What’s all this, then?
Hi, I’m Sharon. This is my virtual home bar where I’ve started the conversation you’ve been missing out on: What alcohol is, why we use it the way we do, and how we can use it in better, healthier ways.
Bartanica is an online speakeasy and you’ve just walked through the door. Here, you have access to a botanical wonderland of flavor, scent, culture, and history, and I am happy to be your guide.
Why the focus on plants?
All alcohol is derived from plants.
Distilled spirits are highly processed, concentrated substances, which makes them strong to taste. This is why a shot of tequila is chased with lime and salt (1/10 – Do not recommend. Shots are so 2010.).
But when you add fresh plants to spirits and let them marinate, or macerate, as we say in the business, the helpful, healthful qualities of that plant get extracted from the plant material. The unique, intense flavors of these plants are captured in the alcohol and get blended into fascinating combinations contained in liqueurs, bitters, beverages, and flavorings.
These are the flavors that we explore here at Bartanica, with a particular focus on the bitter taste.
Ew, why focus on bitter? It’s the worst!
I don’t recommend noshing on aspirin to experience the bitter taste. There are milder, much more pleasant ways to explore this very important taste, like black coffee, dark chocolate, and green leafy veggies.
What’s so special about the bitter taste?
Bitter is special for many reasons. In the ancient system of Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga, bitter is one of six tastes we should have at every meal–but in our modern diets, we eat way too much sweet and salty. Most of us avoid bitter, and that’s natural, but having just a little bit of it can level up your entire experience.
The bitter taste occurs naturally in most plants, so the more plant-based your diet, the more appreciative you probably already are of this taste. And plant-infused spirits are what we specialize in here at Bartanica.
Do you sell bitters or other alcoholic products?
Not at the moment.
What are bitters?
Traditionally, bitters are a blend of extracts made from bitter roots, seeds, barks, and herbs. This high level of bitter flavor is what renders them a non-potable alcoholic beverage. Taken in small amounts, bitters have the traditional effect of easing digestion and are best known as a cocktail ingredient.
How should I take bitters?
That depends. Are you a drinker? If so, feel free to try up to a teaspoon in your favorite cocktail. If you prefer to enjoy bitters on their own, pour a dropperfull or two into a sherry glass and drink down in a gulp. Follow with several swallows of fresh water. You may also find them enjoyable in fresh juice, tea, sparkling water and coffee drinks.
When should I take bitters?
It depends. Bitters have long been enjoyed alongside meals. In Europe, bitter liqueurs are enjoyed before meals (aperitifs) and after (digestifs). Taken before a meal, the bitter flavors stimulate the salivary glands and gastric juices, priming the digestive system for food.
Ayurveda maintains that the purpose of the bitters determines when they are best taken:
If taken 1/2 hour to 1 hour before a meal, bitters will tend to work more on the colon and lower part of the body (apana vayu). Herbs that are purgatives, diuretics and emmenagogues are best taken before meals.
Substances taken with the meal tend to work on the stomach and small intestine, on the middle part of the body and samana vayu, the air governing digestive function. Stimulants and carminatives, bitter tonics, nutritive tonics are herbs best taken with meals.
Herbs taken after meals tend to work on the lungs, on the upper part of the body and on prana vayu, the air governing respiratory functions.
Herbs that are diaphoretics, expectorants, and nervines are best taken after meals.
What are some ways to use bitters?
What’s an herbal liqueur?
A liqueur is a sweetened, flavored alcoholic beverage that has significantly lower alcohol content than a full-proof spirit, usually ABV 15%-32%. We focus on herbal liqueurs here at Bartanica because we promote the benefits of bitter and many of them have a bitter flavor profile. A liqueur is shelf stable and does not require refrigeration.
What about beer and wine?
While many craft beers have a noticeable bitter taste, most wines do not, unless we’re talking fortified herbal wines like vermouth. So, yes, we love both beer and wine, but only a small portion of the comparative market–because we’re picky like that.
Are you telling me that vermouth isn’t disgusting?
Vermouth is actually delicious if you know how to select a good one.
What’s alcohol good for?
We use alcohol for a number of reasons:
Fixative: Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is a wonderful fixative for fragrances. Most essential oils are highly volatile, so by being mixed into alcohol the fragrance will hang in the air much longer.
Preservative: There are many wonderfully fragrant essential oils that are insoluble in water, so a mixture of these oils and water is futile and prone to bacteria. Our bitters contain alcohol for a similar reason; ethanol is great at extracting the best from most plant material, so the flavor is very consistent with the original plantlife.
Solute: Alcohol is readily absorbed by the digestive system and, in small doses, is the perfect delivery system of beneficial constituents of medicinal herbs and spices.
Flavor Preservative: Ethanol-based bitters have a long shelf life and you’ll find the flavor consistent from start to finish.