AskDefine | Define bitters

Dictionary Definition

bitters n : alcoholic liquor flavored with bitter herbs and roots

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. plural only: A liquid used in mixed drinks or as a tonic into which bitter herbs have been steeped, (can also be found in powdered form for adding to mixed drinks).


Extensive Definition

A bitters is a preparation of herbs and citrus dissolved in alcohol or glycerine with a bitter or bittersweet flavor. The various brands of bitters, once numerous, were formerly manufactured as patent medicines, often serving as digestifs. The few remaining varieties are principally used as apéritifs or as flavorings in cocktails. While bitters commonly have an alcoholic strength of up to 45%, they are normally consumed in small amounts, 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 alcoholic beverages due to their bitter taste and can be bought by a person of any age.
Common ingredients in bitters include: angostura bark, cascarilla, cassia, gentian, orange peel, and quinine. The flavor of both Angostura bitters and Peychaud's Bitters derives primarily from gentian, a bitter herb. Bitters are prepared by infusion or distillation, utilizing 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, who intended it as a remedy for stomach maladies. 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 British Navy in Pink Gin. Angostura and similar gentian bitters preparations are still of some value to settle a mild case of nausea, and is used to stimulate the appetite, either for food or cocktails. It is used in both apéritifs and digestifs, and will settle one's stomach before a meal, or before undertaking a night of drinking.
Angostura was named for the town of Angostura in Venezuela. It contains no angostura bark, a medicinal bark which is named after the same town.
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 London 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.
A large tumbler, similarly "pinked", and filled with sparkling lemonade, results in a drink known as a Campbell. This is 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
Peychaud's Bitters is associated with New Orleans, Louisiana, and is just finding new distribution. It, too, is a gentian based bitters, with a subtly different and sweeter taste than the Angostura brand. Peychaud's Bitters is associated with the Sazerac cocktail.
Orange bitters are made from the rinds of unripe oranges. Orange bitters is often called for in some older cocktail recipes.
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 (see links below).

Types and brands

Bitters still available today include:
Other brands/types of bitters have also included:
  • Appenzeller (from Switzerland)
  • Boker's
  • Calisaya bitters (containing cinchona/quinine)
  • Hartwig-Kantorowicz (from Germany)
  • Hostetter's (American)
  • 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)
Non-alcoholic Bitters include:
  • Chinò
  • Fanta Chinotto (made from Chinotto)
  • Sanbittèr
  • Stirrings Blood Orange
  • Bradley's Bitters

See also

bitters in Bulgarian: Ангостура битер
bitters in Czech: Bittery
bitters in German: Magenbitter
bitters in French: Amer (apéritif)
bitters in Luxembourgish: Modrëpp
bitters in Dutch: Bittertje
bitters in Japanese: ビターズ
bitters in Polish: Bitters
bitters in Russian: Биттер
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