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All About Bitters (Part 1)

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I've only ever seen references to using dried fruit in bitters. Fresh fruit would have a greater water content, so of course you'll be diluting whatever spirit base you're using, at which point it would make sense to start with a higher-proof spirit. I'd think the method advocated by Jamie Boudreau - macerating each ingredient separately and then blending them to produce the final product - would be a good place to start. But then, I've only ever made one batch of my own bitters.

When it comes to peach bitters in particular, is the flavour derived from the fruit or from the kernels?


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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cravios,

My only peach bitters experiment was basically a variation of Hess' House Bitters.

I reduced most of the spices by 50% and I used dried apricots heated in the base spirit (I used Old Grand-Dad 114, which has an apricot note and is of course flavorful and high-proof enough to work well in this application). I chose apricots because I know from my beer brewing that peaches don't leave much peach flavor behind, no matter how they're used, but apricots do. I heated half of the base spirit to 130* and then reconstituted 1/2 c of dried apricots in it. The whole mess went into a jar with the rest of the base spirit, spices, gentian, etc. I also added 1/2 c. of (blanched and then toasted) almonds at that time to provide a peach-kernel like flavor. I used peach nectar in place of half of the demerara syrup at bottling to increase the peach flavor and keep things from being quite as sweet as the Hess bitters.

The flavor was more satisfying and complex to me than Fee Bros. Peach (which I basically use for flavoring iced tea at this point), but not quite what I wanted: for one thing, the infusion in the jar was so dense that I didn't get much liquid out in the end. Additionally, I would have liked more balance between peach and almond (I believe this would take the bitters into the more traditional end of the peach bitters spectrum), and with the almonds in solution the color came out quite milky. Still, it was a start.

I think there are other ways to approach this, though, such as using straight peach or apricot nectar at bottling and perhaps using a good quality almond extract. There are also excellent fruit extracts available through homebrew channels that might provide good fruit flavor without the mess.

Anyway, as I said, I only made the one batch, and I think next time I will use almond extract but follow a similar fruit protocol.

Hope that helps.

Regards,


Edited by TBoner (log)

Tim

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When it comes to peach bitters in particular, is the flavour derived from the fruit or from the kernels?

Been digging much into 19th century medical texts lately. Saw an 1845 reference just yesterday that suggested peach leaves could be used as medicine (half an ounce of dried leaves infused in a pint of boiling water for irritated bladder, "in sick stomach and hooping-cough"). I've only seen the water reference and no word whether peach leaves surrender their virtue (in the parlance of the day) to alcohol, which would be preferable when making tinctures for bitters.

We may be heading down snakeroot territory here, but I've yet to research any modern survey on side effects, so take that as a matter of historical interest rather than a suggestion to run out and get dried peach leaves for tinctures.

By the by ~ We have no peach trees, so, um, anyone have suggestions for where I can get dried peach leaves for tinctures?


Matthew B. Rowley

Rowley's Whiskey Forge, a blog of drinks, food, and the making thereof

Author of Moonshine! (ISBN: 1579906486)

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Just put this up to age. I was following Avery's advice about proof and tried to get it well above 100, but I couldn't resist having some of the demerara in there too. If my math is correct, it's at about 107 proof. I didn't cook the lime bc I wanted to have that fresh, but I did steep everything else. I crushed the dry stuff before steeping it.

Apricot Jerk Bitters

Combine in a saucepan:

350 ml Wray & Nephew overproof rum (126 proof)

250 ml Lemon Hart demerara rum (80 proof)

25 g orange peel

125 g dried apricot, diced

7 g thyme leaves and tender stems

7 g dried gentian

8 g allspice

3 g cloves

2 g star anise

2 g black pepper

3 g cinnamon

2 g green cardamom

2 g nutmeg

30 g scotch bonnets (about 5, stemmed and seeded)

3g dried habaneros (about 3, stemmed)

25 g ginger, julienned

Heat to 140F or so and then take off the heat to let cool. Add

200 g diced lime (about 2)

I'll shake & age, then strain and steep the solids a bit, add some color and sweetness with molasses.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Stopped by LeNell's yesterday on a day trip to Coney Island with my daughter. Among many other goodies was a much larger selection of bitters including some Bitter Truth stuff, what seems like the full line of Fee's (including some of the whiskey-barrel aged elixir), Regan's, and a few others. I tried to get her to crack open a bottle of the rhubarb stuff to try it but no dice.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Tasted these guys --

Apricot Jerk Bitters

Combine in a saucepan:

350 ml Wray & Nephew overproof rum (126 proof)

250 ml Lemon Hart demerara rum (80 proof)

25 g orange peel

125 g dried apricot, diced

7 g thyme leaves and tender stems

7 g dried gentian

8 g allspice

3 g cloves

2 g star anise

2 g black pepper

3 g cinnamon

2 g green cardamom

2 g nutmeg

30 g scotch bonnets (about 5, stemmed and seeded)

3g dried habaneros (about 3, stemmed)

25 g ginger, julienned

Heat to 140F or so and then take off the heat to let cool. Add

200 g diced lime (about 2)

-- which sat for two weeks and they were ready to get strained. Added 50 ml of molasses and 50 ml of pimento dram. I'm now letting it sit to settle before I strain it later. It's a whopper, and I'm not sure what the hell I'll actually do with it....

I had the good fortune to try a few new bitters at Eastern Standard Monday night, including the fantastic Angostura orange bitters and a few from Avery and Janet Glasser, the Bittermens duo. The thing I notice most about my home attempts is the lack of binding middle flavors: things tend to be all up front and at the end. My stuff is also not nearly as fragrant as the top-end stuff either, sadly.

Still gots me work to do.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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At Tales of the Cocktail, I was given a sample of a new Fee's product -- Rhubarb Bitters. (This was my reward for brazenly introducing myself at a party to the guy in the pith helmet -- turned out to be Joe Fee himself...who apparently carries around bottles of the stuff in his cargo shorts pockets!)

It sounds delightful to me. I wish I could report back how it tastes, but airport security confiscated them, unopened, from my carry-on. DOH! :shock:

I put my bottle of Fee Rhubarb bitters (also cajoled out of Joe Fee's cargo shorts pocket) into my checked baggage and managed to get it home. The rhubarb bitters are top notch. They're particularly tasty in my Rhuby Daiquiris, a twist on a Hemingway made with rhubarb syrup and Ruby Red grapefruit juice. I'll report back on any other successes with them.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I was asking myself if this theory is possible:

During the US prohibition, the sale / manufacture / transportation & consumption of Alcohol was banned. But, was it possible to buy Angostura Bitters? :huh:

At that time, I think that angostura bitters was in a category on its own, Aromatic Bitters. And the US law described this category as being undrinkable alone.

Now, I'm thinking if it could have been possible to buy aromatic bitters, in a pharmacy for example, during the US prohibition?

Cheers for you help, :biggrin:

Mick


Cheers

www.BarNowOn.com

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During the US prohibition, the sale / manufacture / transportation & consumption of Alcohol was banned. But, was it possible to buy Angostura Bitters? :huh: 

At that time, I think that angostura bitters was in a category on its own, Aromatic Bitters. And the US law described this category as being undrinkable alone.

Now, I'm thinking if it could have been possible to buy aromatic bitters, in a pharmacy for example, during the US prohibition?

Cheers for you help,  :biggrin:

Mick

It was because of Prohibition that the US Government (now the Taxation and Trade Bureau of the Division of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) set up a category for non-potable alcohol, which includes things such as vanilla extract and non-potable bitters (such as Angostura).

Bitters such as Angostura still need to be approved by the TTB before being classified as non-potable before being sellable.

Avery


Avery Glasser

Bittermens, Inc. - Producers of Bittermens Bitters & Extracts

Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs

Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

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No. Avery is explaining why it was possible to buy Angostura in the US during Prohibition. Angostura is a "non-potable" alcohol -- which is to say that the government decided that it is impossible to get inebriated drinking nothing but Angostura bitters.


--

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It was because of Prohibition that the US Government (now the Taxation and Trade Bureau of the Division of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) set up a category for non-potable alcohol, which includes things such as vanilla extract and non-potable bitters (such as Angostura).

Bitters such as Angostura still need to be approved by the TTB before being classified as non-potable before being sellable.

Avery

So it wasn't possible to buy Angostura in the USduring between 1919 & 1933?

thanks. :biggrin:

Angostura, Abbott's, etc were available for sale during Prohibition.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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It was because of Prohibition that the US Government (now the Taxation and Trade Bureau of the Division of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) set up a category for non-potable alcohol, which includes things such as vanilla extract and non-potable bitters (such as Angostura).

Bitters such as Angostura still need to be approved by the TTB before being classified as non-potable before being sellable.

Avery

So it wasn't possible to buy Angostura in the USduring between 1919 & 1933?

thanks. :biggrin:

Angostura, Abbott's, etc were available for sale during Prohibition.

The only problem that i can think off is how Abbott's could get heir hand on neutral spirit to make the bitters. Abbott's is from the US, isn't it?


Cheers

www.BarNowOn.com

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It was because of Prohibition that the US Government (now the Taxation and Trade Bureau of the Division of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) set up a category for non-potable alcohol, which includes things such as vanilla extract and non-potable bitters (such as Angostura).

Bitters such as Angostura still need to be approved by the TTB before being classified as non-potable before being sellable.

Avery

So it wasn't possible to buy Angostura in the USduring between 1919 & 1933?

thanks. :biggrin:

Angostura, Abbott's, etc were available for sale during Prohibition.

The only problem that i can think off is how Abbott's could get heir hand on neutral spirit to make the bitters. Abbott's is from the US, isn't it?

Abbott's was made in Maryland, yes. Distilled spirits are necessary for industrial applications as well as recreational ones, so distilling would not have come to a complete halt. Something like NGS would have still been available, especially in the bulk industrial buy it by the rail car type of context.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Just had a chance to try the new Fee Brother Cherry Bitters, here is my take on them:

First Impression: Light floral and slightly candy like smell to it with a hint of bitters or acridness to it rounding out and providing a grounding or weighting of the cherry aroma so it has a better nose .

Appearance: Clear with a very slight brown tinge to it. Somewhat viscous compared to some (a bit thinner than the orange bitters but still resembling a light oil in some respects).

Taste: Tastes like a cherry syrup or a sour version of a Gummi lifesaver with a pleasantly sour/bitterness to it.

Could be a bit more bitter in my opinion, but never having tried a old cherry bitter I can't comment on what they were like and how this one compares to those.

Drinks: Limited usefulness, primary uses are for cocktails almost no one has heard of or remembers except seriously hard core Cocktailians. None-the-less it is a required ingredient for some cocktails and an interesting tool in the Cocktailians armamentarium. Chances are, if you come up with a cocktail using this it will be a new one.

Even came up with a new drink for them.

I was playing around with some ideas and came up with a hybrid of 2 of my (many) favorite drinks.

Thinking was can I use only bitters to achieve a Aviation Cocktail without using Maraschino Liqueur (Hard to find a decent one sometime in a bar sometimes) and use a lemon bitter so it makes a clearer drink than using lemon juice. Problem was I ended up with a very dry (and strong) gin martini with flavor accents like an Aviation,

So I decided to add the two vermouths for complexity and dilution of overall proof.

The title is obviously a spoof (unreliable, underpowered, flimsy excuse for an aircraft for the title) -plus it was late and I am famous for not finding good names for anything I create.

The Ultra Light

A variation/cross between a Perfect Martini (1930's style) and the Aviation Cocktail, using Fee Bros. Bitters instead of Maraschino liqueur and lemon juice.

4 oz Citadelle Gin

1/4 oz Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth

1/4 oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth

2-4 dashes Fee Bros. Lemon Bitters (to taste)

2-4 dashes Fee Bros. Cherry Bitters (to taste)

Pour all ingrediants into cocktail shaker over ice.

Shake vigorously for 30 seconds.

Strain into chilled martini glass.

Garnish with lemon zest.

Enjoy!

Has anyone else tried the Cherry Bitters yet? Curious as to what other people think of them or any recipe ideas for them


Edited by Dangermonkey (log)

The Pleasures of Exile are Imperfect at Best, At Worst They Rot the Liver.

Spirits Review.com

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My problem with most of the Fee Bros. bitters is that they aren't actually bitters. They are glycerin-based flavorings rather than alcoholic tinctures, and the fruit ones don't have any quinine in them (the definition of a bitter). They seem to me more like candy flavorings than cocktail ingredients. I've enjoyed the grapefruit and peach ones on occasion, but I always seem to want to add real bitters as well to back them up. And I'll cut Regan's orange with Fee orange for roundness and balance (although now I'm an Ango orange fan).

All that being said, I haven't tried the cherry yet. Is there any quinine in it?


Small Hand Foods

classic ingredients for pre-prohibition era cocktails

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My problem with most of the Fee Bros. bitters is that they aren't actually bitters.  They are glycerin-based flavorings rather than alcoholic tinctures, and the fruit ones don't have any quinine in them (the definition of a bitter).  They seem to me more like candy flavorings than cocktail ingredients.  I've enjoyed the grapefruit and peach ones on occasion, but I always seem to want to add real bitters as well to back them up.  And I'll cut Regan's orange with Fee orange for roundness and balance (although now I'm an Ango orange fan).

All that being said, I haven't tried the cherry yet.  Is there any quinine in it?

Pegu Clubs does a 50/50 mix of Regans' and Fees Orange I understand.

No Quinine in the Cherry Bitters, just citric acid (adds some depth/breadth to the flavor but not a huge amount.)

Been playing around with Swedish Bitters as a bittering agent but not so much bitter as mummy dust dry.

I am really a fan of van Wees bitters (they do at least 4) but you have to order them from Holland and shipping is pricey (but so is a bad tasting drink or two).

Haven't tried the Ango Orange yet- haven't seen it around here (Rochester,NY is not a noted cocktail venue to put it nicely)


The Pleasures of Exile are Imperfect at Best, At Worst They Rot the Liver.

Spirits Review.com

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My problem with most of the Fee Bros. bitters is that they aren't actually bitters.  They are glycerin-based flavorings rather than alcoholic tinctures, and the fruit ones don't have any quinine in them (the definition of a bitter).  They seem to me more like candy flavorings than cocktail ingredients.  I've enjoyed the grapefruit and peach ones on occasion, but I always seem to want to add real bitters as well to back them up.  And I'll cut Regan's orange with Fee orange for roundness and balance (although now I'm an Ango orange fan).

All that being said, I haven't tried the cherry yet.  Is there any quinine in it?

All bitters have (or are meant to have) quinine in them? Are you sure?


Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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All bitters have (or are meant to have) quinine in them? Are you sure?

Yep, typically in the form of cinchona bark. Quin-quin, quinquina and chinotto are all bitter aperitif-types whose names are derived from cinchona. "Bitters" that don't have it lack spine and complexity to me. Like adding an extract. Yes, it adds flavor, but think of, say, a Pegu Club with orange extract rather than orange bitters. It wouldn't be an untasty drink, but it wouldn't have the depth that the quinine brings to it. The bitters elevate the Pegu Club above what would otherwise be a gin kamikaze.


Small Hand Foods

classic ingredients for pre-prohibition era cocktails

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All bitters have (or are meant to have) quinine in them? Are you sure?

Yep, typically in the form of cinchona bark. Quin-quin, quinquina and chinotto are all bitter aperitif-types whose names are derived from cinchona. "Bitters" that don't have it lack spine and complexity to me. Like adding an extract. Yes, it adds flavor, but think of, say, a Pegu Club with orange extract rather than orange bitters. It wouldn't be an untasty drink, but it wouldn't have the depth that the quinine brings to it. The bitters elevate the Pegu Club above what would otherwise be a gin kamikaze.

Depending on your definition of bitters don't forget gentian, baerwurz or a number of other bitter alkaloid type plants to that profile or possible herbs to qualify as a bitter or bittering agent. But yes, I think a bitter needs something making it bitter to qualify as something other than just a flavoring agent.

Actually my research led me to the distinctions of bitter tinctures (alcohol based and close to angostura type bitters) and bitter tonics (more like Canpari,Cynar Amaros' etc.,) which may or may not use alcohol (or lesser amounts) and less concentrated.

Here is an excerpt from a piece on bitters I wrote recently based on a number of medical books from the 1700's and 1800's from my collection:

Some of the main ingredients are :

Alcohol as a base and extraction mechanism according to Morewood ”An Essay on the Use of Inebriating Liquors” the art distilling appears to have been practiced in China where it was applied to the production of alcohol from fermented rice. Earliest European mention appears to be that of Marcus Craecus from the latter half of the 13th century. He describes the distillation of alcohol, (aqua ardens) from strong wines. Cardinal Vitalis also mentions it as a panacea. Raymond Lulli in the later half of the 14th century its use as a cordial throughout Germany and Italy was widespread, although its modus of preparation was kept secret by the Alchemists

Angelica: Highly prized in the Middle Ages and similar to Calamus or Sweet Flag (banned as a bitters ingredient) ,stimulant tonic used formerly for poisonings, rabies and typhoid because of its tonic and stimulant properties. A bitter acrid herb , sometimes used in salads.

Angustura (old spelling) or Angostura Bark : Bitter bark used for fevers history: first cited in 1759 by Mutis in Madrid used by inhabitants of the Spanish colonies with great success as a remedy for fever and dysentery - sometimes adulterated with Nux Vomica years ago (which is a bitter strychnine and brucine containing tree of similar appearance) which cause the herb to fall into disrepute for a number of years.

Artichoke Leaves provide bittersweet flavor. Main flavoring of Cynar Bitters.

Cascarilla: a diminutive of the Spanish word cascara or little bark- cited by Pomet brought to France from South America in 1670 by M Legras cited again in 1684 by Stisser in which he states that a portion of the bar has been given to them by an Englishman of some celebrity and they made tinctures of it.

Was also used to mix with smoking tobacco, to which it imparted an aromatic fragrance and taste.Tonic and aromatic bitter alkaloid.

Cassia : (close relative to various types of cinnamon)

Gentian Root :(dates back to Pliny the Elder- very bitter root herb) from King Gentianus King of Illyria A stimulatant and astringent powerful antidote to poisoning by venomous serpents,when taken with wine, pepper, and rue. Used for stomach and intestinal problems, and for skin diseases, also a cure for rabies. A compound tincture , made a gentian orange peel cardamom seeds and diluted alcohol is listed in the therapeutics and materia medica by Alfred Stille MD in 1868

Glycerin as a base and extraction mechanism also to add body and buffer ingredients

Horehound: Dioscorides gives a full account of this plant as being very serviceable for those who have asthma cough or consumption ended being eminently efficient as an expectorant. Also useful as a fertility drug as an antidote to the bite of venomous serpents. Galen adds that it is a cleanser of the liver and spleen,Pliny the Elder mentions it is good for tumors, when mixed with honey it is good for the genital organs was widely used in the Arab world as an expectorant.

Quassia : employed since the beginning of the 18th century by inhabitants of Surinam. The plant is stated to have derived its name from that of Quassi a Negro slave who made known its virtues to his master account given by Rolander who carried the wood to Stockholm in 1756.Originally used as a tonic and stomachic bitter

Quinine : Formerly used as antimalarial and antipyretic provides bitterness .First named by Linnaeus in 1742 in honor of Spanish countess Cinchon who was the first to test the favor virtues of the bark.

West Indian or Bitter Orange Peel : A form of orange originally from Asia and was introduced into the Levantine countries early in the Christian era, and into Spain by Juan De Castro in 1520. Used by Arabian physicians regarded as stimulating and an excellent remedy for colic and also for intestinal worms In the West Indies the Valencia Orange eventually mutated into the Curacao orange.

Wormwood to provide bitterness and depth of flavor.

Yarrow: Used since ancient times (Achilles was said to be cured of a wound by it) for bleeding disorders and wounds, and considered in large doses an inebrient, it was also used as a tonic throughout the ages.


The Pleasures of Exile are Imperfect at Best, At Worst They Rot the Liver.

Spirits Review.com

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Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) appears also to have been used as a medicinal bittering agent in the US relatively recently. Allegedly, Jack Daniel (of Jack Daniel's Whiskey fame) was unusually fond of "Whiskey Tansy" and it turns up in a few other references to 19th Century mixology and recipe books. Also "Gin and Tansy" shows up in a number of 19th Century recipe books along with "Gin and Wormwood".


Edited by eje (log)

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) appears also to have been used as a medicinal bittering agent in the US relatively recently.  Allegedly, Jack Daniel (of Jack Daniel's Whiskey fame) was unusually fond of "Whiskey Tansy" and it turns up in a few other references to 19th Century mixology and recipe books.  Also "Gin and Tansy" shows up in a number of 19th Century recipe books along with "Gin and Wormwood".

Yes that one too.

My piece was mostly on ingredients in use today in bitters, if you look through an early Materia Medica ((18th Century Physicians Desk Reference basically) there are a lot of different bitters (tinctures and tonics). My research basically started when a gin distiller friend of mine was looking for new secret ingredients/flavorings and we started combing through the old medical texts looking for forgotten herbs (that would not be a problem with the FDA - which cut the list down quite a bit)


The Pleasures of Exile are Imperfect at Best, At Worst They Rot the Liver.

Spirits Review.com

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All bitters have (or are meant to have) quinine in them? Are you sure?

Yep, typically in the form of cinchona bark. Quin-quin, quinquina and chinotto are all bitter aperitif-types whose names are derived from cinchona. "Bitters" that don't have it lack spine and complexity to me. Like adding an extract. Yes, it adds flavor, but think of, say, a Pegu Club with orange extract rather than orange bitters. It wouldn't be an untasty drink, but it wouldn't have the depth that the quinine brings to it. The bitters elevate the Pegu Club above what would otherwise be a gin kamikaze.

It sounds like you're describing potable bitters--aperitif type bitters (Campari, Fernet Branca, Averna Amaro, Killepitsch) , but then applying the requisites to non-potable cocktail bitters, such as Angostura, etc. I'm not sure they're supposed to be necessarily formulated in the same way.


Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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Actually both potable and nonpotable use many the same ingredients but in widely different concentrations.

My piece did cover both types but they were based on the historical bitter tinctures (drops) and bitter tonics (draughts) which both later seem to transmogrify into cocktail items. (much like distillation itself carried over)


The Pleasures of Exile are Imperfect at Best, At Worst They Rot the Liver.

Spirits Review.com

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