I have a tendency to favor bitter drinks, but before Saturday night, I only had a vague idea what "bitters" were. Sitting at the Branch Whiskey Bar (2926 NE Alberta St., 284-9600) with a few friends, I casually asked bartender Andrew Finkelman—former cocktail guru at both 50 Plates and the Alberta Street Oyster Bar—how he makes his bitters. "Is it just herbs and oranges and stuff?" I asked sheepishly. It turns out Finkelman puts just as much time into creating his bitters (a mixture of 100-proof alcohol infused with fresh-grown herbs, citrus and a lotta love) as he does fine-tuning a list of what must be close to 40 types of whiskey. The history of bitters dates back to pre-Civil War times, and many of the drinks on the menu have an old-timey feel, which totally appeals to the curmudgeon in me. Branch's Sazerac ($7)—often cited as the first cocktail—is spruced up with angostura and Peychaud's bitters, and it's the little touches (a splash of egg whites in the whiskey sour, a mint julep served in a silver cup) that make all the difference. And if it all sounds a little intimidating, you can always order the "Line Cook" (a shot of Jim Beam and a PBR tall boy for $5) and just get drunk the old-fashioned way.