The Bar’s Spice Rack

A big part of The Bitter Truth’s bartender training is about giving bartenders information on the history of bitters. Established in 1824 by a German doctor in Venezuela as a medicinal product for troops, Angostura is the most popular bitter brand on the market. “We run bartender training courses on the use of bitters because you need experience and education to use bitters correctly,” he says. “Bitters are the spice rack in a bar – if you don’t use enough salt in a soup it tastes flat – and it is the same with bitters. Using bitters correctly is an art in itself. Our bitters and liqueurs are being sold in 60 markets. Big drinks companies don’t produce bitters because they aren’t big business. We are in steady communication with bartenders around the world, finding out what they need, so if they want a new product we can produce it quickly. Some big drinks companies do small lines of bitters but it isn’t a big focus for them – and their bitters lack credibility because they make them available but don’t provide the necessary training and support.”

Sophisticated Customers – And Bartenders

With so many more spirit products becoming available on the market in recent years, as well as the current gin craze, the number of bitters has increased, especially in the US. “The cocktail scene is hugely popular now, in restaurants as well as in bars,” says Alexander. “Customers are more sophisticated and have a better awareness of quality, so bartenders are recommending the premium and super premium brands. Very often we are seeing more sophisticated and knowledgable bartenders. However, many bartenders still don’t have a sufficiently detailed knowledge of drink and its origins.” He refers to a scene in the  film Goldfinger where James Bond is drinking Cognac and he describes it as a bit ‘bonbois’, meaning that it has poor grape quality. “A lot of people wouldn’t know what he meant unless they knew a bit about Cognac,” he says. “We are not just selling a product, but informing the industry about drinks, as well as bitters, and we have to keep up to date with the latest trends. As a customer I saw a lot of bad bartenders and while I was working as a bartender I enjoyed making customers happy, particularly if that involved creating a good cocktail. The son of the owner of the iconic Harry’s Bar in Venice, where the Bellini cocktail was invented, wrote a book about the bar. He said that the drinks industry is about serving, about making people happy, and not necessarily about serving the most expensive drink. For me, the business of being a bartender is definitely not a craft, it is an art.” ν