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Bitters: Old-Fashioned Medicine
A cocktail is often a simple thing, but its ingredients can be surprisingly complex. Check out Groupon’s guide to bitters to know your drink of choice like never before.
Although the diverse family of elixirs known as bitters is used to inject flavor into mixed drinks of all stripes, cocktail aficionados shouldn’t feel too bad if they can’t rattle off the ingredients actually found in bitters. In 2010, a pair of Angostura executives told Rachel Maddow that only five people in the world are privy to their recipe. This much can be said: every batch begins with alcohol and botanical ingredients, which commonly include gentian root or quinine. On the rocks, the astringent taste of cocktail bitters would be overpowering, but a few drops can unite different liquors and draw out hints of orange peel, cinnamon, celery, or nutmeg. Other varieties—known as digestive bitters, a class that includes Campari—can be served neat as an apéritif.
Doctors, not bartenders, were behind the first varieties of bitters. The labels of antique bottles invite the ailing to “ward off rheumatism,” “tone up the system,” and “cure nervousness” with the mysterious potions inside. Some modern brands also originated as patent medicines: the inventor of Angostura bitters hoped it would revive troops in Simon Bolivar’s army in the 1800s.