromatic flavouring to lift a drink. But just like a spice rack, there's masses of different types out there – and thanks to the craft cocktail renaissance, it's a bitters buyer's market.
Here's how to get your bitter fix…
It's arguably the world's most popular classic cocktail and it's the bitters that cause a stir. Add two or three dashes of Angostura to enhance the warming layers of oak-aged whiskey and mellow the sweetness of the sugar.
Our love affair with pink gin started in the mid-19th century when a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters was added to the gin to make it pinkish. To pimp up your pink, chill the glass, carefully coat the inside with bitters, add the gin, ice and a slice.
These baby bottles (20cl) may come as high as 39% abv, but on days when you're not drinking and are in need of a little pick-me-up, try adding a couple of dashes to your tonic water. Topped with loads of ice, there'll be just enough underlying bitterness after the fruity sweetness of orange bitters to make it feel like a grown-up drink.
Think about that sweet, aromatized, wine-based aperitif you haven't touched in years, and then think about the herbs and spices, the cocktail (the Queen likes two parts Dubonnet to one part gin), the lemon wedge, ice and one more vital ingredient… orange bitters. A few drops will marry beautifully with the flavours and make it taste even zestier.
It's not all savoury, woody notes in the bitters world, and if you want to branch out to something more exotic and heighten the fruitiness in your tiki cocktail, peach bitters are the trump card in your cocktail kit. A combination of fresh peach aromas and subtle spicy notes, with a hint of almond bitterness, you could even play around with them in a bellini. Chin-chin!