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History of Bitters

Bitters fill a unique niche in medicine, food, and drink history. The story begins with the alchemical arts in ancient Egypt and ends in America in a cocktail glass.

The ancients made the first bitters by extracting the healing (and flavor) qualities of flowers, peels, seeds, barks, and herbs through an infusion process using wine and, later, distilled alcohol. The Chinese and Egyptians focused on healing and made ancient medicines using plants to infuse their healing qualities. Europeans used alcohol to infuse botanicals to make early medicines developing the first vermouths, gins, and other alcohol-based treatments. Bitters proliferated in 19th-century America. Americans had hundreds of varieties, sometimes labeled patent medicines such as tinctures
and tonics.

Bitters became part of the mixed drink with the rise of the professional bartender and introduced a new type of drink called the cocktail. The word “cocktail” with its definition was first published in 1806 in an upstate New York newspaper, “...a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind—sugar, water, and bitters”. Some makers added dangerous, poisonous substances to bitters—morphine, opium, or cocaine (yes, a famous cola soda drink containing cocaine began as bitters). Thank goodness that in 1906, the U.S. passed The Pure Food and Drug Act. These consumer protections ended false claims and advertising. By the early twentieth century, cocktail culture flourished, and bitters became the secret sauce in classic cocktails. Today, you become the alchemist mixologist with our Badass Bitters DIY educational kit, infusing and making bitters. Badass.

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