What Are Bitters, Why Are They Used in Cocktails, and How Should they be Used?

What Are Bitters, Why Are They Used in Cocktails, and How Should they be Used?

A Complete Guide to Cocktail Bitters

You may have heard of bitters from reading cocktail menus, searching for cocktail recipes, or visiting liquor stores (and even grocery stores). They’re often used in cocktails such as the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan, the Negroni, or the Trinidad Sour (which typically uses 1.5oz of bitters in a recipe!).

Think of a collection of bitters as a spice rack for the bar - when making a cocktail, you have your primary ingredients like the base spirit, sweetness, and citrus. These components build the volume, flavours and overall balance to the cocktail, and adding bitters will bring those flavours one step further, contributing to depth and complexity, and providing more subtle flavours that allow the spirit to stand out.

What are Bitters?

Bitters are an ultra-concentrated concoction of flavours, preserved in a high-percentage ethanol alcohol. Originally created by Dr. Johann Siegert in 1824 as a medicinal tincture to help with stomach issues, bitters are now known as a key contributing ingredient to a well-balanced cocktail by amping up the flavor of other ingredients, balancing the harshness of citrus, and decreasing the burn of spirits.

Types of Bitters

There’s a wide variety of bitters out there, and each type works well with different cocktails.

Aromatic Bitters

The most popular - think Angostura or Peychaud’s. Flavored with fruits, herbs, spices, and barks, these bitters offer a powerful aroma (given their name), and are most often used in classic cocktail recipes like the old fashioned, manhattan, or sazerac. 


Citrus Bitters

Citrus bitters are made with the peels of citrus fruits. Orange bitters are most common, but lemon, grapefruit, and lime are also used. We love to use them in whiskey-based cocktails like the whiskey sour, or gin-based cocktails like the tom collins. 


Herbal Bitters

There’s a wide variety of ingredients used in herbal bitters, including lavender, basil, and thyme. These bitters are best used in botanical spirits and other neutral or unaged spirits like vodka or pisco. Our Herbal Lavender bitters are an excellent complement to botanical gins, and our Basil Affinity goes well in cocktails like the gin sour, aviation, or hugo spritz. (Also cocktails with accompanying floral/herbal liqueurs like yellow chartreuse or st. germain elderflower liqueur.)


Bean and Nut Bitters

Chocolate bitters and coffee bitters are the two most popular bean bitters varieties, and popular nut bitters use walnut, macadamia, and pecan.

Bitters are a versatile and essential ingredient in cocktails - start building your cocktail spice rack and experiment away. Shop our selection of bitters here.

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