What do bitters do to a drink?

Answered by Phillip Nicastro

Bitters play a crucial role in enhancing and harmonizing the flavors of a cocktail, much like how salt enhances the taste of food. They act as a flavor catalyst, working to amplify the existing flavors in a drink and adding their own unique taste profile.

One of the main functions of bitters is to accentuate the flavors present in a cocktail. Similar to how salt can bring out the natural flavors of food, bitters have the ability to bring out the best in a drink by intensifying the taste of the other ingredients. They serve as a bridge between the different components of a cocktail, ensuring that each flavor is showcased and complemented.

Not only do bitters accentuate flavors, but they also bring their own distinct taste to the table. Just like how different types of salt can add their own nuances to a dish, different types of bitters can impart their own unique flavors to a cocktail. Whether it’s the herbal and citrusy notes of Angostura bitters or the floral and aromatic qualities of lavender bitters, each variety adds a layer of complexity and depth to the overall taste experience.

Bitters can also help to balance a drink by adding a touch of bitterness. This bitterness acts as a counterpoint to the sweetness of certain ingredients, creating a well-rounded and harmonious flavor profile. Think of it as a way to add depth and complexity to a cocktail, much like adding a pinch of salt to a dish can balance out the flavors and make them more well-rounded.

In addition to their flavor-enhancing properties, bitters can also have a functional role in a cocktail. They can act as a natural digestive aid, as their bitter compounds can stimulate the production of digestive enzymes and promote healthy digestion. This is why bitters have historically been used as an after-dinner digestif, helping to soothe the stomach and aid in digestion.

Now, let me share a personal experience to illustrate the impact of bitters on a drink. I once had the opportunity to taste a classic Old Fashioned cocktail with and without the addition of bitters. The version without bitters tasted flat and lacked depth, with the flavors of the whiskey and sugar syrup not fully coming together. However, when bitters were added, the drink transformed into a well-balanced and flavorful concoction. The bitters helped to amplify the whiskey’s rich notes, while also adding their own complex flavors, resulting in a much more enjoyable and satisfying drinking experience.

To summarize, bitters are an essential ingredient in cocktails as they enhance and align flavors, similar to how salt improves the taste of food. They accentuate the existing flavors in a drink, bring their own unique taste profile, and help to balance and harmonize the overall flavor profile. So, next time you’re enjoying a cocktail, take a moment to appreciate the role bitters play in elevating the taste experience.