How Bitters Can Elevate Your Cocktail Game

By: Shireen Jamooji

cocktail bitters

Whether you indulge in an occasional nightcap at home or just love the indulgence of a well-crafted artisanal cocktail, bitters often remain an underestimated and underappreciated element in mixology. When perusing a drink menu, we may casually encounter the term alongside Angostura or Japanese bitters without fully considering how a few drops of this elixir can elevate the character of an alcoholic beverage.

To draw parallels with cooking, bitters enhance the flavour of a cocktail much like adding a teaspoon of vanilla enhances cakes or cookies, or incorporating whole spices into a sauce enriches savoury dishes. A few drops of bitters accentuate the complexity and strength of a drink, striking a balance while introducing depth of flavour. Cocktail bitters not only fulfil their role in enhancing spirited beverages but also lend themselves admirably to non-alcoholic drinks.

At its essence, bitters are created by infusing herbs, spices, or botanicals into potent alcoholic mediums or glycerine for a non-alcoholic end product. What sets bitters apart from tinctures is the underlying bitter note in flavour and the ability to be composed of a combination of ingredients. Tinctures, on the other hand, are single-ingredient infusions that may or may not carry a bitter flavouring agent. Despite sharing a similar production process, tinctures distinguish themselves with significant botanical flavours, unlike the concentrated and intense flavour profile of bitters.

cocktail bitters

Five Types Of Bitters To Try

Herbal Bitters

A medley of herbs and botanicals, these bitters can lend deep earthy and aromatic notes to your at-home cocktails. Common ingredients include thyme, rosemary, or chamomile which can create a more complex and herbaceous taste.

Citrus Bitters

With a fresh zesty and refreshing twist they can liven up even the most basic drinks, typically infused with the peels of citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, or grapefruits. They add a bright and lively flavour profile to cocktails.

Spice Bitters

Spices often feature in more innovative cocktails and spice-infused bitters are a shortcut to amping up the dimensions of flavour. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice are commonly used in darker, spirit-forward drinks for more complexity.

Gentian Bitters

Derived from the gentian root a type of flowering plant, these are known for their bittering properties. They contribute a slightly bitter note to contrast with sweeter flavours without overpowering the overall profile, making them a staple in classic cocktail recipes.

Aromatic Bitters

For a bitter that does it all these well-balanced blends of various herbs, spices, and botanicals are versatile and widely used, adding a subtle complexity to a range of cocktails.

A few drops of bitters in an Old-Fashioned cocktail or a Cherry Sour can compensate for the absence of certain ingredients in more ways than one. Contrary to the common perception of bitters imparting a bitter taste to cocktails, they don't always do so. For instance, incorporating grapefruit or orange bitters into a Margarita can enhance the citrus notes, balancing the acidity and imparting a more tropical and fruity taste, rather than an overly sour experience.

For the budding mixologist, having bitters in your bar arsenal is a no-brainer. These versatile additives can change the entire identity of a cocktail and make even the most basic brew feel a little more special.