A little after 20 years ago, food and beverage writer James Chatto, came up with the notion that there was a fun and fashionable idea alternative to serving wine as aperitif. A cleverly and expertly nixed cocktail adds a spark to any festive party.
These days, bartenders are called mixologists, and in some restaurants are featured as much as chefs.
Cocktail aficionados follow their favourite mixologists when they move to another establishment.
Bitters have become important flavouring agents in cocktails and some mixologists create their own, although most rely on commercially available merchandise.
Most bitters come in small bottles, but are necessarily bitter tasting. In 18th century, bitters were patented medicines, blends of bark, spices, botanicals, seeds, roots and fruit extracted by means of alcohol or glycerine, and still contain both. Many drinkers added bitters to their drinks to make them more palatable.
Some classic cocktails depend on bitters (the Manhattan, the Old fashioned, the Pisco Sour, the Sazerac) and mixologists now call their salt and pepper.
Bitters can be fruity (they go mostly with white spirits), spicy (compatible with white and brown spirits), savoury (compatible with brown spirits).
While North American bartender use bitters in cocktails and food, in Europe, Italians, Germans, and Central Europeans like to enjoy them either before a meal, or after, as a digestive.
Campari, Cynar, Fernet-Branca are popular with Italians.
The Czechs like Unicum.
Germans prefer Underberg, and Jagermeister, both of which are generally used as digestive. Jagermeister is now employed as a straight drink, or in cocktails
Internationally Peychaud’s, Angostura, Ginger Bitters, Twisted, and Bitter Orange are often used.
If you like to experiment, and have good grasp of spice, bark, and fruit flavours you cane easily create your own bitters which may even become famous, provide they are cleverly promoted.
Tabasco, from New Orleans, although not a bitter, is used in Bloody Mary cocktails.
You can also blend a few drops in your stews or soups for piquancy.