medicinal extract of various botanicals
The original bitters, a “stomach settler”, manufactured and marketed by Richard Stoughton, c. 1690, London; a great success in authentic or imitation form well into the 19th Century; the bitters used in the original American Cock-Tail, but also a proto-cocktail when simply added to beer or wine (see purl), as was the original function. Although largely extinct by the 1860s, its influence is far-reaching, and recipes for imitation Stoughton’s were the foundation for the genre of red bitter aperitif liqueurs from Northern Italy (e.g., Campari).
Stoughton’s own recipes have not survived, but numerous recipes exist for ersatz Stoughton’s Bitters in 19th Century apothecary and distiller’s handbooks. Some of these employ ingredients that are now known to be dangerous.
Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, p. 695; barware icons courtesy of Haus Alpenz