What are bitters? Here’s a quick guide to cocktail bitters and how to use them in drinks, featuring Angostura, Peychaud’s, and more!
If there’s one secret weapon that should be in every home bartender’s arsenal, it’s this: cocktail bitters. This small but mighty ingredient is what makes an Old Fashioned an Old Fashioned, and what gives a Manhattan its signature flavor. What are bitters, and why are they so important in drinks? Here’s what to know about this important cocktail ingredient.
What are bitters?
Bitters are small bottles of spirits infused with botanicals (herbs and spices) that are used to flavor cocktails. They’re essential in modern mixology, as they make drinks taste extraordinarily complex with just a few shakes. This is because they’re made with so many different ingredients and the flavors are not easily recognizable. The first bitters to be mass produced were Angostura bitters, marketed as a medicinal tonic in the mid-1800’s. But today the most popular use is in cocktails.
What are bitters made of? Bitters are neutral alcohol infused with herbs, spices, fruits, roots, tree bark, and other botanicals. Common ingredients in bitters include orange peel, gentian root, cassia bark, cascarilla, and cinchona bark.
Cocktail bitters are different from Italian bitter liqueur or amaro (plural amari). For more, go to Amaro Cocktails.
What are Angostura bitters?
Angostura bitters are the most popular type of cocktail bitters, manufactured by the House of Angostura in Trinidad and Tobago. The small bottle is easy to recognize with its unusually oversized white label (apparently a sizing mishap that the company decided to stick with).
What do Angostura bitters taste like? The flavor is bitter and spicy, with hints of clove and cinnamon. The exact recipe of what is in Angostura bitters is a closely guarded secret, but it’s made with gentian and other herbs and spices.
Angostura bitters were first introduced as a medicinal tonic in 1824 by a surgeon stationed in the town of Angostura, Venezuela. The German surgeon, Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, used local ingredients to make the tonic. In 1875 the production plant moved to Port of Spain, Trinidad, where it remains today.
What are Peychaud’s bitters?
Peychaud’s bitters are cocktail bitters most popularly known for their inclusion in the Sazerac cocktail, the official drink of New Orleans. Peychaud’s bitters were invented in the 1830’s by a apothecary in New Orleans named Antoine Peychaud. The brand is now distributed by the Sazerac Company.
What do Peychaud’s bitters taste like? The flavor is sweeter than Angostura bitters, with hints of anise and mint.
What are orange bitters?
Orange bitters are a type of cocktail bitters made with orange peel, first introduced in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Orange bitters were included in cocktail recipes starting in the 1880’s, like the original Dry Martini.
This type of bitters fell out of favor and was hard to find for many years, but they’ve made a comeback. Regan’s Orange Bitters was introduced in the 1990’s (distributed by the Sazerac Company). In 2007, House of Angostura also introduced an orange bitters product called Angostura Orange. The Bitter Truth and Fee Brothers are other brands of orange bitters, and each has its own subtle differences in flavor.
What do orange bitters taste like? Orange bitters have a distinct citrusy flavor from orange peel, with hints of cardamom, caraway, coriander, anise, and cinnamon.
What else to make with orange bitters? Go to Top Orange Bitters Cocktails.
Other types of bitters
The most popular types of bitters are Angostura bitters, Peychaud’s bitters, and orange bitters. But you can find lots of other flavors! Fee Brothers has a line of bitters that includes flavors like Celery, Grapefruit, Chocolate, Peach, Lemon, Cherry, Rhubarb, Plum, and Mint.
How much is a dash of bitters?
What are bitters dashes in terms of quantity? One dash of bitters is somewhere between ⅛ teaspoon and ¼ teaspoon. Most drinks use 1 to 2 dashes. To add bitters to a drink, tip the bottle right into the drink and give it a good solid shake.
How much alcohol is in bitters?
Most bitters are 35 to 45% ABV (alcohol by volume), so they have a relatively high alcohol content. However, they’re used in such small quantities that the alcohol they add to a drink is nearly negligible.
Adding 2 dashes bitters to a drink is ¼ teaspoon or 0.04 ounces. Multiply that by the alcohol by volume, 0.45, and it’s a miniscule 0.01 ounces alcohol.
Are there any bitters substitutes?
Want to substitute for bitters if you don’t have them? You can use small amounts of herbal bitter liqueurs like Campari, absinthe, or Fernet-Branca to stand in for cocktail bitters in drinks. Go to Best Bitters Substitute for more details.
Best bitters drink recipes
There many classic cocktails that use bitters! Here are some of the most popular cocktails and drinks with bitters:
Here’s the oldest cocktail there is, the Old Fashioned! The classic method from the 1860's uses a sugar cube, bitters, and whiskey for a truly timeless drink.
Ingredients: Whiskey, sugar cube, water, Angostura bitters
The Pegu Club cocktail is a classic 1920’s gin cocktail that’s like none other! It’s boozy and sophisticated, with a citrusy herbal finish.
Ingredients: Gin, Cointreau or triple sec, lime juice, Angostura bitters, orange bitters
Here are the secrets to the best Manhattan, a classic cocktail from the 1870's! This easy drink is made with just three ingredients.
Also try: Black Manhattan or
Ingredients: Rye whiskey, sweet red vermouth, Angostura bitters
The Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans! Cognac, whiskey and absinthe make up this famous drink that tastes like no other.
Ingredients: Cognac, rye whiskey, absinthe, sugar cube, Peychaud’s bitters
The La Louisiane is another New Orleans cocktail! Absinthe, rye whiskey and vermouth make this spirit-forward cocktail a stunner.
Ingredients: Rye whiskey. sweet vermouth, Benedictine, absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters
The Vieux Carre cocktail is a 1930’s classic from New Orleans with two types of bitters! It’s strong and sippable, featuring rye whiskey, Cognac and vermouth.
Ingredients: Rye whiskey, Cognac, sweet red vermouth, Benedictine, Peychaud bitters, Angostura bitters
The Trinidad Sour is one of the most unique cocktails! The amount of bitters sounds like a typo, but it’s a deliciously balanced drink.
Ingredients: Angostura bitters. Orgeat syrup, lemon juice, rye whiskey
Bitters and soda is a bubbly and refreshing low alcohol drink! It tastes like a cocktail, but has only trace amounts of booze.
Ingredients: Club soda, bitters
The Bijou cocktail is an impressive classic cocktail! Its name evokes glittering jewels: gin for diamond, vermouth for ruby and Chartreuse for emerald.
Ingredients: Gin, sweet vermouth, Chartreuse liquor, orange bitters
The Champagne Cocktail is a classic drink that’s festive and elegant, perfect for celebration. The sugar cube makes it sparkle!
Ingredients: Champagne, sugar cube. Angostura bitters, lemon peel
The Singapore sling is a classic cocktail with loads of variations…here’s how to make it the real way! It’s complex, fruity, bubbly and just plain fun.
Ingredients: Gin, cherry liqueur or cherry brandy, Cointreau, lime juice, Benedictine, grenadine, pineapple juice, Angostura bitters
The pisco sour is one of the great classic cocktails! The magic meld of pisco and lime in this Peruvian drink gives it a flavor that’s like none other. It's not a pisco sour without the cocktail bitters garnish!
Also try: Amaretto Sour, Vodka Sour or Tequila Sour
Ingredients: Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup. egg white, Angostura bitters
The Martinez cocktail is a true classic! A cousin to the Martini and Manhattan, it’s sophisticated and classy: perfect for slow sipping.
Ingredients: Gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino liqueur, Angostura bitters
The Rob Roy drink is a essentially a Manhattan made with Scotch whisky! This booze-forward cocktail is a sophisticated way to enjoy a good Scotch.
Ingredients: Scotch whiskey, sweet red vermouth, Angostura or orange bitters
The flavorful Toronto cocktail combines the depth and warmth of whiskey with the intrigue of herbal Fernet-Branca liqueur.
Ingredients: Rye whiskey. Fernet-Branca, Angostura bitters, simple syrup
The Bitter Giuseppe is a modern cocktail that’s essentially a Cynar Manhattan! The popular Italian liqueur adds intriguing bittersweet notes.
Ingredients: Cynar, sweet vermouth, lemon juice, orange bitters
You’ll need ten ingredients to make the Zombie, but it’s worth it! This fun rum cocktail is tropical, fruity…and potent.
Ingredients: White rum, spiced rum, dark rum, lime juice, lemon juice, pineapple juice, passion fruit syrup, orange bitters, grenadine
Old Fashioned & Top Drinks with Bitters
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 0 minutes
- Total Time: 5 minutes
- Yield: 1 drink 1x
Here’s the oldest cocktail there is, the Old Fashioned! The classic method uses a sugar cube, bitters, and bourbon whiskey for a truly timeless drink. For more bitters drinks, scroll up!
- 1 sugar cube (1 teaspoon sugar)
- 4 dashes Angostura bitters
- ½ teaspoon water
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) bourbon whiskey
- Orange peel for garnish
- Cocktail cherry for garnish (optional)
- Place the sugar cube in a lowball glass and add the bitters. Add the water and mash and swirl it with a muddler or wooden spoon until the sugar is mostly dissolved.
- Add the bourbon whiskey and swirl to combine. Add a large ice cube.
- Use a knife to remove a 1″ wide strip of the orange peel. Squeeze the orange peel into the drink to release the oils. Gently run the peel around the edge of the glass, then place it in the glass. If desired, garnish with a cocktail cherry for additional sweetness.
- Category: Drink
- Method: Stirred
- Cuisine: Cocktails
- Diet: Vegan
Keywords: Bitters, What are bitters, Angostura bitters, Peychaud’s bitters, orange bitters
More cocktail guides
Need more liquor guides? We’ve got them! Here’s all you need to know about home bartending:
- Aperol Guide and Campari Guide All you need to know about these Italian liqueurs.
- Baileys Guide All the ins and outs of Irish Cream.
- Chartreuse Guide This pale green liqueur is worth adding to your collection…here’s why.
- Galliano Guide Is this bright yellow liqueur worth buying?
- Grenadine Guide It’s mistaken as cherry, but this bright syrup has a secret.
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- Pernod More about this anise-flavored liqueur