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Libatious Literature Review: Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All

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Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas by Brad Thomas Parsons


Bitters have undergone a bitter struggle, nearly evaporating completely as a result of the Prohibition, and enduring an extended hiatus of unpopularity for decades thereafter. Fortunately, bitters have experienced a recent revival, a veritable bitter’s boom conveniently coinciding with the comeback of classic cocktails and consumer demand for innovative libations.

(Enter) Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas by Brad Thomas Parsons

Heralded as a history of and how-to guide on bitters, Bitters provides an accessible account, ideal for everyone from professional bartenders to inquisitive imbibers.


  • Cocktail recipes – including the classics as well as contemporary creations - that demonstrate the diversity of bitters, as well as recipes for food preparation. Each recipe is introduced with an anecdote from the author, which is often a welcome touch, as cocktails and eats have a strong power to evoke memories.
  • Information on where to purchase bitters as well as where to locate the ingredients you need to make your own at home.
  • Recipes to make your own bitters, neat!
  • Finally! An answer (well, more like speculation) on why the label on a bottle of Angostura bitters is over-sized.
  • The photos are stunning; close-up and contemplative. The cocktail photos evoke a strong desire to cozy up in a dark leather armchair in front of a crackling fire while sipping a hearty cocktail between puffs on a fat stogie.


  • There is a lack of historical information on bitters and an overabundance of personal anecdotes. Bitters would have been better billed as a personal memoir /recipe book (with a brief historical introduction).
  • There is an impressive (read: excessive) amount of name-dropping, from bars to bartenders; it makes the author seem as if he is trying too hard to appear legitimate/cool. Rest assured, your dear readers are totally super jealous that you got to spend so much time in swanky bars drinking cocktails with the best in the biz in the name of research.
  • Having never attempted to make bitters, I’m skeptical about the method the author sites for use. I say the method, as the steps are more or less the same for each recipe (and the repetition is a real space waster). Bitters are so complex that I find it hard to believe that achieving a diversity of flavors can be fitted to a one-size-fits-all approach.

Overall Impression:

Bitters is worth a (quick) read. While you won’t become an expert on the history of bitters, you’ll learn a few neat facts that you can use to impress your friends (over cocktails, of course). Gloss over the personal anecdotes if sentimentality/ foodie culture isn’t your thing, and use the book as it should be intended – a niche recipe book.