You might have noticed that these little magic potion bottles are essentials in many favorites, from Manhattans to Planter’s Punch. When you get the craving to mix up one of these gems you might look up an ingredient list only to find that this is the one ingredient you don’t have. Well, it’s time to make a stop at the liquor store. By the time we’re done with this post, you’ll be an expert on why bitters make drinking oh so sweet.
Bitters are made up of a concentrated mix of alcohol, sour, or bitter botanical ingredients. They can come from such aromatic fixings as: bark, roots, fruit, orange peel, and much more. These botanicals are infused into a flavorless alcohol base to create a potent potion. In many ways, bitters are like the salt of cooking. Just a few drops enhance the whole palate experience.
Though there are a wide variety of bitters, they can be lumped into three categories: aromatic (the most popular), medicinal, and herbal. Herbal bitters can be rich in tarragon, thyme, or mint and are often used to nourish digestive health. The original purpose of bitters was to cure medical ailments from seasickness to malaria. Rumor has it that the Egyptians pioneered them first.
Why Use Bitters
People may be intimated to use bitters but they’re not meant to make your cocktails less appealing. On the contrary, aside from giving your cocktails a bit of personality, it also heightens the other flavors in your cocktail. As a dish can be bland without salt, so are some cocktails without bitters. It’s like making cinnamon bread without the cinnamon.
Bitters can actually be used in almost all cocktails as long as you know the flavor and aroma profile of both the bitters and the cocktails so they complement each other, not clash.
How to Use Bitters
As the name suggests, bitters can be bitter. There is no better way to put it. However, as mentioned earlier, it need not be the enemy but a friend of your cocktail.
The secret is to start slow. Add one dash or one to two drops, stir and taste. This is mostly trial and error because each one has a different preference. If you are making a dash, remember the dashes may become splash if the bottle is almost empty. Your best bet to keep your cocktails consistent is to use a dropper.
3 Best Cocktail Bitters to Buy in 2019
1. The Alchemist: Angostura
If you’re just beginning to explore bitters, Angostura is a good place to start. This little concoction is over two hundred years old, dating to the 19th century. The alchemy of angostura consists of more than 40 ingredients and is only known by a handful of people, so the legend goes. Angostura is the touch of British gentleman that gives an Old Fashioned and Manhattan its smoky depth. Pour into your rocks glass and don’t forget the last touch: the ice sphere.
2. Southern Belle: Peychaud’s
Peychaud’s is a staple ingredient in the New Orleans classic, the Sazerac. Peychaud’s is a gentian-based herbal bitters invented by Antoine Peychaud. Antoine was a Creole apothecary from the French colony Saint Domingue who settled in New Orleans in 1795. This bitters is a bit gentler with a light body, sweet flavor, and notes of flora. The kind of bitters you take home to mom and dad. Paloma calls.
3. Tutti Frutti: Regan’s Orange No. 6
Fruit bitters (especially citrus) are immensely popular. Orange is the classic. Regan’s Orange No. 6 was famed by Gary Regan in the 1990s. Regan based his recipe on one he found in the 1939 book, The Gentleman’s Companion. Use it in an Old Fashioned or any bourbon drink. Billiards and cigars sold separately.
With the rising popularity of craft cocktails, renewed interest in bitters has inspired an assortment of new flavors from grapefruit to coffee to lavender. There is even such a thing as chocolate bitters, perfect for a sweet cocktail in need of a nutty complement.
Here’s some adventurous bitters you may not have heard of but might be willing to try in the future.
This bitters is good for gin- and tequila-based cocktails but this also works well with Bloody Marys although it is based with vodka, simply because it highlights the aroma and taste of the celery used as garnish. These are very ancient bitters - the company, Fee Brothers, have been around since 1863 but the celery bitters itself were around longer than that before being banned during the Prohibition.
Summer couldn’t get any better with the cucumber and lavender bitters with notes of lemon and mint for a more refreshing take. Who knew bitters can actually make drinks better? Those on strict diets like the vegans and Paleo dieters need not worry as they work well with them. All ingredients are organic and can be used in gin, vodka, tequila, and rum cocktails.
The combination of oranges and figs make this fruity bitters a welcome addition to your favorite cocktails. Made with a blend of select figs, orange peels, coriander, vanilla bean, and allspice, each ingredient handpicked from organic farms and aged naturally in wooden containers. Best for rye, bourbon, tequila, and gin. Take your Triple Bourbon Sour to a whole new level.
Treat yourself to a cacophony of exotic fruits in this Polynesian-inspired cocktail bitters. As in all other El Guapo products, these are certified non-GMO, vegetarian and paleo-friendly with no added sugar. Now is really the time to crown the mai tai as the king of the tiki drinks.
Floral and Herbaceous Bitters
Captivate your senses with the delicious combination of anise, ginger, gloves, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and mint. Designed to aid digestion, it made its way into the bar scene and can be used in digestif cocktails such as the Amaro.
Don’t let the spring/summer pass by without a cocktail made with El Guapo Love Potion #9 Bitters. Try gin martini cocktails made with this bitters here. It’s also perfect for other aged spirits but mostly vodka, gin, rum and sparkling drinks.
Chocolate lovers watch out! Made from the “food of the gods”, the cacao nibs used here delivers the most impeccable taste for your chocolate cocktails as well as plain ones. It works well with rum. Vodka, tequila, and whiskey also work well.
We recommend this bitters to complement chocolate (naturally) and coffee cocktails like White Russian. The rich and spicy taste of this bitters also works well with tequila-based spirits. Let the notes of chocolate, cinnamon and chili invade your senses, giving your simple cocktail a new color and character.
If you’re a lover of citrus fruits and cinnamon, this bitters will work well for you. Alone, they can be amazing but together they are a dynamite waiting to be unleashed. Get on with that power with the New Orleans bitters from Scrappy’s.
The name might be ominous but the contents is an intriguing blend of cayenne pepper, cardamom, lemon peel, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, spearmint, and ginger. It works perfectly with rum, gin, tequila, mezcal, and whiskey. Everything is handmade so you know that it is a labor of love. It can also be used in sauces and marinades to add personality to your dishes.
Whoever said hops is just for beer apparently haven’t tried the Bittermen’s Hopped Grapefruit Bitters. Bartenders pay homage to these brand by creating cocktails that are made only with Bittermen’s bitters, unless someone wants to duplicate it. Which is an entirely different story since Bittermen’s made sure their recipes are so unique. They can try but certainly not recreate it.
Surprisingly made in Australia, Mister Bitters is not your usual as it is really less bitter than the other choices in the market. Plus the very nice packaging will encourage you to “pick me!” Grapefruits are bitter, at least when you fail to peel off the white part under the peel before eating it. However, surprises never end with this bottle as new faces are winning to love the sweet and sour flavor of this bitters.
Hot & Spicy Bitters
Hands down to the beauty of this sensuous bottle of Hella Bitters Smoked Chili Cocktails. And it’s not a beauty they would want to hide with the gorgeous label and modern fonts used. Based in gentian root and flavored with a myriad of herbs known to make it an intriguing but utterly satisfying bitters for a good cocktail.
Seriously? This was a sauce? The lovely combination of cocoa, cayenne pepper, sesame seeds, allspice, cinnamon and oregano played a depth of thought to this bitters. Perfect for your chocolate cocktail recipes.
You might be intimidated by bitters at first because of their unsavory name. We recommend experimenting with the classics first, but don’t be afraid to try a wildcard. Remember, entertaining is about having fun!
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