|Bitters aren't just for Old Fashioneds anymore|
"There are certain classic cocktails -- a Manhattan, for example, or an Old Fashioned -- that absolutely require a dash or two of bitters," says Ryan Maybee, Kansas City's celebrity bartender.
Anyone who has done a stint behind the bar knows that little bottle of Angostura bitters -- or one of the newer versions of flavored bitters -- is a staple of a well-stocked bar. The dark-brown liquid looks very much like a tonic -- which is precisely how many bitters were originally marketed, as patent medicine. Feeling a little queasy before dinner? A splash of bitters in a glass of tonic is an effective digestif. And yes, they do contain alcohol.
The Westport Cafe & Bar boasts a full line of bitters, including the classic Angostura, which has a secret recipe that dates back to the 19th century, when it was developed as a tonic by the surgeon general in Simon Bolivar's army in Venezuela. That was a bitter potion indeed, one never intended to be a beverage but rather made to flavor drinks (including masking the flavor of quinine in tonic water).
Most bitters were created as potions: concoctions of herbs, berries, botanicals: "That's why so many people still use them for medicinal reasons, like calming an upset stomach," Maybee says. "But as an ingredient in cocktails, they provide great aroma and balance to flavors."
Most bitters contain as much as 45 percent alcohol, but there are nonalcoholic varieties on the market now and plenty of flavors. The Westport Cafe & Bar carries rhubarb, lemon, orange, grapefruit and mint, as well as another historic concoction, Peychaud's Bitters, which is made with gentian and is the chosen bitters for the famous Sazerac cocktail.