Bitters: The Secret to Great Cocktails
Bitters are a flavorful and versatile ingredient that can easily add a whole new level of complexity to your cocktails and alcohol-free mocktails. But what exactly are bitters, and how do you use them?
What are Bitters?
Bitters are a concentrated liquid traditionally made by steeping herbs, spices, and other botanicals in alcohol. Today, some bitters are made without alcohol using different techniques.
Originally used as a medicinal tincture, bitters were eventually adopted by bartenders who saw their potential to enhance the flavor of cocktails. Today, there are many different types of bitters available, each with its own taste profile.
The variety of plant-based botanicals that can be used to make bitters is incredibly vast. Herbs, spices, flower petals, fruit, roots, peppers, and more. Every blend is different!
Bitters for Digestive Health
Bitters have been used throughout centuries for their medicinal properties and have been known to help improve digestive health.
Bitters contain compounds that stimulate the production of saliva and bile, which are essential for the breakdown and absorption of food. They can also help to increase stomach acid production, which can break down food more effectively.
Some say bitters can cure hiccups! Have you tried this before?
What's So Great About Bitters?
Think of bitters as the glue that holds a great cocktail together. Just a few dashes can take a drink from good to fabulous by pulling all the flavors together - sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. It's all about balance!
Which Bitters Should I Choose?
While there is no "best" flavor of bitters, some are more common and versatile than others. When buying bitters for the first time, start with classic aromatic bitters or orange bitters that can be used in a variety of drinks.
When choosing bitters, an important consideration is the quality and source of botanicals used to make them. For the best quality, look for bitters made with fresh or dried whole botanicals. Some bitters are made using organic, farm-grown, or wild-foraged herbs, spices, and botanicals. These can bring a unique "taste of place" to your cocktails.
Other than that, it's all about the flavors that you want to add, enhance, or complement. Some questions to consider when choosing bitters:
- What flavors do you prefer? If you're not sure, try a sampler pack!
- Do you prefer clear spirits or dark spirits?
- Do you want to add spice?
- Do you want to add floral notes?
- Do you prefer alcohol-free bitters?
When Should I Use Bitters?
Some bitters are better suited for certain types of cocktails than others. For example, aromatic bitters are used in a classic Old Fashioned, while orange bitters are often used alongside citrus flavors.
Consider all of the flavors going into your drink and whether they could be balanced or complemented by adding bitters.
Here are some tips for using bitters in cocktails:
- Use bitters to balance out sweetness
- Use bitters to add complexity and depth
- Use bitters to add spice
- Experiment! Play with flavor combinations to find what you like
How to Use Bitters in Your Drinks
Add a few dashes of bitters to your shaker or glass during the mixing process. This allows the flavors to fully develop and blend with other ingredients.
The amount of bitters you use will depend on the strength of the bitters and your personal taste. A good rule of thumb is to start with a few dashes then add more to suit your taste.
How Much is a Dash of Bitters?
A "dash" of bitters is like a "pinch" of salt - open to interpretation and difficult to quantify. This measurement does not have to be perfect. Your drink will be perfectly fine if you get close to what the recipe calls for. No need to obsess over it.
Technically speaking, a "dash" is just over 1/8 teaspoon of liquid:
- For bottles with shaker tops, a "dash" is about 1 firm shake directly into the mixing glass.
- For bottles with droppers, a "dash" is about 10 drops. This usually equates to one full dropper.
Will Bitters Make My Drink Taste Bitter?
While it's true that bitters have a bitter flavor when tasted on their own, this isn't how anyone would normally consume them. So, the name "bitters" is a little misleading.
Bitters add flavor without adding sweetness. They have a complex and aromatic taste that can add depth, balancing sweet and tart flavors that are introduced by other ingredients (like simple syrup and fresh citrus).
Is your drink too sweet? Try adding some bitters!
Bitters in Alcohol-Free Mocktails
Bitters can also be used in alcohol-free beverages and mocktails. This is a great way to add flavor and complexity to your drinks without the alcohol. Alcohol-free bitters would be perfect for this!
Here are some ideas for using bitters in alcohol-free drinks:
- Add a few dashes of bitters to sparkling water for a refreshing and flavorful drink.
- Use bitters to flavor iced tea or lemonade.
- Add bitters to a fruit smoothie for a nutrient-rich and delicious beverage.
- Add bitters to a zero-proof mocktail that has sweet and sour ingredients.
Ready to Try Bitters?
Bitters are a versatile ingredient that can add greater depth and more interest to your cocktails. With a little experimentation, you'll be able to find the perfect bitters to enhance your favorite drinks.
Shop our selection of versatile, high-quality bitters from small, independent makers. Find your next favorite flavor!