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.
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).
Left: A bottle of Angostura
Bitters are principally used as digestifs and as flavorings
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.
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. 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
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.
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.