Bar40 Bitters Introduction & Review

Bar40 Bitters Umami, Sweet, Salt, and Sour Cocktail Bitters review and explanation on Whiskey Writes

Not your momma’s bitters company.

Bar40 Bitters hails from Toronto, Ontario and are doing something with their ingredients that is taking cocktail inclusion to the next level of taste & science. Most cocktail bitters I’ve come across all fit a standard theme and variation; that is, a bittering agent, a main flavour or two, and some herbs & spices. You’ll find fruits like orange, grapefruit, and lime, chocolate & coffee bitters, chili and spices, and so many more. Bar40 takes the focus away from flavoring agents and instead focuses on the five gustatory taste perceptions themselves.

Each of their bitters, aside from the eponymous bittering agent, contains ingredients that help pair it with a sweet, sour, salt, or umami [savory] flavour profile. Instead of adding a particular flavor to a drink, this allows their products to add the necessary bitterness, and compliment, suppress, or enhance a given flavor profile within the drink itself. For example:

  • Sweet helps suppress the sour notes of an overly sour or bitter cocktail and adds body & balance. Or in a salty cocktail to give help give it the always delightful pairing of sweet and salty.
  • Sour combines with salt to give a perceived sweetness and can be easily detected in small amounts. Or add it to sweet drinks like a Manhattan to help bring the vermouth down a notch.
  • Salt helps to suppress sour and bitter flavours but also helps with saliva production which heightens flavour perceptions. Many summer cocktails can benefit from this, especially shrub based ones.
  • Umami is the essence of savory, which is one of my favourite things about whiskey. It supresses the bit e of sour and bitter without masking flavour. It adds an earthiness and adds body & texture to your drinks.

These go way beyond adding a bit of a kick or nuance to cocktail, they change the game completely. I’ve been trying out a couple of their recipe suggestions to get a feel for them this weekend, like their Old Fashioned recipe. I’ve got a few more I’ll be posting up soon before I go rogue and start experimenting on my own. It’s so exciting to see companies like Bar40 really look deeper into the process & science of bitters and approach a cocktail staple that’s been around for hundreds of years in a totally new way.

The whole goal of mixology is to blend and play with flavours, their strengths, weaknesses, and craft a well balanced cocktail. If you’ve got a cocktail that’s missing that certain something, Bar40 bitters may be exactly what you need to take it over the top when dilution and adding other ingredients just isn’t an option. I would definitely classify these as more intermediate or advanced bitters, Bar 40 has a number of recipes you can follow to make some incredible drinks, but to truly see these shine you’ll want to experiment with them in a wide variety of drinks.

As a disclaimer, Jamie from Bar40 mentions that you shouldn’t try these straight up. Unlike other bitters where you can get a very good idea of how they’ll perform in a cocktail, these are meant to be had exclusively in your drink. The best way to see what they’ll do is to make a cocktail and taste it without them, then add the bitters and try it again to see the results. I promise you, it’s pretty mind blowing. Thanks so much Jamie and the Bar40 crew for sending these over, I look forward to meeting you all the next time I’m in Toronto.

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