Bitters. This sharp-flavored, slightly medicinal liqueur, originally used as an aperitif, remains one of the defining ingredients in many classic cocktails, including the Manhattan, the Pink Gin, the Champagne Cocktail, and the Sazerac. Some popular herbal liqueurs, such as Campari and Jägermeister, are essentially just big bottles of bitters. But bitters had fallen on hard times, with most bars stocking only one brand, Angostura, or, if they were particularly sophisticated (or Southern), a second option, Peychaud's. Orange bitters, once an essential ingredient in the Martini, were forgotten and impossible to purchase. Times have changed, with companies such as Fee Brothers, Regan's, the Bitter Truth, and even Angostura, releasing their own versions of the orange stuff. In fact, bitters in enjoying something of a renaissance, with bars experimenting with making their own. Hobbyists, in the meanwhile, are reviving lost recipes.
The Spirits Of The Times: Whatever's Next? In an unstable marketplace, good old spirits have been undergoing an extraordinary renaissance since 1988, with 2003 the best year yet. And growing. With summer over and thoughts turning to the more warming libations, I wonder what the next big drinking craze will be. My bets are on the wonderful, underrated fruit brandies, distilled directly from fruit juices with nothing else added: kirsch, framboise, mirabelle. Mmmm... The best eaux-de-vie, in my experience, are those from G. E. Massenez and above all (though they're quite expensive and alcoholic) from the Swiss Paul Morand distillery. (Flash req.) An ice-cold Williamine, served in a shot glass surrounded by an old-fashioned tumbler full of shaved ice: oh what bliss on an autumn night, after a late dinner with old friends!