A few years ago I was in Hershey, Pa., for a business trip. I’d been to Hershey Park before; we’re lucky to live pretty close, and how can you not visit “The Sweetest Place On Earth” when it’s less than two hours away?! Right.
This particular business trip was the first time I’d stayed overnight, and also the first time I’d visited The Hershey Hotel and their Woodside Cottages.
It was winter, light snow flurries were falling, and it was absolutely stunning. The service was impeccable, clearly surpassing any other four star hotel at which I’ve stayed—from their concierge service to the wait-staff at one of the in-house restaurants, trevi 5.
The only unfortunate part of my visit was that about three hours in, I was lucky enough to be next in line to get hit with a stomach thing that’d been going around. My face started to pale at dinner, and I wasn’t sure if I was actually getting sick, or if it was something else (wishful thinking). Our server seemed to have the inside scoop, or maybe she figured my ginger ale order, untouched plates of Caesar salad and beautifully cooked filet were signs that something just wasn’t right.
She quietly boxed up my food, including the dessert, and offered me crackers and a ginger ale “to go” to take back to my room. Then, just before I finally left, she said, “Would you like some bitters to help settle your stomach?”
The Rise In Popularity Of Bitters
Bitters? That’s so…1890s. Right? I’ve heard of bitters from reading lots of classic literature over the years, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it (they?) was (were?).
That night I declined the offer, but perhaps I should have tried them. After I was finally able to scrape my sickly self off the floor two days later, I decided to read up. It appears that bitters are more of a cure for indigestion, rather than the stomach virus thing I had—but hey, I should’ve tried anything!
So what are bitters? Here’s what Wiki had to say:
Most commonly, bitters are from Angostura, in Trinidad and Tobago, and are made from a mixture of water, alcohol, gentian root, and vegetable flavor extracts. The true recipe, however, is a closely guarded secret. Often they’re used in cocktails and other mixers, but they can also be used to settle an upset stomach.
Regardless of having all the details, what I do know is that bitters are making a comeback in the stomach ailment arena, just like a lot of other classic things that have come back into fashion – or stayed in fashion.
And they’ve also made a resurgence in cocktails!
It seems like the rise of old fashioned cocktails using bitters came in lock step with the increased popularity of hipster-dom. Yes, the irony is thick. There are plenty of die hard mixed drink connoisseurs who have always used bitters. Let’s be honest though … bitters haven’t been very mainstream until recently. And, with that popularity glitz comes plenty of new cocktails being developed that embrace bitters, too.
When I was in New York a while back, my sister and I stopped by Amor y Amargo (translated: Love & Bitters) over on East 6th Street in Manhattan. The owner is a friend of Alton Brown’s, and one of guests for Alton’s podcast, which was all about … you guessed it … BITTERS.
Amor y Amargo is a
super small cozy bar, with dark wood features and really cool bartenders. The menu included drinks like “Dismember the Pain” and “Chimney Sweep,” all crafted by the bartenders and labeled with their initials so you can choose to always select “Avery Glasser [AG]” concoctions—or not. It’s a different experience, and well worth the time to stop in, even if it’s just for one drink.
Can’t make it to Manhattan? the kitchn has this list of bitter-using cocktail basics to try at home.
Bitters! Give them a whirl.