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Cocktail Bitters

These trendy drinks are not for the lite-beer-hearted. But they grow on you.
Image Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor

Once-dusty bottles of witch's-brew aperitifs and digestifs are moving from the back shelves of bars to the front as mixologists experiment in cocktails: It's a mini-trend. Some of these herb-forward drinks can be knock-your-socks-off bitter (see our entirely subjective bitter factor, right) and are said, in a folklorish way, to aid in appetite and digestion. We tasted them over ice. In small doses, some were downright tasty. Some must be sourced through Internet shops.

Fernet-Branca
ITALY, $29
Yikes! Listerine meets crushed herbs and sticks in a drink more bitter than a bad divorce. Like the sweepings of an apothecary.
BITTER FACTOR: 9

Aperol
ITALY, $24
A sweet, soft, baby version of Campari—though not for babies. Orange peel nose, sugary, mildly bitter, nice in cocktails.
BITTER FACTOR: 4

Pastis
FRANCE, $30
Henri Bardouin version has lovely, floral-licorice nose and delivers numbing, Pernod-like anise in the mouth. Turns milky on ice
BITTER FACTOR: 6

Cynar
ITALY, $30
Herbal, "green" smell (made with artichokes!). Tannic, vegetal flavor. Sweet and syrupy. Oddly enjoyable when you get past the odd part.
BITTER FACTOR: 6

Campari
ITALY, $27
For those who have been to Italy, evokes afternoons under Campari umbrellas. Sweet, ruby-red, bracingly bitter but balanced.
BITTER FACTOR: 7

The Negroni
A PLEASANTLY BITTER COCKTAIL
Equal parts good gin, Campari, and sweet red vermouth, the Negroni is a fabulously sophisticated cocktail for a cold fall night and satisfies with just one dose. Stir ingredients together and serve over ice, or shake with ice and serve like a martini. Garnish with orange rind. Feel urbane.
BITTER FACTOR: 5

Herbsaint
USA, $28
Reedy, musty-hay nose, intense licorice flavor that anesthetizes the entire mouth. Originally produced after absinthe was outlawed.
BITTER FACTOR: 7