Your local mixologist is behind the bar and they’re about to whip up a signature cocktail. They add a few drops of substance into a glass, and you’re confused, what’s that liquid? Well, you’re not alone. We get this question often and wanted to help break it down. So, what are bitters, and why would you put them in your drink?
Bitters are made from botanicals, like aromatic herbs, roots, fruit, and bark. These ingredients are infused into a flavorless alcohol base to create a potent flavoring. In short, bitters consist of natural elements concentrated in a base liquor. There are two main categories for bitters; Digestive bitters and Cocktail bitters. The latter is what we choose to focus on, as I’m sure you could’ve guessed. Cocktail, or tincture bitters, are typically used in small doses, in fact, you should only serve a few drops per drink.
Don’t let the name fool you, bitters do add complexity to your drinks, but they do not leave a bitter taste in your mouth by any means. Instead, adding bitters to a cocktail helps pull out the flavors, accentuating other tastes, like a bit of spice or something sweet, which gives your drink more depth and room for interpretation.
The collection of bitters is quite large and it can be intimidating to choose a particular type for your go-to drink when making it at home, but a good place to start is with Angostura bitters. These aromatic bitters are one of the most well-known varieties, dating back to the 19th century. Angostura bitters are a key ingredient in classic cocktails; one of our favorites being an Old Fashioned, of course. Other popular bitters are Fee Brothers, Peychaud’s, Bittermen’s, and Bob’s Bitters.
In today's bar, bitters are essential, continue to evolve, and each one will bring a different result, so don't be afraid to experiment.
In 2008 Angostura released an orange bitter and this spread like wildfire. These clear bitters hold a subtle tanginess and compliment cocktails when just a touch of acidic, zesty citrus is needed. Our Odin’s Beard cocktail, heavy and full of spice, calls for three dashes of orange bitters.
Bitters Fee Brothers has a line of bitters that has been produced in Rochester, New York, since the 1950's. These bitters rose in popularity with the distinction of having some of the most diverse availability of flavors. Our Mr. Weaver cocktail, bold with a hint of sweetness, calls for four dashes of their Aztec Chocolate bitters.
Antoine Peychaud was an apothecary in the 1830's and began his mixing career after hours in his pharmacy. Peychaud's bitters are used in a number of cocktails, and the aromatic blend is a crowd-pleaser. Speaking of crowd-pleasers, a Sazerac cocktail made with a few dashes of Peychaud's bitters and our Rye & Spire Whiskey. Try it, friends.