Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All


Before I embark on a review of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas I must admit to two things. First, I am proud to call the author, Brad Thomas Parsons, a friend. Angela and I lost our chicken-on-a-stick virginity with him and the Homesick Texan at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. Appropriately enough, the theme that year was drinkways.

Second, I am not much of a drinker. Any halfway intelligent and conscientious eater could potentially review a cookbook or a restaurant. How, though, can a cheap-date near teetotaller like myself possibly review this book? I can answer that question — and honestly, give my entire review — with a single word, transformative.

Since I received Bitters, I have purchased a cocktail shaker and both Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. I have ordered hard-to-find bitters online. (I mourn all the bitters I can’t afford. Yet.) I have finally cracked open a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon. I have made my own cocktails at home. To sum things up, Brad’s book has me really excited.

And the thrill is not just for the novice drinker. Anyone with an appreciation of a pleasant adult beverage will enjoy the book. You will learn the history of bitters, how they began their resurgence, who is making the finest craft bitters today, and even how to make your own bitters.

Oh, and there are enough drink recipes to keep you shaken and stirred for some time to come.

We started with a classic, the old fashioned. Given our limited collection of ingredients, we won’t be rushing through all the drinks right away, but I already know that we will be acquiring more. I see a bottle of rye in our near future.

I am really going to enjoy having this book, and you will too, whether you’re just starting to spread your cocktail wings or looking to expand your repertoire. Either way, cheers!

Disclaimer: We received this book as a free review copy from the publisher.


Eight parts rye or bourbon to one part simple syrup seemed like a lot of alcohol to me, but the syrup is a potent sweetener. I didn't add quite enough Angostura my first time. If you're a novice like me, I recommend sipping from your mixing glass the way you would taste from the pot. You can also add an extra drop or two to your glass if you have invested in bottles with droppers like I plan to.


  • 2 ounces rye or bourbon
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 3 dashes Angostura or other aromatic bitters
  • Garnish: thick piece of lemon or orange zest


  • Combine the rye or bourbon, simple syrup, and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice.
  • Stir until chilled and strain into a chilled double old-fashioned glass filled with large pieces of cracked ice or a large ice cube.
  • Garnish with the lemon or orange zest.
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