One cannot talk about the history of cocktail bitters without talking about The Sazerac. You can also stash The Old Fashioned into the exact same category. These cocktails the use of cocktail bitters exemplifies the pure definition of a cocktail: spirits, sugar, water and bitters.
Cocktail Bitters in a Sazerac
Cocktail bitters that are called for in a Sazerac are usually something with a bit of wormwood, bringing out that black licorice flavor often found compounded by the use of Absinthe or Absinthe liquor. That being said, Peychaud’s Bitters is the fundamental cocktail bitter for a Sazerac. Usually because Peychaud himself worked up this cocktail design, traditionally using a cognac or brandy (today we use Rye Whiskey our Bourbon).
Alternatively, we suggest Orleans Bitters by Scrappy’s as a choice selection for the Sazerac. However, when working with the sister cocktail, the Old Fashioned, you’ll want a slightly older variation (both easily hitting the 100 years of age mark) by utilizing Angostura bitters. But, again, there are so many great aromatic bitters today, you’ll find Angostura is just the tip of the iceberg. Also look towards Scrappy’s Aromatic bitters as a solid purchase.
Angostura Aromatic Bitters$9.99 – $24.99
Scrappy’s Orleans Bitters, 5 oz$19.99
When To Use Cocktail Bitters?
Asking when to use a cocktail bitter is like asking when to add salt or pepper to your meat. The answer is simple: always. You do not have to branch out past the basics of Angostura and Peychaud if you don’t want to, however, the industry has grown a lot over the last 100 years. In the beginning, we only had a handful of well distributed bitters, the rest were all created at the bar you were visiting. Nobody had them at home, unless they were used for a home remedy.
What should I explore next?
Take your bitter enthusiasm on a cruise, try adding some celery bitters to a daiquiri or add some heat like Mexican Mole bitters to a Margarita. You don’t have to pickup every flavor, and you can use many of the same bitters across a wide range of drinks (granted, a Mole bitter is probably best left for more specific drink designs).
The sazerac is simply one example to start you down that journey, but it’s a journey worth taking.