All bitters originated centuries ago when apothecaries started combining herbs, bark, and berries with alcohol and promoting the results as medicinal tonics. But in 1906, selling bitters as health remedies was outlawed, so they’re now found only behind the bar.
The type we’ve addressed here is nonpotable—not because they are unsafe for human consumption, but because they’re not intended to be consumed alone due to their strong flavors and high alcohol content (usually between 70 and 90 proof). A few dashes of nonpotable bitters are used to round out a drink. They’re most commonly found in classic recipes such as the Champagne Cocktail.
The second type of bitters is potable, typically poured as a digestif, a drink that aids digestion after a big meal. While the digestive-aid factor is up for debate, these distinctively flavored liqueurs are popular. The best-known potable bitters are Fernet-Branca, Jägermeister, and Unicum.
Orange bitters add a hint of citrus flavor and round out any cocktail. Enjoy this homemade version in your next Champagne Cocktail.
- 1 bottle grain alcohol such as Everclear 151 , 750ml size
- 1/2 pound orange peel pieces , dried, preferably Seville oranges
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- 4 whole cardamom pods
- 20 drops gentian extract
- Combine all ingredients in a 2-quart jar with a tight-fitting lid. Close and store at room temperature.
- Let steep 14 days, shaking the jar every other day.
- Strain alcohol from spices and store in a jar with a tight-fit