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Chris Amirault

All About Bitters (Part 2)

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I'm still not at all sure that rhubarb doesn't meet the chemical or olfactory requirements of a "bittering agent" - have you chomped on a stalk of raw, unsugared rhubarb? You can call it sour if you like, but to me it is also bitter, which is one of the main reasons I like it so much.


"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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... olfactory requirements of a "bittering agent" ...

Did you mean gustatory, perhpas?

You can call it sour if you like, but to me it is also bitter...

I'm not sure if you taste one thing and you describe it as bitter rather than sour, or if you taste two things -- sour and bitter. I haven't had raw, unsweetened rhubarb in a while, but I only remember the overwhelming sourness, and the need for a shocking amount of sugar needed to make even a tart rhubarb sauce.

I used to pick it outside my grandmother's barn and my parent's house. Grew like a weed, more-or-less. Now its expensive in the market. :sad:


Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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Just out of curiosity, what is the simple definition you like? I find the category almost mind-bogglingly complex though I'll admit my perspective is a bit unorthodox.

Andy, I think the simple definition to which Adam refers appears up-topic:

The following is a pretty good definition as printed in The Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages:

BITTERS – These are made by extracting bitter and aromatic – or bitter only – drugs with a mixture of alcohol and water; sometimes a small amount of sugar or syrup is added.

Put simply, bitters are a compound of herbs, roots, barks, spices and spirit which were originally used as a medicine. The final product should have layers and layers of flavour with a pronounced bitter, or bittersweet, flavour.

I think that's that, particulary given that the only two members around here who produce commercial bitters are Adam and Avery, and given that both insist on this pretty simple definition (bitters are made with bitter things and are bitter).

what is the simple definition you like? I find the category almost mind-bogglingly complex though I'll admit my perspective is a bit unorthodox.

See Chris' reply #734, that pretty much covers it.

Not to be argumentative, because I really do like and believe in that definition, but the original does not state that the end result of the process need be overtly or even detectably bitter. Indeed, Vermouth would qualify under this definition, and while it has long worked for my own understanding to consider Vermouth in a spectrum of bitter alcohols, I have also been instructed earlier in this very thread that in no uncertain terms are vermouths to be considered bitters.

If "bitter and aromatic" ingredients are extracted, but the aromatic are used in far greater proportion than the bitter, it would both pass and fail the definitions set forth. Especially if, say, the "aromatic" component were Rhubarb. Just sayin'.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Oh, BTW, way up-thread someone asked if Fee Rhubarb bitters contains artificial flavors. The label says that it contains both natural and artificial flavors.

OK, now back to the hijack currently in progress.


Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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Not to be argumentative, because I really do like and believe in that definition, but the original does not state that the end result of the process need be overtly or even detectably bitter. Indeed, Vermouth would qualify under this definition, and while it has long worked for my own understanding to consider Vermouth in a spectrum of bitter alcohols, I have also been instructed earlier in this very thread that in no uncertain terms are vermouths to be considered bitters.

If "bitter and aromatic" ingredients are extracted, but the aromatic are used in far greater proportion than the bitter, it would both pass and fail the definitions set forth. Especially if, say, the "aromatic" component were Rhubarb. Just sayin'.

To be honest there's more than enough information around to clarify what bitters are as I've mentioned in this thread; the obvious being the name and their medicinal/culinary use.

Anyone that's ever tried a bitters recipe from an old guide/manual will also testify that these bitters were bitter. I've lost count of the number of recipes I've put together and each and every one has been bitter.

One last consideration would be that Peychaud's and Angostura, bitters that have been around for almost 200 years and still available today, are without question bitter. As are the various vintage bottlings I have tried...

Were that recipe from Imbibe to contain rhubarb root alongside the rhubarb stalk they'd then be a bitters. Without the bittering agent they're not.


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

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Not to be argumentative, because I really do like and believe in that definition, but the original does not state that the end result of the process need be overtly or even detectably bitter. Indeed, Vermouth would qualify under this definition, and while it has long worked for my own understanding to consider Vermouth in a spectrum of bitter alcohols, I have also been instructed earlier in this very thread that in no uncertain terms are vermouths to be considered bitters.

If "bitter and aromatic" ingredients are extracted, but the aromatic are used in far greater proportion than the bitter, it would both pass and fail the definitions set forth. Especially if, say, the "aromatic" component were Rhubarb. Just sayin'.

To be honest there's more than enough information around to clarify what bitters are as I've mentioned in this thread; the obvious being the name and their medicinal/culinary use.

Anyone that's ever tried a bitters recipe from an old guide/manual will also testify that these bitters were bitter. I've lost count of the number of recipes I've put together and each and every one has been bitter.

One last consideration would be that Peychaud's and Angostura, bitters that have been around for almost 200 years and still available today, are without question bitter. As are the various vintage bottlings I have tried...

Were that recipe from Imbibe to contain rhubarb root alongside the rhubarb stalk they'd then be a bitters. Without the bittering agent they're not.

It's perfectly logical to claim that "bitters should be bitter," but in the world of cocktails, things are quite often not what they seem. All of the information in this thread and countless historical recreations don't really put the issue to rest, however. They simply create a Black Swan problem...it's impossible/impractical to taste every bitters ever made historically to see if they are bitter, and yet a single example to the contrary would invalidate the theory.


True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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it's impossible/impractical to taste every bitters ever made historically to see if they are bitter, and yet a single example to the contrary would invalidate the theory.

:huh: Utterly bizarre. Can you point me in the direction of something, anything, that suggests bitters shouldn't be bitter?

Some people's logic is just strange...


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

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it's impossible/impractical to taste every bitters ever made historically to see if they are bitter, and yet a single example to the contrary would invalidate the theory.

:huh: Utterly bizarre. Can you point me in the direction of something, anything, that suggests bitters shouldn't be bitter?

Some people's logic is just strange...

Well, it's Karl Popper's logic, not mine... As I said, it makes perfect sense to work under the assumption that bitters should be bitter, I just think the case for this being an absolute, empirical fact has been overstated. There's a non-zero chance that the next historical bitters formula that you encounter won't have a noticeably bitter flavor.


True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Well, it's Karl Popper's logic, not mine... As I said, it makes perfect sense to work under the assumption that bitters should be bitter, I just think the case for this being an absolute, empirical fact has been overstated. There's a non-zero chance that the next historical bitters formula that you encounter won't have a noticeably bitter flavor.

Why not use your own logic? :huh:

My thoughts on the bitters category are not based solely on historical formulas but on the various facts I've pointed out in this thread, coupled with logic by weighing up all the information we have at hand.

Anyone suggesting that bitters aren't bitter really needs to do some more research of the category instead of making up their own assumption based on, let's be honest, nothing.


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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My point was more about detectable bitterness. I have not had Fee's Rhubarb bitters, and have no particular reason to seek them out. My only point was that they might have bitter extracts without being noticeably bitter. Aperol would be an example of a barely bitter "bitter" that is reported to have rhubarb flavors, so the precedent exists.

For my own part I make no assumptions or assertions about the quality of the product in question. I know Fee's is a favorite whipping boy, especially amongst the newer wave of bitters producers. I'm not particularly happy with their quality of late, but I do still respect them for their important place in the story of the cocktail renaissance.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Andy, just for fun, I just tasted both. I think I'm a taster (rather than super- or non-).

Fee Rhubarb bitters is definitely bitter (and a bit sour). They are about half as bitter as Peychaud's, I'd guess (by tasting both).

Aperol is most definitely bitter, and since it is used as a potable bitter in large® quantity, it makes for a bitter drink. Yes, it's mild by comparison with, say, Campari, but it certainly is plenty bitter.

I don't find that most non-potable bitters deliver a noticeable bitter taste when deployed in drop or dash quantities.


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Andy, just for fun, I just tasted both. I think I'm a taster (rather than super- or non-).

Fee Rhubarb bitters is definitely bitter (and a bit sour). They are about half as bitter as Peychaud's, I'd guess (by tasting both).

Aperol is most definitely bitter, and since it is used as a potable bitter in large® quantity, it makes for a bitter drink. Yes, it's mild by comparison with, say, Campari, but it certainly is plenty bitter.

I don't find that most non-potable bitters deliver a noticeable bitter taste when deployed in drop or dash quantities.

Good experiment, I confess I haven't tasted Aperol neat in some time. Between the two, which seemed most bitter?


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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My point was more about detectable bitterness. I have not had Fee's Rhubarb bitters, and have no particular reason to seek them out. My only point was that they might have bitter extracts without being noticeably bitter. Aperol would be an example of a barely bitter "bitter" that is reported to have rhubarb flavors, so the precedent exists.

For my own part I make no assumptions or assertions about the quality of the product in question. I know Fee's is a favorite whipping boy, especially amongst the newer wave of bitters producers. I'm not particularly happy with their quality of late, but I do still respect them for their important place in the story of the cocktail renaissance.

We were talking about the recipe in Imbibe not Fee's rhubarb bitters. And there is a distinct difference between Aperol (which are bitter) and non-potable bitters (which we're discussing here).


Edited by evo-lution (log)

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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I don't find that most non-potable bitters deliver a noticeable bitter taste when deployed in drop or dash quantities.

Now you've done it! We have a class of ingredients that are defined by an archaic use as medicine - no longer used as such and a bitter taste but don't add noticable bitterness to the drink.

Prepare for another few pages of semantic arguments... :shock:


It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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I don't find that most non-potable bitters deliver a noticeable bitter taste when deployed in drop or dash quantities.

Now you've done it! We have a class of ingredients that are defined by an archaic use as medicine - no longer used as such and a bitter taste but don't add noticable bitterness to the drink.

Prepare for another few pages of semantic arguments... :shock:

haha, soon enough the reasoning will become "We hold these truths to be self-evident".

strangely enough a coworker tonight described a strawberry-rhubarb ice cream he enjoys as having a "pleasant bitterness".

early in the evening, i myself ate a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. all i could think of that could explain this layman's bitter descriptor is the strange nature of rhubarb's acidity. rhubarb has oxalic acid which i think is important to defining its flavor. if oxalic acid contributes to a unique sensation, very different than malic or citric acid, people may label it as bitter. sort of like "halo dumping" but not quite because as stated up thread by one of the language dictators, you cannot/should not use the word that way.

if anyone is interested in the olfaction in terms of gustation theory of classifying aromas, one paper i just came across used the language for a very similar phenomenon (olfaction into audition) "sensory convergence".


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strangely enough a coworker tonight described a strawberry-rhubarb ice cream he enjoys as having a "pleasant bitterness".

early in the evening, i myself ate a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. all i could think of that could explain this layman's bitter descriptor is the strange nature of rhubarb's acidity. rhubarb has oxalic acid which i think is important to defining its flavor. if oxalic acid contributes to a unique sensation, very different than malic or citric acid, people may label it as bitter.

Maybe Chris' question up-thread about astringency is relevant to this.


It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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haha, soon enough the reasoning will become "We hold these truths to be self-evident".

http://mlkshk.com/r/1DR5

We have a class of ingredients that are defined by an archaic use as medicine - no longer used as such.

Archaic use as medicine. Really? So there is no-one consuming bitter beverages to aid digestion? And no-one consuming bitters as a remedy due to their proven medicinal qualities?

don't add noticable bitterness to the drink.

Bitters aren't just added to a drink for bitterness (although the bitterness plays a key part in affecting the taste of the drink) but if you want to use this nonsensical point then you're free to do so. :wink:


Edited by evo-lution (log)

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

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sort of like "halo dumping" but not quite because as stated up thread by one of the language dictators, you cannot/should not use the word that way.

I'm not being a "language dictator", you were using it wrong. At least try to understand the science you spout before calling out others.

Halo-dumping related only to laboratory testing. It relates to the narrowing of rating criteria to just one or two simple criteria. It's like asking someone this question:

What does beef stew taste like? (Pick one)

A) Sweet

B) Salty

C) Sour

D) Bitter

E) Umami

THAT'S halo-dumping. It's forcing a participant to choose based on broad strokes. And EVERY participant can only choose based on those criteria. No matter how experienced the taster is, that's all they can pick.

However, you're using it in a situation where it doesn't work. At all. As I said before, the more experience (i.e. how much a person has tasted in his or her lifetime) IS the judging criteria. It is safe to say that a 4 year old knows less about food than a 50 year old, yes? Therefore, if you ask a child to describe a beef stew with a buttered roll, it'll taste like beef, bread and butter, won't it? But to someone with experience, it'll taste like meat, fat, rosemary, thyme, earthy potato, sweet carrots, toasted grains, cream, salt. For the 4 year old, THAT'S the equivalent of real life halo-dumping. The child doesn't know so it just lumps everything into broad categories. Someone with more experience doesn't do that. Thus, no real life halo-dumping. This means that not all participants in your "test" of a cocktail are bound by the same criteria. Therefore, not halo-dumping. It's merely inexperience.


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haha, soon enough the reasoning will become "We hold these truths to be self-evident".

http://mlkshk.com/r/1DR5

We have a class of ingredients that are defined by an archaic use as medicine - no longer used as such.

Archaic use as medicine. Really? So there is no-one consuming bitter beverages to aid digestion? And no-one consuming bitters as a remedy due to their proven medicinal qualities?

don't add noticable bitterness to the drink.

Bitters aren't just added to a drink for bitterness (although the bitterness plays a key part in affecting the taste of the drink) but if you want to use this nonsensical point then you're free to do so. :wink:

I think you are missing Dan's point. If you want a bitter drink as a digestif, reach for the Fernet Branca or other potable bitter and have a drink with some significant bitterness. As you said up-thread we are discussing non-potable bitters and in most cocktails they don't add much bitterness. They are used to affect flavour and smell. Are you or anyone else is compounding bitters for the purported herbal-medicinal effects of the other ingredients? If you are please let us know so I can decide which ones to avoid. So yes archaic.

I'm glad you agree bitters aren't just added to a drink for bitterness. As for using the (intentionally) nonsensical point, perhaps I'm easily amused but that is as good a reason as any to continue using your definition - not that I have much say in how language evolves.


It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Between the two, which seemed most bitter?

Just tasted them again. They are pretty similar. Aperol moderates the bitterness with sweetness, whereas Fee Rhubarb Bitters moderates it with sourness.

I have used Fee in oz-ish quantities in a cocktail and liked it. It's probably silly, but now that I've noticed the artificial flavor on the label, I'm less keen.


Edited by EvergreenDan (log)

Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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before any arguments go any further, it should be noted that i'd be really excited to meet anyone that is part of the conversation and host you in boston. we would argue like bon vivants over 5-10 rounds of cocktails, become bored and seek live music, then move on to chasing skirts, pants, or whatever is applicable.

cheers to anyone passionate and opinionated!


abstract expressionist beverage compounder

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This bitterness of bitters in drop/dash quantities got me wondering whether the bitter components could be other culinary ingredients that are used in sub-perceptible amounts and add a depth than most cannot describe more specifically. In other words, I'm miss the bitter if it weren't there. (And I'm assume most of the bitter ingredients have lots of flavor in addition to the bitter taste.)

A gracious offer, BA.


Edited by EvergreenDan (log)

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I think you are missing Dan's point. If you want a bitter drink as a digestif, reach for the Fernet Branca or other potable bitter and have a drink with some significant bitterness. As you said up-thread we are discussing non-potable bitters and in most cocktails they don't add much bitterness. They are used to affect flavour and smell.

Or you could use a non-potable bitters in smaller quantities which is extremely likely to have an increased level of bitterness, hence the distinction from their potable cousins. Wait a second, people actually do that already don't they, as there are numerous reasons non-potable bitters (with their heavily concentrated flavour/bitterness) are used in drinks which are consumed for digestive purposes (as an aperitif/digestif). This may be news to you but it's quite popular you know...

Are you or anyone else is compounding bitters for the purported herbal-medicinal effects of the other ingredients? If you are please let us know so I can decide which ones to avoid. So yes archaic.

There's plenty of info on this forum and on the web which goes into great detail explaining how compounding bitters is now part of my career as a bartender so I don't need to cover that. All I will say is that I compound my bottlings from a bartender's mind-set, not that of a doctor. My branding is a tongue-in-cheek stab at bitters history.

The bitters found in most bars are not likely to have been compounded with their medicinal qualities in mind (even though Angostura/Peychaud's were) however as I've repeatedly pointed out non-potable bitters are (to this day) used in drinks to aid digestion. If you don't want to buy the types of bitters that are used for this reason you won't be left with very many.

As for your continued assertion that bitters are archaic as a medicine there's plenty of information and products around that disprove this point. It may be worth noting that there are bitters created with drinks/food in mind and there are those created for their (proven) medicinal use.

I'm glad you agree bitters aren't just added to a drink for bitterness. As for using the (intentionally) nonsensical point, perhaps I'm easily amused but that is as good a reason as any to continue using your definition - not that I have much say in how language evolves.

I'd be baffled if you were to think that I thought that bitters were only added to a drink for their bitterness. What would be the point in different flavourings?!?

As for the definition you can accept it or not, bitters are what they are, and you've offered nothing to suggest or make me think otherwise.

Haresfur, redefining categories since...


Edited by evo-lution (log)

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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Launching on Monday 18th July 2011;

aphrodite900x425rgb.jpg

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Aphrodite Bitters take their name from the Greek goddess of sexuality and love. Aphrodisiacs are substances that are alleged to increase sexual desire and like many traditional bitters the botanicals selected for this bottling have been chosen for their alleged medicinal qualities, in this case as an aphrodisiac. The finest chocolate, cocoa nibs, ginger root, red chilli, Arabica coffee and ginseng are compounded to create a complex flavour profile with each botanical playing off and enhancing one another.

Tasting Notes: Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Aphrodite Bitters pack a real punch with a creamy texture capturing fresh roasted espresso, creamy milk chocolate, rum & raisin truffles and a soft spicy kick throughout all leading to a long wood-spiced finish.

Merchant Quarter

As featured on the new Aphrodite Bitters label, created by Adam Elmegirab June 21st 2011;

25ml Redemption Rye

25ml English Harbour 5 year old

25ml Martini Rosso

2 Dashes Jade Nouvelle-Orleans Absinthe

3 Dashes Aphrodite Bitters

Method: Add all ingredients to mixing glass fill with cubed ice and stir for 15-20 seconds

Glass: Chilled cocktail

Garnish: Homemade cocktail cherry

Ice: N/A


Edited by evo-lution (log)

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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Sounds really nice. I have another bitters order for Cocktail Kingdom put together. Assuming they're going to have it, I think I'll hold off on my order until the 18th. :biggrin:


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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