Bitters were once considered essential in early cocktail recipes, but then their popularity dwindled and they were left out of many drinks; however they are enjoying a revival, owing in part, to a renewed interest in classic cocktails. Bitters are essentially a fusion of aromatic fruits, herbs and spices infused with alcohol. Essentially they are liquid seasoning that when added to drinks create interesting taste transformations and flavour combinations.
Beginning as a medicinal elixir, bitters were originally used as a medical cure-all. How bitters came to be is a something that is unclear with theories ranging from lucky accident to ancient knowledge and alchemy. Over time bitters have moved from the medicine cupboard to the bar and if creating a home bar they are definitely an important element.
When you start thinking about buying and incorporating bitters into your cocktails at home it can be overwhelming, but they’re definitely worth experimenting with. It’s really tempting to buy a range of exotic sounding bitters and just throw them all in a glass with everything from the drinks cabinet for company and whilst this sort of experimentation may be fun, it rarely comes up with palatable results. I suggest starting with classic cocktail recipes and discover which bitters you like and then develop your own favourite drinks.
Building up a collection of bitters is very much like stocking a drinks cabinet, you don’t run out and buy every type of liqueur or spirit on the market; instead you think about what you like to drink and what you can create with them.
If you are thinking that incorporating bitters into your cocktails this festive season seems like a lot of fuss, then all I can say to you is that you need to try bitters to realise what a difference a drop makes. Warm, rich, exotic, spicy, and astringent, bitters can transform a cocktail from the ordinary into the extraordinary. The addition of a dash of bitters to a cocktail can balance a drinks flavour and breathe character and depth into it. Bitters are essential for creating vintage classics such as the Manhattan and the Champagne Cocktail. Indeed, bitters are an absolute must for the well-stocked vintage home stocked bar.
My top tip is to start with a few simple bitters and build up your collection as your repertoire of cocktails grows. Below is my tasting guide to bitters to get you started and help you create the perfect cocktail.
Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Angostura is probably best known bitters brand with its bright yellow cap and over-sized wrapper. These aromatic bitters are warming with the flavours of cardamom, nutmeg, and cinnamon and they are
Food has always been of great importance to Seren and despite her being renowned for her historical recipe recreations, her culinary skills were not honed, in the kitchens of top restaurants, but in the home kitchen from the age of being able to hold a wooden spoon.
When Seren was born her mother was taken ill and so she spent her early years being cared for by her grandmother, Minnie. This was to prove instrumental in the development of Seren’s love of cooking, for her grandmother was an accomplished cook, who’s kitchen was always awash with terrine’s, home-made pastry and traditional puddings. Minnie’s love of good food and her zest for life meant Seren’s childhood was filled with days of hedgerow picking, baking, traditional preserving and cooking recipes from the depths of a family copy of, Mrs. Beeton. She learned from an early age how to make Victorian puddings alongside elaborate noble pies and perhaps this explains her love of pastry making and the reason she won an accolade from The Great British Pie Awards this year.
Today Seren has great skill in bringing historical food to life and making it accessible and understandable to the modern cook and diner. Her enthusiasm and love of historical food and British cooking is evident in her presentations and she loves to revive forgotten recipes. She recently took part in ITV1’s Country House Sunday and has given live cookery demonstrations across the country at food festivals, historical houses and castles.
Trained as a herbalist and nutritionist, she has a deep understanding of improving health through food. Her interest in historic remedies and herbal folklore eventually extended to researching British food history, and reignited her early passion for cooking. Fifteen years on and Seren has amassed extensive knowledge and is now renowned for her historical food recreations and interpretations.
Seren’s interest in food history does not just extend to old recipes and cooking techniques, but to ingredients and manufacturers. From the age of fourteen Seren has collected food and drink packaging from early Victorian to the 1960’s. Her collection is now extensive and provides a wonderful snapshot in time that accompanies her vast knowledge of the development of British food and drink companies throughout history. She also has a huge collection of antique kitchenalia and moulds which she uses to replicate historical recipes and portray past eras.
Her training in herbalism and nutrition has not been wasted for despite her merits as a food historian and period cook she also delights in creating British Classic dishes for those with food allergies and intolerances (such as gluten and dairy intolerant). Her botanical knowledge has made her a keen wild food educator and forager that lends unusual as well as historical twists to all her cooking. There are also many points at which food and medicine intertwine throughout history and Seren is able to portray these developments and has also undertaken a lot of research into the British spice trade.
To Seren historical food is not a job, but a way of life.
Visit Seren's blog: Serenity Kitchen