Some years back, I quit drinking Diet Coke and started drinking soda water and bitters and lemme tell you, it was way past time. For over a decade, I'd pounded down two to four liters of it a day—I'm fully aware of how gross that is—and was just so very tired of spending so much cash, dealing with the empties, and getting twitchy and anxious every time I wasn't sure if I'd have immediate access to a Diet Coke fix when I needed it. Yup, I was that person who brought her own Diet Coke to a party.
Then I got a SodaStream for Christmas and I never looked back. Didn't even think about it much. Though I'd tried to quit or at least cut down in the past, it always ended poorly—as in me becoming cranky, exhausted, slightly less than functional, and pretty much mad at the world. I figured it was the caffeine, or whatever creepy brew of chemicals gives Diet Coke its particular giant squid death grip on my body and psyche. But actually, it seemed to be the bubbles. Who knew? For some reason, sparkling water (no cola syrup, because that'd defeat the purpose) seemed to occupy the place in my life that the demon D.C. had, and I wasn't about to second guess it. But it was still lacking a little something-something.
I'm a weird cocktail bitters hoarder. That's extremely Brooklyn of me I suppose, but I own it. In just a quick glance over at my bar, I see Angostura, Peychaud's, cherry, celery, barrel-aged, orange, blood orange, aromatic, grapefruit, whiskey-aged, and there are plenty more stacked behind them. Just a few drops adds a pungent, smoky, fruity, or floral note to any drink without any added juice or sweetener, and I'm all about that—especially now while I'm on an incredibly limited diet to deal with a stomach condition and it doesn't really allow for alcohol.
I take flavor where I can get it, so I put bitters in my soda water or seltzer at home starting at breakfast or when I'm out at a restaurant or bar. As a food editor, I spend a lot of time around other food writers and chefs, and it's a pretty common thing, to the extent that two recent dining companion from Bon Appetit magazine said, "Oh, bits and bubs!" when I ordered it. Everyone, including and especially bartenders, understands this as code for "I'm not drinking alcohol for whatever reason, but I still would like to participate in this event." (Yes, some bitters have very small amounts of alcohol, so a little homework is helpful, depending on your needs.)
But when I do this out among non-food-pro folks, I get a lot of "Huh? Oooohhhhhh that sounds great!" from my drinking companions, so I'm here to let you in on our secret. Pretty much any bar or restaurant will put that together for you and even add a festive citrus wedge if you desire. If you're worried about folks inquiring as to why you're not drinking (and that's rather rude of them, anyhow), the great news is that many bitters add a light tint of color to your drink so it appears to prying eyes that you're woo-hoo-ing it up at brunch with the rest of the crowd.
Plus, it just tastes fantastic. Cucumber or lemon water is all fine and fancy and you can pretend you're at a spa and that's super nice, but that also entails having fruit and a knife at the ready. Just a few drops of bitters and some fizzy water and you're channeling the same hydrating vibe. Lotsa bubbles, no troubles.
Mild correction: Bon Appetit's Food Director Carla Lalli Music kindly noted on Twitter that the standard BA moniker is "bubs and bits." I regret the error. Cheers.