What Are Bitters?

A primer on this common yet enigmatic cocktail ingredient

Many of us have heard of them and seen bartenders dash and eye-dropper them potions-master-style into mixing glasses or on the foamy tops of cocktails, but just what are bitters anyway?

Generally put, Bitters are robust tinctures (usually alcoholic), made of herbs, botanicals, and spices. Bitters have been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. 

One of the most common flavoring elements used to make them is Gentian, an herb whose roots impart complex notes into a drink. Gentian’s flavor leans towards the bitter end of bittersweet. 

Two of the most famous Bitters available that utilize Gentian are Angostura & Peychauds.

The broad namesake Bitters, though, belies the complexities of these magical little tinctures. Angostura Bitters, for instance, is well known for its cinnamon, clove, and deep herbal notes while Peychauds leads with distinctly saffron and anise flavors and aromas. A third common member of the family, Orange Bitters, primarily imparts a zesty burnt citrus flavor.

What Are Bitters?

Dash Dash Dash…

Dash Dash Dash

Being potent, a dash or two can go a long way and nearly all bitters are sold with a dasher top that easily allows you to control how much you use. Others come in small bottles fitted with eye-dropper tops for maximum control. As the famous cocktail historian Dale Degroff writes “bitters of any type impart b flavor from little volume,” and nothing has quicker ability to bring a surprising depth of flavor to your cocktail than these firecracker tinctures.

The Magic of Bitters!

As we mentioned, Bitters were historically created for medicinal purposes. Upset stomach, heartburn, loss of appetite? All these ailments could be alleviated with a few dashes of these powerful botanical tinctures. And we think it’s no coincidence that these are all also symptoms of that dreaded morning-after malady: the hangover!

Next time you’re queasy from over indulgence try this Cheeky Quick-cure Tonic:

8 oz seltzer
1-2 oz of Cheeky Honey Ginger Syrup
2-3 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Drink slowly, and if possible avoid mixing with any upsetting ingredients like the news, whiny toddlers, or manual labor 😉

The Magic of Bitters!

The Bitters Market is BIG

Over the past few years we’ve seen both veteran and brand new companies emerging with exciting and unusual offerings. 

The Bitters Market is BIG

A few we’ve loved mixing with:

  • Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Shrub— Called a shrub for the addition of vinegar (shrubs are syrups composed of fruit, sugar, and vinegar originally used to preserve season ingredients). This Habanero based extract adds punchy heat with just a few drops. Excellent in our Tommy’s Margarita for extra OMG, yes! factor.

  • 1821 Hibiscus Bitters—1821 describes these as floral, tart, and surprising and we couldn’t agree more, plus we’re suckers for bright colors and love the magenta hue they give to our Gimlets!

  • Fee Brothers Lime Bitters— We often use these when our palate is saying Cocktail Please! But our to-do list is putting on the breaks. These lime bitters have some of the same botanical goodness and refreshing bite of a classic G+T with lime while keeping everything very low abv. Dash into your seltzer with Cheeky Simple Syrup and Cheeky Lemon Juice for a virgin Tom Collins!

*Cheeky Tip: If you’re just beginning to explore the world of Bitters we recommend adding a dash or two of them to cool water as a great way to become familiar with their, shall we say, je ne se quoi. When adding to a cocktail, less is more and you can always add a few extra dashes later for more oomph!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.