Lots of cocktails and mixed drinks recipes ask for bitters. But what exactly are cocktail bitters, and why would you want to use them? Read on to find this out.
What are cocktail bitters?
Bitters are infusions of neutral spirit and a variety of botanicals such as bark, roots, herbs, fruit, nuts, and spices. Bitters are used in mixing cocktails and in cooking.
Back in the 19th century, bitters were used in medicine and claimed to cure everything from indigestion to malaria, because, you know, they were made of herbs and tasted so unpleasant that drinkers thought that they just had to have health properties.
Nowadays bitters are widely used in mixology craft and are prized for creating a more complex flavour profile and balancing the sweet and sour aromas of the cocktail. The most common drinks that ask for bitters are Manhattans, Martinis, Negronis, Sazeracs, and Old Fashioneds.
Do cocktail bitters go bad?
Yep, they do, but after a long time. The opened bottle can last up to 10 years. So, if you buy bitters for home use, you’re going to have them for a while.
There is no need to refrigerate bitters to keep the flavours last longer as the neutral alcohol naturally preserves the flavours of the bitters. Keep your bitters in the dark place away from the sunlight, just like in the case with the liquor bottles.
Types of cocktail bitters
Depending on the dominating flavour profile, there are various types of cocktail bitters. Here are the most widespread and commonly used varieties of bitters:
- Aromatic Bitters are made with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, etc. These bitters match perfectly with whisky and rum-based cocktails.
- Citrus Bitters — this group includes bitters with prevailing orange, lime, lemon, or grapefruit flavours alongside other ingredients such as cardamom, cinnamon, and others. Citrus bitters usually complement gin, vodka, and tequila cocktails.
- Spiced Bitters are bitters with predominating spice flavours. These are ginger, cardamom, black pepper bitters, etc. These bitters work great with whisky and aged rum.
- Herbal Bitters are made with infusions of various herbs like mint, celery, lemongrass, to name a few. They usually pair well with gin, botanical spirits, tequila, and rum.
- Fruit Bitters bring to the cocktail fresh fruity hints and nice sweetness. Try adding a few dashes of cranberry, cherry, plum, and peach bitters into vodka, tequila, and gin cocktails.
- Chocolate Bitters are the best friends with dark rums, Anejo tequilas and whiskies. Chocolate bitters often have deep notes of coffee and vanilla which means they can perfectly match with the flavours of spirits aged in oak casks.
How to use cocktail bitters?
Bitters are used in many classic and modern cocktails. Their mission number 1 is to accentuate flavours. Bitters can complement aromas of booze or even change the flavour profile of the cocktail and bring new flavours.
If you are new to using bitters, start with complementing and enhancing the flavours of your Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and Negronis. Once you understand how they work, you can go crazy and experiment with bitters in Gin & Tonic, Sidecar, Mojito, and all your beloved cocktails.
How much bitters to use?
As cocktail bitters are very concentrated, one or two dashes will be enough for a drink. One dash of bitters is about 1/8th of a teaspoon, which is approximately 6 –8 drops from the bottle.
Bitter Liqueurs vs. Cocktail Bitters
There are actually two types of bitters — bitter liqueurs, also known as potable bitters and cocktail bitters. What's the difference? Both of them are made by infusing a base spirit with botanicals, but bitter liqueurs are not as concentrated as cocktail bitters. Potable bitters can be consumed on their own whilst cocktail bitters should be paired with other alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages.
Choose bitters for your cocktails at Lassou. We have a great selection of bitters tailored by Fee Brothers — a pioneering bitters company. Discover Fee Brothers cocktail bitters and order some to elevate your cocktail-making skills.