Industry Learnings

What Are Bitters?

By Cocktail Courier Mixology Team

Apr 12, 2023

Bitters are having a real resurgence. They’re a common ingredient on any bar’s cocktail menu these days, and come in a wide variety of flavors. But what exactly are bitters, and why are there so many different kinds?

Bitters are made up of a neutral spirit combined with one or more aromatic ingredients (such as spices or fruits). Typically, bitters are between 35 - 45% ABV (alcohol by volume), which means they have a fairly high alcohol content.

Because cocktails often feature sweet and sour primary flavors, bitters are added in order to bring out an additional flavor profile, making them the perfect enhancement to many cocktails.

A Brief History of Bitters

While today we associate bitters with upscale cocktails, they actually originated centuries ago as a form of medicine. In fact, bitters can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt, when medicinal herbs were infused in wines. Aromatic bitters, for example, were used to treat stomach aches and other common ailments.

By the 1800s, bitters became a common cocktail ingredient in America. At this time, cocktails were defined as including bitters, spirits, sugar, and water. After a long decline in popularity due in part to Prohibition, recent decades have seen a re-popularizing of bitters as a popular way to create unique twists on classic cocktails.

Common Types of Bitters & Their Uses

  • Angostura: Famously used in the Old Fashioned cocktail, this is the most common type of aromatic bitters. It’s bitter and spicy with a flavor profile featuring cinnamon and cloves.
  • Orange/Citrus: Orange bitters are typically made with Seville oranges and a range of spices. They’re most commonly found in tropical martinis, daiquiris, and spirit-forward whiskey cocktails.
  • Peychaud’s: Originally developed in a pharmacy in New Orleans, this kind of bitters features hints of grapefruit and anise and is most commonly associated with the Sazerac cocktail.

While many cocktails feature these classic options, bitters can be found in a wide range of interesting flavors like lavender, cardamom, and licorice.

In Conclusion

Bitters are a great way to get creative while elevating your cocktail game! You can visit our full cocktail menu to see some examples of how bitters are included in fresh, innovative cocktail recipes.

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