Bitters can be used to elevate a specific component in a drink
or to take the flavour profile in a completely new direction.
The use of bitters has been around for centuries, originally added to wine.
Traditionally, bitters are an alcoholic spirit which has been infused with a range of botanicals to create a bitter or sour profile. The spirit is diluted with water and many brands are around 30 – 40% ABV by the time they reach the bottle. The use of alcohol acts both as a preservative and a solvent for easy extraction of essential oils and flavours.
Bitters, (sometimes known as cocktail bitters) have an intrinsic history with digestifs and tonics. Aromatic herbs, roots and barks are the traditional components due to their intense characters and medicinal qualities.
These concentrated liquids are often described as a “non-beverage”, meaning that they should not be consumed in the same manner as other drinks. Even one drop is intense enough to noticeably change a drink’s flavour profile. Interestingly though, being an alcoholic non-beverage means that bitters can be sold by retailers who do not sell alcohol. However, you may still require identification when purchasing.
Situated in Farnham, Hampshire, Bitter Union was launched in February 2017 by husband and wife team, Tom and Lucy Moore.
Tom and Lucy have been keen home-brewers for many years, but a few trips to the USA and Canada sparked their interest in bitters. On their return to the UK, they immediately realised that we haven’t yet caught up with this trend and that there is a definite need for re-educating the consumer about bitters.
After eight months of experimenting with flavours, steeping times and concentration levels, they were ready to launch their range.
The name Bitter Union comes from the products’ ability to enhance, accentuate and balance flavour profiles whilst gently adding that bitter twist. All components of the drink must be united.
Simply adding a few dashes of bitters can really transform your drink.
The eye-catching labels were designed to inspire the consumer to use bitters in a range of drinks, not just cocktails. The arrow is an indicator that they can be added to any drink. By creating a clean, appealing label which isn’t focused on the alcohol sector, Tom and Lucy highlight the very nature of bitters and their versatility. To emphasise this, they have included simple guidance and suggestions, including for soft and hot drinks.
Many brands currently on the market use artificial flavours and colours and include a lot of sugar, (instead of using alcohol you can use glycerine to macerate the botanicals).
Bitter Union only use 100% natural ingredients.
“Consider it like salt and pepper for your drink – season to taste.”
Creating bitters is a time-consuming process - each batch takes around a month to produce. The chosen botanicals and ingredients are added to the base spirit at different times, determined by their individual characters. The infusions are stirred by hand every day to aid extraction.
Producing bitters in small batches, Tom and Lucy focus on the integral qualities of the natural ingredients. Their citrus is hand-peeled to gain the highest level of essential oil and a more authentic flavour.
Tom and Lucy wish to re-engage the consumer with bitters, to develop an understanding that there are so many possibilities for tailoring your drink exactly to your palate. This needn’t be limited to alcohol either. Whilst the bitters themselves are 31.5%, they pair wonderfully with non-alcoholic cocktails, soft drinks and even tea. It’s an easy way of creating something special.
In a time when gin and tonic is at the front of the cocktail scene and we’re all experimenting with the vast array of flavoured tonic waters and endless garnish combinations, it’s fantastic to see a company reviving bitters and bringing them to our attention once again.
The addition of bitters to a drink only requires a few drops. Please bear in mind that the bitters themselves do contain alcohol so if you want to avoid alcohol entirely, I’m afraid these aren’t for you. However, by the time you’ve added a couple of dashes to a non-alcoholic drink, the percentage of alcohol is greatly diluted.
The beauty of bitters is that they are so versatile that you can tailor the use to your own palate and requirements.
Bitter Union is a name to remember. I imagine there will be other companies jumping on the bitters band wagon shortly, but if Tom and Lucy continue to put the same level of time, consideration and quality ingredients into their products as they grow then I’m sure they’ll be leading the pack.