A Not so Bitter, Bitter Cocktail

Gin Aperol Summer Sour

Somewhere back in our vulnerable past, we relied on our detection of bitterness to avoid eating certain plants because they’re toxic. So what can explain the trend towards bitter in modern-day cocktails? Sales of bitter liqueurs such as Campari and Fernet Branca are way, way up – especially among the fashionable crowd in large metropolitan areas. Is the stylish set bent on destroying itself through the consumption of the very bitter roots we are predisposed to avoid? Are tragically hip hipsters really that tragic? Is the bitter cocktail some cruel form of natural selection? Or is there a certain beauty found in the forbidden?

A Bitter Cocktail

What about you? Do you like a bitter cocktail? It seems to be a very personal thing. In fact, there is scientific proof that not everyone perceives bitter in quite the same way. There’s a gene in our DNA that determines how we perceive bitter. All people have two copies of every gene, and how these bitter gene variants line up determines the genetically based differences in our bitter taste receptors (taste buds). This affects whether we perceive something as intensely bitter, somewhat bitter, or without taste. Which means, of the five tastes (bitter, salty, sour, sweet, umami) bitter may be the most complex.

As for me, I probably fall in the middle category. I’ve grown to love bitter flavors. But I realize they’re not for everybody. So the challenge in presenting a bitter cocktail on this blog is to try to judge just how bitter I can go and still create a drink that will get along with anyone.

Aperol Gin Summer Sour

Which is why I reached for Aperol.

Aperol can indeed get along with anyone. It’s got a hint bitterness, but only delicately so. This Italian liqueur has the complexity of orange peel yet it goes down easy. It’s easy on the eyes too – with a crimson hue that sparkles gold in the setting sun. Making this the perfect not so bitter bitter cocktail for those possibility-filled hours between work and dinner. GREG

Gin Aperol Summer Sour

Gin Aperol Summer Sour 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 1Published

To make basil simple syrup stir together ½ cup sugar and ½ cup water in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Lower heat to very low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until a syrupy consistency is achieved about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add 5 or 6 fresh basil sprigs; let stand 30 minutes then remove basil. Syrup may be stored covered in a cool dark place for up to 1 month.

Gin Aperol Summer Sour


  • ice cubes (as needed)
  • 1 ½ ounce London dry gin
  • 1 ½ ounce Aperol
  • 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ ounce basil simple syrup (see notes)
  • 1 fresh basil sprig


Fill a Collins or similarly sized highball glass with ice cubes. Set aside.

Combine gin, Aperol, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker ⅔ full of ice and shake vigorously until well chilled. Strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with basil sprig.