Why the Bitters? by Kevin Ho


Today, I will speak on the supporting role that Bitters has on Mixology and how I've tried to give it the starring role.

Bitters, but why, some people ask? Whether at an event or out with friends on the town, I often am asked, why do you need bitters? Why are there nails in furniture? Why are hinges on doors? The answer is, because it pulls the cocktail together. The next time you're eyeing up your home bar, try an old fashioned without bitters. Does it taste off? Bitters are a tool designed to balance a cocktail, not flavor it, like a mixer or tincture. Add too much, the balance is off.

The human tongue has over 1 million taste receptors, allowing us to decipher, sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. When tasting bitters, it sends a neurological signal to the brain telling us we are tasting poison. Ironically, bitters send a cautionary signal to our brain telling us we are tasting poison, as we imbibe alcohol, a literal poison.

Have you ever heard anyone use the expression, "I have an advanced pallet"? They aren't just being pretentious, they may actually be telling the truth. Our sensory receptors on our taste buds can be conditioned and "trained" to acknowledge different flavors over time. Think of your tastes as a child compared to your tastes as an adult, they have evolved to tailor your taste preferences. I often get requests for specific taste while bartending, i.e. "I like something sweet but not tart", or "I don't like anything hoppy". This is useful information for me to gauge a guests specific taste preferences.

Bitters also has purpose in our bodies, it can be useful in stomach ailments, as well as progress digestion. Raise your hand if you or someone you know has ever given a child bitters and soda for an upset stomach....well, shame on you, bitters contains alcohol, and usually has a high percentage. Now granted, the solvent usually served to a minor is very minuscule because we only use a drop or two, but still. The T2R Receptors found all over our body, but mostly in the kidneys and our gut, induce physiological changes to our stomach's normal bodily functions resulting in an "upset stomach". These receptors mediate the connection between the bitter herbs and our bodies, therefore improving gut functionality. We all try to watch what we eat and put into our bodies, when we need to pay more attention to the efficiency in which our body operates.

As I like to do so often, I played Devil's Advocate, and I started home-cocktailing a bitters forward cocktail. The result? Palate wrecking goodness. 20 drops of bitters, .5 oz falernum, 1 oz Zaya rum. I cannot express enough, how different of a cocktail this was. Yes, it was bitter, but bitter became the saving grace to the falernum and rum. It was a sipping cocktail with notes of old books and history. The age of both falernum and the rum pressed forward, while the bite subsided. To my point, my palate has accepted the bitters as a taste of regularity and so I wasn't as turned off by the cocktail. It would be an interesting focus group to see how everyone else reacts to the same cocktail, based on their palate potential.

Bitters Raw.jpg

Did you know? By not acknowledging or introducing bitter into your palate, your tongue can only register 80% of your tasting capacity for all things ingested.

Bitters By Barçon:  Bitters have hit the production line! Ingredients include Cardamom, All Spice, Cloves, Coriander, Star Anise,Peel of Orange and lemon, Wood Chips, Brandy, Cognac, and High Proof Whiskey. The process will take about a month and then we taste before bottling.


Eric Constein