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Cocktail History: Bogart’s Bitters is a Recreation of a 150-Year-Old Recipe

the bitter truth bogarts bitters simple campsite old fashioned cocktail
Image used with permission by copyright holder
If you’ve ever made a cocktail, you’ve probably used bitters before. Maybe you added a few dashes of the old standby, Angostura bitters, or perhaps you’re a bit more experimental. Maybe you used Thai bitters or maybe you made your own from leftover Everclear and those Chia pets your mom got you when you finally left her basement. Regardless, bitters were used.

But did you ever think about what the some of the first bitters (ever called for in a cocktail book) tasted like? Now you’ll have a chance.

Introducing Bogart’s Bitters by The Bitter Truth, a recreation of the bitters called for in the first-ever cocktail book: The Bar-Tender’s Guide: How to mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion, written Jerry Thomas in 1862. At the time, the brand of bitters that was sold was known as “Boker’s bitters,” but historians believe that Thomas spelled the name wrong, thus it became Bogart’s bitters. In honor of Thomas, The Bitter Truth decided to name their recreation as he had spelled it.

bogarts bitters
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This product is as close to historically accurate as possible. According to Jamie Boudreau of Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium in Seattle, “The formula has been analyzed and interpreted, and [any potential changes] in flavor profile due to age were subtracted and the liquid formulated in the way it authentically resembles Jerry Thomas’ favorite bitters of more than a century ago.”

This wasn’t the first bitters ever, though. At the time, there were many different types of bitters for sale (much as there is today), though in the late 1800s, they were all considered medicinal. With the creation of the FDA in 1906, though, it wasn’t long until many brands were forced to close. Because the FDA forced brands to take the word “medicinal” off their labels, when Prohibition hit, a large number of brands went down quicker than a free shot of whiskey, Boker’s included.

Some bottles remained, though, and the people behind The Bitter Truth were able to find one. The team then worked to recreate not only what was inside (the original recipe was long lost), but also to craft a bottle to resemble the one that Boker’s was originally sold in. (Fun fact: The style of bottle is known as a “lady leg.”)

Ten years in the making, Bogart’s bitters has chocolate and coffee notes mixed with dark spices. Released in limited quantities, a 375-mL bottle retails for around $35.

Sam Slaughter
Sam Slaughter was the Food and Drink Editor for The Manual. Born and raised in New Jersey, he’s called the South home for…
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