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An old (probably 1880s) bottle of bitters from Germany (Posen, now Poznan in Poland).

A bitter is an alcoholic beverage that contains herbal essences, has a bitter or bittersweet flavor, and is typically flavored with citrus. There are numerous brands of bitters, which were formerly marketed as patent medicines but are now considered to be digestifs rather than medicines.

Bitters are principally used as digestifs and as flavorings in cocktails.

Bitters commonly have an alcoholic strength of 45% ABV and normally consumed only in small amounts as a digestif or when added as a flavoring agent (similar to vanilla flavoring, which is also dissolved in alcohol).

In the United Kingdom, Angostura bitters are not classified as an alcoholic beverage due to their bitter taste, and they can be bought by a person of any age. A bitters derives it name from the fact that is does not contain added sugar or sweetener. If the bitters is a drink additive, it therefore does not change the sweetness level of the drink. If the bitters is a tonic it may have some sugar added, although EU legislation dictates the definition of a bitter is that it does not have sugar added.



Common ingredients in bitters include angostura bark, cascarilla, cassia, gentian, orange peel, and quinine from Cinchona bark (grown in Peru and Indonesia). The flavor of Angostura bitters, Suze and Peychaud's Bitters derives primarily from gentian, a bitter herb. Bitters are prepared by infusion or distillation, using aromatic herbs, bark, roots, and/or fruit for their flavor and medicinal properties.

Christopher Hobbs LAc, AHG author of Foundations of Health lists angelica root (A. archangelica), artichoke leaf (Cynara scolymus), bitter orange peel (Citrus aurantium), blessed thistle leaves (Cnicus bendicutus), gentian root (Gentiana lutea), goldenseal rhizome (Hydrastis canadensis), wormwood leaves (Artemisia absinthium) and yarrow flowers (Achillea millefolium) as typical contents of bitters formulas.


Angostura bitters was first compounded in Venezuela in 1824 by a German physician, Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, as a cure for sea sickness and stomach maladies, (though their other medicinal uses had been discovered long before this).[1] Dr. Siegert subsequently formed the House of Angostura, a company selling the bitters to sailors.

It was exported to England and to Trinidad, where it came to be used in a number of cocktails, following its medicinal use by the Royal Navy in Pink Gin. Angostura and similar gentian bitters can be of some value for settling a mild case of nausea. It is used to stimulate the appetite, either for food or for cocktails. Used in both apéritifs and digestifs, it will settle one's stomach before a meal or before a night of drinking.[citation needed]

Angostura bitters was named after the town of Angostura in Venezuela. It contains no angostura bark, a medicinal bark which is named after the same town.

It is used as the "starter" ingredient in a Pink Gin, where a splash (or two) of Angostura Bitters is swirled around the inner surface of a tumbler before adding a generous measure of Gin. The resulting drink is so named from the colour imparted by the Bitters. In addition to the options of drinking a Pink straight, it may also be consumed with a little water, still or sparkling. Real connoisseurs of the Pink Gin even have preference for drinking it "in" or "out" - referring to whether the remaining dribble of Bitters (after the glass has been "pinked") is left in or poured away, before the Gin is added.[citation needed]

A large tumbler, similarly "pinked", and filled with sparkling lemonade, results in a drink known as a Campbell. This is regarded by some as a pleasant and refreshing way to relieve a little of the sweetness of lemonade; the same drink with added lime cordial is called "lemon, lime and bitters" in Australia, and is available both as a mixed drink in bars and as a ready-made bottled soft drink.[1]

Peychaud's bitters is associated with New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Sazerac cocktail. It, too, is a gentian-based bitters, with a subtly different and fruitier taste than the Angostura brand. It is also aromatic, showing subtle cloves and other spices on the nose.

Orange bitters are made from the rinds of unripe oranges, plus spices of varying recipes to enhance the orange flavour. Orange bitters are often called for in older cocktail recipes and range from aromatic to fruity.

Medicinal quantities of quinine were occasionally used in old cocktail recipes. Quinine is still found in much lower concentrations in tonic water, used today mostly in drinks with gin.

The oldest and rarest of antique bottles command prices of tens of thousands of dollars.

Brand names

This 1883 advertisement promised help with a variety of ailments.

Some brands of bitters that are available today:

Other brands or types

  • Appenzeller (from Switzerland)
  • Boker's
  • Calisaya bitters (containing cinchona/quinine)
  • Gordon & Co. Pale Orange Bitters (discontinued-available from 1870 or earlier)
  • Hartwig-Kantorowicz (from Germany)
  • Hostetter's (American)
  • Malört (Swedish-American, mainly found in Chicago, Illinois)
  • Kabänes (from Germany)
  • Kina Lillet
  • Maraschino bitters
  • Meinhard's Bitters Dr. Teodoro Meinhard's Angostura Bitters (From Venezuela)
  • Meyer's Bitter (from Germany)
  • Flimm's (from Germany)
  • Reichs-Post Bitter (from Germany)
  • West Indies
  • New York (Australian)
  • Boston (Australian)
  • St Louis (Australian)
  • Frisco (Australian)
  • Lupulins (Australian)
  • Dr Grants (Australian)
  • Philadelphia (Australian)
  • Kent (Australian)
  • Dixons (Australian)
  • Milwaukee (Australian)
  • Gippsland (Australian)
  • Utica (Australian)
  • Steanes (Australian)
  • Ralays (Australian)
  • Bairnsdale (Australian)
  • McDonalds (Australian)
  • Weisflog Bitter (Switzerland)

Nonalcoholic bitters

Although almost all bitters contain alcohol, a few nonalcoholic brands have been produced:

  • Bradley's Bitters
  • Chinò
  • Crodino
  • Fanta Chinotto (made from Chinotto)
  • Gioia (Canada)
  • Sanbittèr
  • Stirrings Blood Orange

See also


External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Database error article)

From LoveToKnow 1911

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