What are Cocktail Bitters?

Mittie Hellmich's concise description of cocktail bitters in her book, "Ultimate Bar Book: The Comprehensive Guide to over 1,000 cocktails," highlights their historical significance and diverse characteristics. Let's break it down further:

History/Use: Bitters, as Hellmich notes in her book, have a rich history, originally developed for medicinal purposes. Their origins can be traced back to ancient herbal remedies, where they were believed to aid digestion and promote well-being. Over time, they transitioned from apothecaries to the world of cocktails - and their popularity in classic drinks like the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan is well-documented, becoming essential components in classic drinks. This historical transformation reflects how bitters evolved from a functional elixir into a key ingredient for enhancing the flavors and aromas of modern cocktails. They were used to add depth and complexity to cocktails, and their popularity in classic drinks like the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan is well-documented.

Ingredients/Production: Traditional bitters involve a fusion of distilled alcohol with a mix of botanicals, herbs, spices, and fruits, often featuring bittering herbs like Gentian and Wormwood. At Napa Valley Bitters, Gentian is a common ingredient across all flavors except our Fleur De Sel Tincture. Every bitters brand prides itself on distinct recipes, creating a vast array of flavor and aroma combinations. The production process typically involves maceration in alcohol, lasting anywhere from two weeks to several months or even years.

Two approaches exist: individual ingredient maceration followed by precise blending or simultaneous maceration of all elements. Napa Valley Bitters favors the latter for several reasons, mainly due to its space efficiency and ease of flavor replication in smaller batches, making it a preferred method in our artisanal bitters production.

Modern Definitions: In the contemporary bar scene, bitters have transcended their historical medicinal role, even though some herbal extract companies still produce "bitters" for various therapeutic purposes. Today, bitters serve primarily as flavor enhancers, introducing balance and complexity to cocktails by infusing them with depth and aromatic richness. Their versatility is showcased in a diverse array of flavors, from classic aromatic profiles to exotic varieties like tamarind, banana, chili, and many more. This expansion in flavor options and the creative use of bitters has enabled mixologists to craft a wide spectrum of unique and exciting cocktails, enriching the world of modern mixology.

Modern Use: In the modern mixology landscape, bitters have become indispensable, playing a pivotal role in enhancing the flavor profiles of cocktails. Bartenders deftly incorporate them into both timeless and inventive new concoctions, skillfully crafting well-balanced drinks with layered, nuanced tastes that delight the discerning palate.

Most Used Brands and Flavors: Prominent brands like Angostura and Peychaud's continue to be essential in classic cocktails such as the Angostura Sour and Sazerac. Yet, the bitters market has witnessed a surge in diversity, with a myriad of brands and flavors. Innovations like Napa Valley Bitters' Chocolate Bitters and Banana Bitters exemplify this diversity, granting bartenders the creative freedom to concoct one-of-a-kind cocktails. We would even say that a home bar is not complete without them. However... 

Killer Recipe using Napa Valley Bitters Chocolate Bitter & Banana Bitters: To fully appreciate the modern evolution of bitters, try this tantalizing recipe: The "Chocolate Monkey Martini." Combine 2 oz of vodka, 1 oz of chocolate liqueur, 1/2 oz of banana liqueur, and 2-3 droppers full of Napa Valley Bitters Chocolate Bitters & Banana Bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake well, strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with a banana slice and very light dusting of cacao powder. It's a delightful fusion of flavors that exemplifies the endless possibilities bitters offer in contemporary mixology.

A Non- and Low-Alc Lifestyle: The emergence of the non-alcoholic and low-alcohol lifestyle has reshaped the modern bar scene, resulting in notable shifts within the realm of cocktail bitters. With an increasing number of individuals opting for sober or low-alcohol choices, there's a rising demand for non-alcoholic bitters. Simultaneously, the desire to relish thoughtful and innovative cocktails in vibrant bar environments remains strong. To meet these evolving preferences, innovative solutions like vegetable glycerine-based non-alcoholic bitters have entered the market. These products replicate the aromatic and flavor-enhancing qualities of traditional bitters, sans the alcohol content. Consequently, both professional bartenders and home mixologists can craft intricate, well-balanced, alcohol-free cocktails, contributing to the ever-evolving, inclusive nature of the cocktail industry.