Spirited Encounters E L IZAB E TH KAT E It’s hard to believe the holidays are just weeks away. As the days begin to grow shorter and we brace for a cooler bite in the air, one way to add some excitment to the holiday season is by including one of my all-time favorite “summer” drinks to the festivities: bitters! “Bitters?” you may ask. “Who drinks bitters?” The short answer is “Europeans” but Americans may want to follow suit. Bitters offer a world of flavor outside the standard selections of beer and wine. Many bars and restaurants don’t offer fabulous, multi-dimensional beer and wine lists. Sometimes it’s a yawn to order yet another glass of the “House White.” Even cocktails get boring when you fall into the rut of ordering the same thing all the time. Bitters are the easy antidote to what I like to call “cocktail fatigue.” I remember traveling around Europe as a college student, wondering about the exotic-looking bright red drink being enjoyed by the café society. I was very intrigued but never did find out what it was that the A L I V E E A S T B A 26 Y n o v e m b e r 2 0 1 6 beautiful people were sipping. Only years later did I learn it was Campari and soda. What a revelation! If only I’d known back then I could have avoided a flood of mediocre wine and enjoyed something engaging and noteworthy. What are bitters anyway? They are top-secret blends of special herbs and spices, fruit, flowers, and bark, a healthy dose of alcohol, and a splash of water, infused into magical elixirs. Bitters are blended into cocktails to add flavor and intrigue. They are intensely concentrated and rarely, if ever sipped alone. Centuries back, doctors prescribed bitters to their patients to help with ailments like colic, gout, and gastritis. Even today, a few splashes of Angostura bitters mixed with soda water can help to calm a queasy stomach. It’s likely that the very physicians who prescribed the bitter herbal remedies were the first to notice that a dash of bitters mixed with other beverages actually tastes quite appealing. Bitters come in a multitude of flavors from the licorice-flavored Peychaud’s to spicy Angostura, to the fruity tones found in Campari and Aperol. Campari and Aperol are both bitters AND liqueurs. Not only do Campari and Aperol create delicious cocktails, their glorious colors make them a party in a glass long before you’ve taken the first sip. Campari was first created in Italy, in 1860 by Gaspare Campari. Its red color was originally created with a dye made from crushed insects. In 2006, the Campari Company changed the recipe, eliminating the insects, and making Campari a safe choice for vegetarians and omnivores alike. Campari is used to make classic cocktails such as the Negroni and the Americano. My favorite way to enjoy Campari is mixed with soda on the rocks with a garnish of fresh orange to add a splash of sweetness and tang. The flavor is both sweet and bitter with a spicy zing. Campari is an alcoholic beverage with approximately 22% alcohol. When mixed with soda, it’s decidedly less alcoholic than say, a cocktail made with vodka, but yet it still gives you a nice little kick. It’s refreshing on a hot day and I love it as a fun alternative to wine. Campari is always a festive choice at a gathering. Aperol is another favorite. Recently, the “Aperol Spritzer” has gained popularity. A blend of Aperol, Prosecco, and a splash of soda, it’s a light, delicious cocktail enjoyed at brunches and afternoon events. With half the alcohol and twice the sweetness of Campari, Aperol is a good starting point for the novice who is learning to enjoy bitters. Even though our hot, sunny days are past, the shorter days and cooler weather is perfect for coziness of the holidays and an abundance of festive holiday drinks. The fun never stops. Cheers!
Alive November 2016
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