Don’t have cocktail bitters on hand? Here’s the bitters substitute to use in cocktails like the Old Fashioned and beyond.

Bitters substitute

Making a cocktail that calls for bitters and don’t have it? Don’t worry, there are few options that work as a replacement! Cocktail bitters are alcohol that’s infused with herbs, fruit, spices, leaves and other botanicals. They have a bitter, herbal flavor and are used to add nuance and intrigue to cocktails. The most famous cocktail recipe to use bitters is the Old Fashioned, but there are lots of other greats like the Manhattan and Sazerac. The most popular types of bitters are:

  • Angostura bitters
  • Orange bitters
  • Peychauds bitters

Don’t have cocktail bitters on hand? You’re in luck: there are several options for a great bitters substitute that are easy to find. We tested each one in an Old Fashioned: here are our favorites!

Best bitters substitute

1. Campari

The best bitters substitute? Campari. Campari is a popular Italian bitter liqueur that’s bright red and best known for its use in the Negroni. It’s intensely bitter and lightly sweet. It works extraordinarily well in an Old Fashioned, and it’s one of the most popular secondary liqueurs so you might already have it on hand. Use the ratio of 4 dashes bitters = ¼ teaspoon Campari.

2. Absinthe

Another bitters substitute? Absinthe. Absinthe is a popular liqueur with a black licorice finish, most popular for being banned in the US and Europe for almost 100 years. It’s now in good graces and part of popular cocktails like the Sazerac and Corpse Reviver No 2. Use the ratio of 4 dashes bitters = ¼ teaspoon absinthe.

3. Fernet-Branca or other amaro

Another bitters substitute? Any type of Amaro, a family of Italian herbal liqueurs that taste bitter (amaro means bitter in Italian). It encompasses a wide range of spirits, including Campari and the super-bitter Fernet-Branca. Fernet is so strong, you only need to use a few drops. Use the ratio of 4 dashes bitters = 2 drops Fernet-Branca or ¼ teaspoon Italian amaro.

Here are some cocktails with bitters to try:

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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