In the world of classic cocktails there is one ingredient that pops up continuously, almost regardless of which base spirit one is working with - bitters. We all know that they’re very potent, come in small apothecary-styled bottles (Peychaud’s and Angostura being the leading brands) and have been lauded as a treatment for stomach ailments (just plop some in a glass of soda water for a truly medicinal-tasting concoction). Yet the majority of people have little-to-no idea as to what bitters actually are. The answer is that they’re simply a spirit base infused, over a long period of time, with a myriad of herbs and spices. Some common herbal components include wormwood, lavender, tree bark, burdock root, black walnut leaf, birch leaf and dandelion (among others). Spice-wise, bitters often include cinnamon, coriander and cloves.
So, here is an incredibly basic but also undeniably refreshing recipe using bitters as the secret ingredient:
The Perfect Gin & Tonic. First served to me at the Bowery Hotel but actually an old British recipe, this merely calls for your favorite high-quality gin (I’d go for a more herbal gin in lieu of my favorite Hendrick’s to avoid mixing too many powerful flavors), tonic water and a splash (let’s say 2 or 3 drops) of Angostura bitters. Combine over lots of ice and garnish with a lime wedge. The result is a slightly pink-hued gin and tonic with an exceptionally smooth finish and uniquely flavorful bite.
Remember, whatever you may be whipping up with this potent cocktail cure-all, only use a few drops!