A BRIEF HISTORY OF COCKTAIL BITTERS...
Celebrating the history of beverage production in our hometown of Aberdeen
“Sir, I observe in your paper of the 6th instant, in the account of a democratic candidate for a feat in the Legislature, marked under the head of Loss, 25do. Cock-tail. Will you be so obliging as to inform me what is meant by this species of refreshment?”
This innocent query from a subscriber to the editor of New York’s ‘Balance & Columbian Repository’, printed on May 13th 1806, would become one of the most famous pieces of literature in the history of mixed drinks, with the editor’s response, which follows, not only being the oldest definition of the cocktail discovered to this day, but also detailing bitters as the defining ingredient in this family of mixed drinks;
“As I make it a point, never to publish anything (under my editorial head) but what I can explain, I shall not hesitate to gratify the curiosity of my inquisitive correspondent:- Cock-tail then is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters…”
Though “cocktail” is now commonly accepted as an all-encapsulating term for any spiritous beverage containing three or more ingredients, its original definition has not lost any significance, especially over the last two decades and the reemergence of cocktail culture around the world, with its main protagonists harking back to its original heyday of the 1800s. This can be no better witnessed than with the popularity of the Old Fashioned cocktail, a drink which earned its name in the late 1800s when bar patrons simply desired the classic form of cocktail in lieu of bartender’s offerings which were growing increasingly complex.
THE ORIGIN OF BITTERS
Bitters, simply, are compounds produced by extracting the flavour of botanicals such as herbs, spices, roots, and barks with high strength spirit. Beginning life in the late 1600s as a treatment for gout, specifically in this case Sydenham’s Bitters created by Thomas Sydenham, their medicinal use would later become predominantly linked with digestive ailments which is where they found their place in mixed drinks, and that use later creating two separate factions of bitters, those intended for medicinal use and those which adopted a more culinary approach with a view to flavour food and principally drink. It is the latter style the Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Bitters portfolio are focused on with the likes of cacao, tea, chillies and chocolate joining more traditional botanicals in our formulations, however there’s also a nod to their medicinal history throughout hence the “doctor” branding.
Utilised by bartenders and chefs as a liquid spice rack, bitters are typically dashed into drinks and food to act as a flavouring agent, binder and lengthener. Due to the myriad of flavour they contain, bitters assist in the integration of flavour within cocktails, bridging gaps between the various components, enhancing or complementing existing flavours, and adding layers of complexity, depth and character. For a simple analogy just consider what salt and pepper does for a meal.