“They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.” - Matthew 27:34, KJV
The Romans of Biblical times may have been able to build a mighty empire, but they sure as shit didn’t know how to mix a cocktail. Nevertheless, they had one thing right: Bitters are an essential ingredient.
Bitters - infusions of aromatic herbs in alcohol - have been around for a long time. Used as digestives and patent medicines, it was inevitable that they would find their way into Tasty Potables, there to contribute their unique flavor notes.
The extensive assortment of bitters at Seed, a new local eatery with a talented mixologist and a well-stocked bar.
There are bitters of all varieties. Digestive bitters are consumed neat or on the rocks after a meal, and there are some - Campari, Pimm’s No. 1, and Fernet Branca come to mind - that are major components of cocktails. If you are not familiar with the Negroni, the Pimm’s Cup, and the Fernet and Coke (a favorite in Argentina), you’re missing out.
A few others in this camp include Aperol (a little less assertive than Campari), Averna (a little sweeter), and Underberg, with its powerful gentian kick. Underberg is the one that allows Germans to survive their massive meals of wienerschnitzel mit spätzle, wild boar, and sauerkraut: served in a small glass goblet, it can keep your kishkes from locking up after the most monstrous of Mittel-Europaische dinners. It’s good stuff to have around the house.
And then there are the types of bitters that add subtle flavor notes to cocktails instead of jumping all over center stage - like the ones pictured above. Angostura bitters (from the eponymous town in Trinidad) (essential to the Manhattan), Peychaud’s bitters (can’t make a Sazerac cocktail without ’em), and orange bitters fall into this category.
Long experience has taught me that where mixed drinks are concerned, a bit of bitters can mean the difference between a pedestrian tipple and one that is exceptional. Anyone can enjoy a sweet drink - think of all those so-called “martinis” offered at your local drinkery - but it takes a refined palate to appreciate something that plays to those other, underappreciated taste buds.
Medicinal? Maybe to some... but medicine does cure what ails ya, don’t it? Pass me that bitter cup, Buttercup!
Update: What better tipple on Mardi Gras - Tuesday, February 21 - than a Sazerac? Get out that bottle of Peychaud’s, cher!