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Essential Journal

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The Secret Ingredient: Aromatic Bitters

Showcasing the unsung heroes and hidden ingredients of your favourite cocktails.

Aromatic bitters are potent, botanical infusions, typically used by the dash, to add new dimensions of flavour to your favourite cocktails. Originally formulated as patent medicines, these would-be snake oils have since become the humble bartender’s best friend, adding balance and nuance to whisky, rum and gin alike.

Less than a decade ago we only had a handful of the bittersweet reductions to choose from, with Trinidad and Tobago’s Angostura and New Orlean’s Peychaud leading the pack in all things aromatic. Nowadays, however, bars and supermarkets are privy to a plethora of high-proof, potable flavour profiles. From chocolate to celery and everything in between, today’s bitters are guaranteed to add new depths to old favourites.

They’ve garnered such traction over the last few years that some bartenders are ditching base spirits entirely, preferring to let their bitters sit front and centre in their recipes. Kirk Estopinal’s Angostura Sour, for example, calls for a hefty slug of Angostura alongside lime, sugar and egg white to a bombastic and almost eye-watering effect.

Those looking for something a little less extreme in their alcoholic experimentations might want to start small. Say, with a simple swap in bitters. If you feel like upping the ante on your Old Fashioned, for instance, try substituting the now century-old Angostura for a few dashes of Fee Brothers’ Black Walnut Bitters. The switch-up will add new layers of earthy-sweet depth to your evening tipple, with a reduced risk of acid reflux in the aftermath.

Black Walnut Old Fashioned

40ml of your favourite Rye or Bourbon Whiskey

10ml Sugar Syrup

2 Dashes of Fee Brothers Walnut Bitters

Orange zest

Stir all ingredients together over ice and finish by zesting an orange peel around the glass and placing it atop the drink.

Thanks to bar manager Tom Griffiths over at Buyer’s Club for the picture, the recommendation and the subsequent hangover.