Bitters: The Secret Ingredient in Your Favorite Cocktails

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Bitters in Cocktails

When it comes to crafting a delicious cocktail, there’s one ingredient that often gets overlooked: bitters. Bitters are a concentrated, aromatic liquid that add complexity and depth to cocktails. They can be used in a wide range of drinks, from classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned to modern creations like the Negroni. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about bitters, from their history to their many uses in cocktails.

What are Bitters?

Bitters are a botanical mixture of herbs, roots, bark, fruit, and spices that are infused in alcohol. They’re called bitters because they’re made with bittering agents like gentian root, which give them their distinctive bitter flavor. Bitters come in many different flavors, including citrus, floral, herbal, spicy, and more. They’re typically used in small amounts, usually just a few dashes, to add complexity and balance to cocktails.

A Brief History of Bitters

Bitters have a long and fascinating history. They were first developed in the 18th century as a medicinal tonic. The ingredients in bitters were thought to have therapeutic properties, and they were used to treat everything from digestive issues to hangovers. As the popularity of bitters grew, they began to be used in cocktails. In fact, many classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan were originally made with bitters as a key ingredient.

Types of Bitters

There are many different types of bitters available, each with its own unique flavor profile. Here are a few of the most popular types of bitters:

Angostura Bitters

Angostura bitters are the most well-known and widely used bitters. They’re made with a secret blend of herbs and spices, including gentian root, cinnamon, and cloves. Angostura bitters have a spicy, herbal flavor with notes of cinnamon and clove.

Orange Bitters

Orange bitters are made with bitter orange peels and a variety of other botanicals. They have a bright, citrusy flavor with a hint of bitterness. Orange bitters are often used in classic cocktails like the Martini and the Manhattan.

Peychaud’s Bitters

Peychaud’s bitters are a key ingredient in the Sazerac, one of the oldest cocktails in America. They’re made with a blend of herbs and spices, including anise, cinnamon, and cloves. Peychaud’s bitters have a sweet, floral flavor with notes of anise and cinnamon.

Chocolate Bitters

Chocolate bitters are made with cocoa nibs and a blend of spices. They have a rich, chocolatey flavor with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Chocolate bitters are often used in cocktails with dark spirits like bourbon and rum.

How to Use Bitters in Cocktails

Bitters are a versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide range of cocktails. Here are a few tips for using bitters in your drinks:

Start with a few dashes

Bitters are a potent ingredient, so start with just a few dashes and adjust to taste.

Experiment with different flavors

Try different types of bitters to see which ones you like best. You can also try combining different flavors for a more complex taste.

Use bitters in non-alcoholic drinks

Bitters can also be used in non-alcoholic drinks like soda or tea to add flavor and complexity.


Bitters are a key ingredient in many classic cocktails and an essential part of any home bar. With so many different flavors and types of bitters available, there’s no limit to the creative cocktails you can make. So the next time you’re mixing up a drink, don’t forget to add a few dashes of bitters to take your cocktail to the next level. Whether you’re a professional bartender or a home mixologist, bitters are a must-have ingredient for any cocktail enthusiast.


  • Are bitters alcoholic?

Yes, bitters are typically made with high-proof alcohol, but they’re used in small amounts, so the alcohol content in a cocktail is usually quite low.

  • Can bitters be used in non-alcoholic drinks?

Yes, bitters can be used in a variety of non-alcoholic drinks like soda or tea to add flavor and complexity.

  • Can I substitute one type of bitters for another?

Yes, you can substitute one type of bitters for another, but keep in mind that different types of bitters have different flavor profiles, so the end result may be slightly different.

  • How long do bitters last?

Bitters have a long shelf life and can last for several years if stored properly. However, the flavor may begin to degrade over time.

  • Are bitters gluten-free?

Most bitters are gluten-free, but it’s always best to check the label to be sure, as some brands may use grains in their production process.

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