If you ever had a curious moment and decided to taste the cocktail bitters behind the bar, I’m sure you were in for a shocking surprise. It’s similar to the first time you taste cocoa powder; the flavor is overwhelmingly bitter. When it comes to flavor, it is all about balance. Just like cocoa powder is right for brownies and frosting, cocktail bitters are right for a variety of things too.
Cocktail bitters are used to balance the flavor of whatever you happen to be consuming. Bitter is one of 5 sensations that our pallet recognizes; the rest are salty, sweet, sour, and umami. When you combine these flavor profiles, you give your creations depth. The key to using concentrated flavors is to balance them out with the right ingredients; that is the reason that so many people like bittersweet chocolate or sweet and salty kettle corn.
Cocktail Bitters Signature Taste
Cocktail bitters get their signature taste from bitter roots, herbs, and botanicals. Typically, gentian root is used because of its clean, sharp, bitter flavor. Using such a clean base flavor allows the flavor to be altered in various ways. That doesn’t stop anyone from using other plants, such as burdock root or dandelion. Bitter is just a small element of the flavor for cocktail bitters, and the base note is every bit as important as the seasoning that is added to it.
How Bitters Are Made
Bitters are made by steeping a mixture of herbs, spices, and botanicals into a solvent over the course of a few weeks. This is very similar to the process of making vanilla extract. When it comes to choosing a solvent, the high-proof alcohol is usually the go-to, but if you want a nonalcoholic option, you can use vinegar or vegetable glycerine instead. Vegetable glycerine is preferable to help keep a clean flavor profile.
It’s as simple as finding a good recipe, loading your jar, and remembering to give it a little shake once a day while it sits. For convenience, of course, there are a wide variety of pre-made cocktail bitters that you can purchase, and they come in all different flavors.
It’s All About The Flavor
Flavoring your cocktail bitters is crucial to getting the right results in the end. You can choose warm flavors like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom or bright flavors like lemongrass and orange; if you want floral notes, try orange blossom, lavender, or limes. Whatever you choose will ultimately affect the taste of anything you happen to add your bitters to.
If you’re curious, pick up a few different types of bitters and add a drop or two to a glass of soda water. The unflavored soda will quickly disperse the bitters and allow you to sample the flavors. You’ll be amazed at what you can smell and taste.
Uses for Cocktail Bitters
Cocktail bitters play their part in certain alcoholic drinks like an old fashioned. They can be used for much more, and alcohol doesn’t have to be the star. Consider adding a dash of bitters to a sweet lavender lemonade, or maybe add a glass of iced tea with lemon. Mocktails, or nonalcoholic cocktails, have been increasingly popular with today’s young adults.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try bringing cocktail bitters to your kitchen recipes. Add a dash of orange cocktail bitters to your marinade, or add a few drops to your vinaigrette for an interesting taste. You can even add a splash to your barbecue sauce to give some depth to the tangy sweetness. There is no limit to what you can concoct at home using cocktail bitters.
Give Bitters A Try
Cocktail bitters can open you up to a world of new experiences. A small dash can take food and drinks you love and give them a new depth and flavor. Adding cocktail bitters to your spice rack is a great way to shake things up, whether you plan to make drinks for your friends or try out a new recipe on the grill. Cocktail bitters are a liquid spice that can be used in more places than just the bar when paired right.
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