BITTERS AND SPIRITS IN THE WORLD OF VINHOOD
Francesco Guida, Sommelier
HISTORY OF BITTERS AND LIQUORS
The first known origin of bitters and infused spirits comes from the medieval Arab world, with the birth of the so-called Alchemy for medical purposes, developed in Baghdad by followers of the Hippocratic school, such as Avicenna and Rhazes. In ancient Greek culture, the word chimos was used to define the sap of plants, or also any kind of vegetable extraction to create infusions or decoctions.
The first official mention of a drink more similar to a bitter comes from the 1300s. The Catalan alchemist Arnaldo da Villanova, professor at the prestigious University of Montpellier, used an infusion of alcohol and herbs to treat an attack of colitis that had struck Pope Boniface VIII during the Jubilee. The news quickly spread out, given the renowned patient. Arnaldo codified the recipe, together with other writings, in the De Aquis Medicinalibus collection.
From that moment on, the search for these types of infusions arrived in many monasteries and convents. Always used for purely medicinal purposes, until bitter drinks began to be considered for other more recreational purposes.
It took more than 100 years of study, and the passion of Brother Jerome Maubec, to give birth to the first recreational bitter liqueur in history: the Chartreuse Vert, created in 1737.
In the following years, the secret for the creation of liqueur, leave the convent walls to become more of a domestic creation and consumption. Later reaching the development of various recipes, some of which are still present today on the market.
Italy is currently the home of well-known bitters and liqueurs recipes. Such is the case that there is at least one officially recognized recipe in every major city.
WHAT IS A BITTER, HOW AND WHEN TO DRINK IT?
A drink can be called a bitter liqueur when the product is obtained from the agricultural distillate of cereal, fruit or oenological origin, called the solvent, infused or flavored with herbs and edible substances such as bark, berries, and roots referred as the solute.
By law, bitters must have a minimum of 15° alcohol content, and sugar per liter must be below 10%.
Otherwise, it would be considered a liqueur.
The production methods and steps for bitters and liqueurs significantly vary, and in many cases, parts and pieces of these methods can be interchanged to obtain the final product. These steps are:
- Cold infusion, or maceration: Herbs and spices are soaked in alcohol for a specific period depending on the recipe. The infusion can be unique (all herbs are put together) or individual (each ingredient is infused separately).
- Hot infusion: the solvent, alcohol or water, is heated to extract the aromatic and gustatory substances of the solute in the best way possible.
- Flavoring: made by mixing and sweetening infusions already produced within an alcoholic base.
- Distillation: used in the presence of herbs containing alkaloids, or to stabilize and obtain maximum aromaticity from a specific plant, fruit or other ingredients.
The best advice when consuming liqueurs and bitters is to do so in small quantities and sips, preferably at the end of a meal. Serving temperatures may vary according to personal taste, the manufacturer’s instructions, and the context in which they are consumed.
BITTERS’ VARIETIES AND CHARACTERS
According to Italian law, bitters are classified based on sugar content and the bitterness to aroma ratio. These are divided into highly bitter, very bitter, aromatic, medium aromatic and very aromatic bitters.
For us at Vinhood, bitters, as well as wines, can have different #characters, each one unique by its specific attributes. Cosa sono i caratteri? -link
#Daring bitters are those with the highest bitterness and structured complex aromas. They captivate the drinker thanks to their intense and decisive medicinal herbs flavor, which goes beyond the boundaries of many people’s tastes. To be consumed at the end of an “abundant” meal and after a nice cup of coffee. Brands such as Braulio, Cynar, or Unicum belong to this category.
Because of their strong propensity for extreme flavor notes, they can recall an adventurous and confident person with a #Daring spirit.
The #refined bitters are soft ones. They own an elegant smell and taste, never lacking that pleasant and spicy pungency pinch. Perfect as a digestive, but also as a meditation drink. In this category, we find bitters like Averna or Montenegro.
Their elegance recalls a #refined and discreet person, with a pleasant composed presence.
The #social liqueurs are sweet and very soft infusions, not bitter at all. In addition to the very distinct sweet notes, the main ingredients’ aromas can be easily distinguished. They are best enjoyed when you pamper your palate with some sweetness, not to be disdained in a pairing with some desserts. Brands like Nocino, Coffee Cream, and Amaretto are good examples.
They are reminiscent of people with an extremely #social, sincere, and genuine attitude that knows how to win you over with their outspoken friendliness.
The #ironic bitters are characterized by extremely recognizable menthol and licorice notes; while maintaining its typical freshness and bitterness. They are also sweet and pleasant to the palate. This is why they are often considered a classic bitter-refreshing shot. Drinks such as Jagermeister or Branca Mint belong to this category.
They can resemble a particularly #ironic person, always able to provide jokes or puns at the most suitable time.
The #carefree category includes all those liqueurs based on ingredients such as citrus, berries or other fruit that in addition to the typical sweet note also develop a good freshness and a bitter pungency in the finish, due not only to the main ingredient used in the infusion but also to the high alcoholic volume. To be drunk on any occasion but better if consumed with loved ones and always sparingly. They include classic liqueurs such as limoncello, Sardinian Mirto, and sambuca.
They remind us of a person with a #carefree, hassle-free, optimistic and festive character.
The #crafty bitters stand out for their ease of drinking and for being suitable to everyone’s taste, thanks to an excellent balance of acidity, sweetness, bitterness, and very pleasant aromatic notes on the nose. It is always a good idea is to have a bottle just resting in the table, the end of a meal with friends. This category includes bitters such as Lucano or Amaro del Capo.
They can remember a #crafty person, capable of adapting easily to a situation, who pays attention to singular details.
Do you know your bitter or liquor #Character?
Discover it with the Amari test that will be soon available!