What spices are to a chef, bitters are to a barman.
Traditionally, bitters are an alcoholic ingredient flavored with spices and botanicals, the end result being a product which is characterized by a bitter or bittersweet flavor. Bitters were originally developed as patent medicines, having stomachic and tonic properties. From it’s early uses in the British Navy, to it’s later popularity in the later colonies of America, bitters had come to be a common addition to alcoholic drinks, and in 1806, American publications referenced the popularity of a new preparation termed cocktail, which was described as a combination of “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.”
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