Wormwood - The King of Bitter?

Wormwood is the second most bitter herb on the planet, closely following Rue, and it has a centuries-old history in cocktails, tonics, cooking, and brewing. With strong sage aromas, a unique woody flavor, and numerous purported health benefits, it's a natural fit as the primary bittering herb in many of our formulations. Of course, we bitters connoisseurs are not alone. 

"For a child knows as certainly before it can speak the difference between the ideas of sweet and bitter, as it knows afterwards that wormwood and sugarplums are not the same thing." - John Locke 1689

In Europe, all vermouths must by law contain three essential ingredients - wine, wormwood, and a fortifying spirit. At times throughout history, beer brewers have forgone the use of hops in preference of bittering their brews with wormwood. Most recently, wormwood has became famous, and later vilified, for its use in the aperitif absinthe. While a prolific ingredient, its history runs much deeper.

'While Wormwood hath seed get a handful or twaine
To save against March, to make flea to refraine:
Where chamber is sweeped and Wormwood is strowne,
What saver is better (if physick be true)
For places infected than Wormwood and Rue?
It is a comfort for hart and the braine
And therefore to have it it is not in vaine.'

-Tusser (1577)

With its potency, flavor, and many esoteric qualities, we often wonder if there is an herb more important to our craft. Most would argue there is (we'll cover gentian in a later post) but wormwood is certainly the nearest to our hearts as the bitter, woody, and floral balance that anchors so many of our favorite bitters.

Posted June 29th at 4:09pm