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Bitters - You may have noticed the explosion of new whiskeys and gins on the market in recent years as brawny browns and sexy spices have, since the early 2000s, been running vodka out of flavor country. But this is nothing next to the wildfire proliferation of bitters in the last 15 or so years. From artisanal start-ups dredging up old recipes to mustachioed bartenders perfecting their own novelty tinctures, it seems everyone is making bitters these days — and with good reason. Bitters are magical. A few drops of this or that can completely transform a white-bread drink into something deep, brooding, interesting. Others will, like a love potion, cause disparate spirits to emerge from the tin like lifelong friends. So let us play witch doctor.

Bitters are aromatic liquids made by soaking herbs, spices, etc. in high-proof alcohol (usually) or glycerin (Fee Bros brand). They pre-date the cocktail by hundreds of years and (stop me if you recognize this story-line) were often made by monks and doctors who claimed their concoctions possessed medicinal properties good for this and that. “Bitters” can refer to each of two types. “Aperitif bitters” come in a normal bottle and are generally meant to be drunk. Campari, Chartreuse, Fernet, and that lot. What we are concerned with for now are “aromatic” or “cocktail bitters,” which come in a little glass bottle with a top designed for dripping and “dashing,” which is to dispense a specific measure of liquid via a pepper-shaker motion into your mixing glass. They are the bartender’s spice rack — and most are not actually bitter tasting at all.

For the martini, for now, we want orange bitters. Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters is my go-to. Fee Bros. West Indian Orange and Angostura Orange Bitters are also available, just be aware that each one tastes pretty different from the others. Amazon may be your best bet for acquiring these as liquor stores rarely carry a selection beyond regular Angostura.

Homework: Make a martini to your favorite ratio (not too dry, please), exercising proper dilution, and this time add two dashes of orange bitters. I always dash into an empty mixing glass so if I mess up I can start over easily. Dashing takes a touch sometimes. The overall size of your drink matters here obviously; I’m picturing about 4 ounces or so in the serving glass. Taste. The drink should have… dimension. In a well-bittered martini you will know the bitters are there but not be able to pick them out specifically. It may smell a little more complex and will just be more interesting to sip. Play with different ratios and add/subtract dashes of bitters. If the drink tastes “bite-y” or has a strange aftertaste back off on the bitters a little. Balance, balance, balance. Drink Well. 

-Chris

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