What are bitters? Here’s a quick guide to cocktail bitters and how to use them in drinks, featuring Angostura, Peychaud’s, and more!

What are bitters? Angostura bitters, Peychaud's bitters

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:

Print
clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
Bitters

Old Fashioned & Top Drinks with Bitters


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

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! 


Ingredients

Scale
  • 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)

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. Add the bourbon whiskey and swirl to combine. Add a large ice cube.
  3. 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

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:

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.

Leave a Comment

Recipe rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.