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What Are Bitters? Everything You Need To Know About

Last Updated on October 5, 2023

Bitters are a magic touch that can transform your drinks from ordinary to extraordinary

If you’re looking for a simple, flavorful drink that can bring a unique flavor to your favorite cocktails? Bitters are here to save you!

what are bitters

They can provide an extra layer of complexity and balance that will make your drinks stand out.

In this post, we’re about to uncover “the bitter truth”. Read on for our guide to bitters that covers everything you need to know about! 

What Are Bitters?

Bitters were first invented as medicinal tonics as an alcohol-based digestive aid dating back to the mid-1700s, but they gained widespread popularity during the Victorian era as an addition to cocktail recipes and with other drinks. 

They have a long and fascinating history. Initially created as a medicinal tonic, they were then contrived by herbalists to help with a variety of digestive issues.

Over time, the addition of these botanical elixirs to drinks has become an integral part of many popular cocktails.

two types of bitters

Common ingredients associated include bitter fruits, herbs, and spices like orange peel, cardamom, cinnamon, angelica root, and gentian root.

Although initially intended for medicinal purposes, the cocktail culture brought bitters to the forefront in the 19th century when they were added as cocktail ingredients (flavor enhancers) to many classic drinks.

In more recent years they’ve had a revival as connoisseurs and mixologists explore even more uses for them.

In modern days, they are used to flavor cocktails with high alcohol content such as the old-fashioned or classic 1920s gin cocktails.

What Are Bitters Made Of?

Bitters are neutral concentrated solutions that contain a variety of botanical extracts, herbs, and spices infused in neutral grain spirits. 

They are neutral alcohol-infused beverage flavorings made from plants and herbs, usually in the form of an extract or spirit.

Because herbal bitters are highly concentrated, you only need very small amounts every time. That’s why bitters commonly come in small bottles on the market.

what is bitters

Typically, the amount of alcohol in them is around 35%-40% by volume (ABV). In spite of this, they are sold as non-alcoholic beverages without any age restrictions (because they’re classified as flavorings). 

They provide a little extra oomph to any drink, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic.

The powerful flavors of bitters are an effective way to add color and layering of taste to everything from a classic cocktail that’s high alcohol content to some savory dishes.

What Do Bitters Taste Like?

They have a unique flavor profile that is quite distinct from other types of alcoholic beverages.

Generally speaking, bitters have a strong herbal taste with notes of cinnamon, tree bark, clove, cardamom, anise, and other spices.

what are bitters

The bitterness comes from the aromatics used in the infusion process. They are typically served neat or as a single flavoring ingredient in cocktails.

When added to drinks like gin or whiskey-based cocktails, it can give them a wonderfully complex flavor profile that can be difficult to replicate without bitters.

Types Of Bitters

Some popular types of bitters and flavored bitters include:

Angostura Bitters (Used For Old Fashioned)

Free Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Aromatic Bitters

Aromatic Chocolate-Infused Orange Bitters

Angostura In Trinidad and Tobago

Chocolate Bitters

Grapefruit Bitters

Nut Bitters

Mole Bitters

Digestive Bitters

Digestive bitters have many health benefits including aiding digestion, reducing inflammation, boosting the immune system, relieving stress, promoting proper liver function, and fighting depression. 

They are specially formulated to aid digestion. The bitter taste stimulates your taste buds to create more saliva (spit), which stimulates your digestive system.

Just using only a few dashes at a time you can make use of these beneficial properties without drinking too much alcohol since bitter ingredients are usually alcohol-soluble plants with concentrations ranging from 20% to 45%.

Health Benefits

By combining alcohol or glycerin with aromatic herbs and spices, they can help support digestive health and enhance the flavor of food and drinks.

Because they contain a host of beneficial compounds including polyphenols, carotenoids, and complex carbohydrates which possess antioxidant properties that can help reduce inflammation in the body.

cardamom bitters

In fact, recent scientific studies have demonstrated that bitters activate signaling pathways in the gut that are important for promoting digestive health.

Plus, some evidence suggests that bitters may also have prebiotic effects which support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

Apart from supporting digestive health, bitters can also offer potential aid to those looking to replace sugary drinks with healthier alternatives.

The natural sweetness of certain bitters balances out the acidity thus helping to reduce sugar intake without compromising flavor or taste. 

There is increasing evidence suggesting that incorporating natural herbal remedies such as bitters into routine diet consumption may have multiple positive effects on our physical and mental well-being.

(Source: Healthline)

How to Use? Start With A dash Of Bitters

Cocktail bitters are used by dashes per drink due to their concentrated flavor-packed character and can be called upon at any point in many classic cocktails.

Every spirit has its own suggested bitters pairing; however individual bartenders offer endless opportunities for experimentation when it comes to mixing and matching these botanical flavors according to your taste.

cherry bitters- dash of bitters

They are used in small amounts in cocktails. You will want to start off with a few drops – usually 2 to 4 – and taste the drink after stirring.

If you feel it still needs more flavor or complexity, you can add more drops as needed.

Most bitters are used as an accent flavor so it is important not to overdo it. You should also take into consideration what other ingredients you plan on adding – some bitters will clash with certain flavors while others will enhance them.

In addition to being used in cocktails, many chefs are now incorporating bitters into their dishes.

They can be added to baking recipes for extra depth of flavor, used in marinades for food, or drizzled sparingly into salads for a unique twist on the classic dish.

For cooks who like adventurous tastes, adding a few drops of bitters is a great way to explore new flavor combinations. This is because it doesn’t fear overwhelming your dish with too much intensity.

Are Bitters Vegan?

You will be surprised to learn that bitters are actually vegan since they typically contain alcohol as the main ingredient. 

However, most varieties of bitters do not contain any animal products or derivatives in their production process. This makes them suitable for vegans and vegetarians alike. 

Some brands may also include additional ingredients such as spices, herbs, natural extracts, sugar, or glycerin which can be either vegan or non-vegan depending on the source. 

It is best to check with the manufacturer before purchasing to ensure that the product is completely suitable for your dietary needs.

With so many great vegan options available today for bitters, it’s easy to find something that suits your taste and dietary restrictions!

Do Bitters Go Bad?

The main ingredient in cocktail bitters is alcohol, so it’s natural to wonder if they could possibly go bad. The short answer is yes, although it may take some time.

Generally speaking, cocktail bitters last indefinitely when stored properly. The alcohol content helps preserve bitters over time and prevents bacteria from forming.

However, with prolonged exposure to sunlight or heat, both the flavor and aroma of the bitters will gradually fade away.

To ensure your cocktail bitters remain at their best for as long as possible, store them in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight and heat sources.

Best Cocktail Bitters

They are an ingredient used to add a special flavor or balance to cocktails or other drinks.

Typically, bitters are made from some kind of alcohol such as vodka or brandy. In addition to providing flavor and balance, bitters and soda are also said to help aid digestion.

what are cocktail bitters

There are many popular brands of bitters available that offer enhanced flavor profiles and additional health benefits. Some brands that are common on the market today include:

  • Angostura Aromatic Bitters
  • Fever Tree Aromatic Bitters
  • Regan’s Orange Bitters No 6
  • Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters
  • Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters
  • Pechuga de Pendriam Cedar & Coffee Bitters
  • Peychaud’s bitters
  • House of Angostura in Trinidad
  • Bitter Truth’s Creole Bitters

What Drink Recipes Using Bitters

Cocktails using bitters can range from simple martinis to unique combinations such as the classic Sazerac cocktail or the Venezuela cocktails.

There are hundreds of recipes available to help home bartenders create their own favorite flavor profiles utilizing many types of bitters.

Common beverage alcohol recipes may include:

bitter for cocktails
  • The Manhattan: A whiskey cocktail with several types of bitters added alongside sweet vermouth and Angostura Bitters.
  • Old Fashioned: A classic whiskey cocktail served over ice with a few dashes of Angostura Bitters.
  • Mint Julep: A bourbon-based classic sweetened with simple syrup and flavored with several types of bitters.
  • Pimm’s Cup: This summertime favorite relies on orange bitters to complete the picture.
  • Negroni: An Italian classic stirred up with sweet vermouth and Campari, then spritzed up with two dashes of orange or citrus bitters.

How To Make Your Own Bitters?

Making your own is a great way to customize the flavor of your favorite drinks and add a unique touch of homemade flavor.

To make your own, you will need a base spirit like vodka or brandy. Plus, you will need aromatics like cinnamon, cardamom, angelica root, gentian root, coriander, and orange peel.

Start by combining your base spirit with the herbs and spices in a Mason jar. Shake vigorously for 5 minutes, then let sit for 7 days before straining out the solids.

After straining, let the liquid sit for an additional 7 days before using it to make cocktails or mocktails. With these simple steps, you can easily make your own at home!

In A Nutshell

Bitters can be used to add a unique and complex flavor to drinks, sauces, and other culinary dishes. Bitters are a type of alcohol-based flavoring made from infusions of spices, herbs, and botanicals.

Depending on the types of ingredients used in the infusion process, they vary greatly in flavor and can range from sweet and fruity to nutty and spicy.

Adding bitters is a simple way to add new depths of flavor as well as delicate complexity to any beverage or dish.

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What Are Bitters? + Cocktail Recipes

Bitters are a magic touch that can transform your drinks from ordinary to amazingIf you’re looking for a simple, flavorful drink that can bring a unique flavor to your favorite cocktails? Bitters are here to save you!
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