From their medicinal past, bitters have come a long way.  Sure, Angostura and Peychaud’s are still the tried and true go-to, and rightfully so.  Not only have they stood the test of time—they successfully survived America’s “noble experiment”—but they also do what they should do which is add spice while offsetting or accentuating flavors to produce a well-balanced cocktail.  But nowadays, a bartender’s spice cabinet is overflowing with bitters made with ingredients like cranberry, celery, cardamom, chili and so much more.  The possibilities seem endless, and may seem a bit baffling—I’ve been wondering what do with those Mole Chocolate bitters I recently bought.

To explore bitters in a more organized fashion than my typical experimentation at home (which is not a bad option, but sometimes professional help can be beneficial), I chose to turn to a more knowledgeable source.  Adam Lantheaume’s class on bitters at The Boston Shaker was just the thing I needed to expand my knowledge (and taste).  As a teacher, I have high expectations for learning experiences; Adam’s extensive knowledge and laid back, fun approach to the subject made this a fabulous class.  We focused on 4 bitters (Regan’s Orange, Sweet Grass Blueberry, Angostura, and Peychaud’s) tasting each straight, then each with soda and finally we tried a dry gin martini with each of these bitters.  It was neat to see how a few dashes of these different bitters affected the drink—some, like the Regan’s Orange, brought the flavors of the gin and dry vermouth together to produce a well-balanced, smooth drink, while others, like the Sweet Grass Blueberry, simply sat on top of the other flavors bringing little to the table.

So, next time you’re making a cocktail think about reaching beyond Angostura (although if you only have one bottle of bitters that’s the best one to have) to explore the amazingly rich options out there.  If you’re in the Boston area, visit The Boston Shaker– they carry quite an extensive array of bitters.  I’m excited about experimenting with the Scrappy’s bitters sampler pack I just picked up at The Boston Shaker  (Orange, Cardamom, Chocolate, and grapefruit).  And consider a class with Adam. It’s a great option for a beginner or more experienced cocktail enthusiast; you’re never too old to go back to school, especially when its for something as interesting and delicious as spices for your cocktails. Cheers!