Friday, 9th August 2013

by Joshua Gaskell

In a noisy pub-club I order what I’ve always presumed to be the most basic drink for a barmaiden to compute: ‘A pint of bitter, please.’
‘A whole pint?’ she returns, incredulous.
‘Uh-huh.’ A minute later she returns with a pint of very pink- and fizzy-looking beer.
‘£33,’ she says.
It turns out it’s soda-water and Campari, one of the types of bitters (note the plural) that have ridden into vogue on the coat-tails of the cocktail comeback. We have to get the manager over, but I try not to drop her in it too much. I think she’s new.

I look up bitters in the dictionary and find that the OED records its first usage in a copy of the Guardian (not that one); an article about someone with whom I can identify:

A Gentleman that has formerly been a very eminent Lingerer, and something Splenetick, informs me, that in one Winter he drank six Hampers of Spaw-Water, several Gallons of Chalybeate Tincture, two hogsheads of bitters at the rate of 60 l. an Hogshead, laid One hundred and fifty infallible Schemes, in every one of which be was disappointed, received a thousand Affronts during the North-Easterly Winds, and in short run thro’ more Misery and Expense, than the most meritorious Bravo could boast of.

– Richard Steele, Guardian, 11th August 1713