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A Brief History of Cocktail Bitters - And 10 Kinds You Should Try

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The secret to the perfect cocktail is an old staple from the Union army’s first aid kit.

Drinkers have been adding bitters—alcohol infused with herbs, spices, and botanicals—to their booze since the 18th century. While today’s bitters are prized for cutting a drink’s sweetness and balancing its flavor and aroma, during the 19th century, the booze enhancers also claimed to cure everything from malaria to indigestion. These little potions tasted so unpleasant that drinkers assumed they just had to be healthy.

During the Civil War the Union army fueled the bitters mania, purchasing whole train cars of Hostetter’s Celebrated Stomach Bitters. The Pennsylvania-made elixir billed itself as “a positive protective against the fatal maladies of the Southern swamps, and the poisonous tendency of the impure rivers and bayous.” Union officers called it “the Soldier’s Safeguard.” Although its medicinal effects were likely nil, the 94-proof potency did help to steel nerves, and demand for these booster shots continued to soar after the war.

Things turned sour for bitters at the beginning of the 20th century, when the government cracked down on the cure-all’s dubious medical claims. And while a few companies managed to hang around thanks to savvy bartenders, the bitters market remained sluggish until the classic-cocktail revival in the early 1990s made them essential again.

Today, bitters are enjoying a sweet renaissance. Stalwarts like Angostura and Peychaud's share shelf space with tiny bottles from upstart alchemists, making for livelier, more interesting drinks. The next time you break out your jigger, reach for the bitters as well. Your taste buds will thank you.

10 TO TRY

These bitters will sweeten up your home bar.

1. BAD DOG SARSAPARILLA DRY

Price: $24
An explosion of root beer rounded out by wintergreen and vanilla. Perfect for turning any soda fountain into a bar!

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2. BITTERCUBE CHERRY BARK VANILLA

Price: $16
This Milwaukee gem will make you look like a bartending genius each time you whip up a Manhattan.

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3. SCRAPPY’S AROMATIC

Price: $18
Want a spicier, fancier old-fashioned? Balance out the cocktail’s sweetness with lots of clove and cinnamon.

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4. BITTERS, OLD MEN GANGSTA LEE’N

Price: $12
Finally, a way to add smoky bacon to your cocktails without a skillet. Pair this with whiskey and call it breakfast.

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5. REGAN’S ORANGE

Price: $10
Remember those gummy orangepeel candies your grandma always ate? They’re back, in booze form and ready for a martini.

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6. THE BITTER TRUTH JERRY THOMAS OWN DECANTER

Price: $23
This modern recreation of a 19th century cocktail savant's recipe adds a fruity punch to any whiskey cocktail.

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7. BITTERED SLING GRAPEFRUIT AND HOPS

Price: $29
Wish your white-spirit cocktails tasted more like an India Pale Ale? Look no further!

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8. FEE BROTHERS WHISKEY BARREL-AGED

Price: $18
It's a proven fact that aging any liquid in a whiskey barrel makes it at least 40 percent better. These aromatic bitters are no exception.

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9. HELLA BITTER AROMATIC

Price: $11
These Brooklyn treats transform a normal Manhattan into a liquid Christmas cookie full of clove and cinnamon.

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10. URBAN MOONSHINE MAPLE

Price: $14
In addition to giving any drink a bit of well-balanced maple sweetness, these bitters prove that there's absolutely nothing Vermont can't do with its syrups.

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New Pop Chart Lab Poster Is a Boozy Blueprint For Making Classic Cocktails
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Pop Chart Lab's posters combine design with data, and their latest offering—a full breakdown of the ingredients in 60 classic cocktails—is no exception. From the exact ratio of gin and tonic that should go into a G & T (2 ounces and 4 ounces, respectively) to the garnishes you'll need to make a proper Tom Collins (a maraschino cherry and a lemon twist), the 3-foot-by-2-foot "Constitutions of Classic Cocktails" artwork teaches mixology basics you'd typically learn in bartending school, sans tuition fee.

In addition to mainstays like the Negroni and the Whiskey Sour, the poster also includes relatively obscure drinks (ever heard of the Golden Dawn, or the Journalist?), which you can attempt after drinking your way through your favorite concoctions. Before you know it, you'll be explaining to your friends the intricacies of why you should stir martinis instead of shaking them (sorry, James Bond), or the difference between a highball and a Collins glass. Bottoms up!

"Constitutions of Classic Cocktails" costs $37, and is currently available for pre-order. Shipping begins on Friday, October 20, 2017. (To see the poster's details up close, visit Pop Chart Lab's website and click on the diagram.)

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Attention Beer Lovers: A London Brewery Is Hiring a Professional Taste-Tester
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Beer lovers aren’t given many chances to discuss their passion for imbibing at job interviews. But a new open position at London's Meantime Brewing Company lists that expertise as one of the top qualifications. As Fortune reports, the brewery is seeking a professional beer taster to help improve its products.

The brewery’s part-time employee will “join the panel brewers as they taste, discuss, and pass opinion on a range of different beers,” according to the job listing on LinkedIn. On top of steady access to free booze three hours a week, the taster will receive a competitive salary “with beer benefits.” As the description reads: “Yes, this could just be the best job in the world.”

Meantime isn’t just considering any casual beer drinker for the role. Their ideal candidate will have a precise palate that can distinguish “chocolate malt from dark malt” and “Fuggles from Cascade hops.” They will also have an understanding of global consumer markets, a functioning knowledge of English, and an extensive beer vocabulary. The brewery is located in the London borough of Greenwich, so applicants who aren’t local should be willing to relocate.

Founded in 1999, the Meantime Brewing Company made its name on the beer scene with signature beverages like their London Lager, London Pale Ale, and Yakima Red. If you’re interested in joining the team, post 30 words on your LinkedIn profile explaining why you deserve the gig, along with any photos or videos that may help your case, with the hashtag #pickmemeantime. The company will narrow down the pool to three candidates for an in-person beer tasting before deciding their top pick. Meanwhile, you can prepare for the job by brushing up on your beer facts.

[h/t Fortune]

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