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The bitters truth

india Updated: Mar 27, 2010 00:40 IST
Girija Duggal
Girija Duggal
Hindustan Times
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Here’s a truth not often acknowledged — that we in India haven’t embraced bitters with the same enthusiasm as elsewhere in the bartending world. There’s the well-known Angostura Bitters, of course, which springs to everyone’s minds when you mention the term.

There’re a few who know about Jägermeister and perhaps even the classic Peychaud’s. But you would be hard put to find someone who knows his or her Sirop de Picon from Amaro Montenegro or Underburg. Sadly, a large chunk of the city’s bartenders falls into the last category, too. Most cocktail recipes only call for Angostura Bitters or Jägermeister at best. Even at the city’s high-end bars, there’s a gaping void on the bitters’ shelf, and hence on the cocktail list.

On the face of it, a ‘bitters’ is a liquor made by distilling herbs, spices, roots, fruits and even tree barks, steeped in alcohol. It has a high alcohol content and as the name suggests, is bitter or bittersweet to taste because no sugar or artificial sweeteners are added to the drink. It is considered indispensable to the craft of cocktail making by many mixologists because it helps offset the sweetness of the drink while adding its own intense bouquet of flavours to it.

Even as foreign-made bitters await a welcome here, it is important to recognise that there is a world of opportunity at home. After all, we have a host of herbs, spices and plants that can be used to create unique bitters carrying the ‘Made in India’ stamp.

This is a point that at least two people connected intimately with the bartending world have pointed out to me in the space of a week. I don’t know if someone has already tried to blaze a trail in this direction; if yes, I need to find and sample their creation. If not, it’s high time someone did. The possibilities are mind-boggling. As long as they aren’t termed Indian Made Foreign Bitters, I eagerly await that day.