Bitters are alcoholic beverages that are an essential component to many cocktails, with brands dating back to the 18th century. Often comprised to obscure ingredients, some have their roots in medicines, or as alcoholic beverages marketed centuries ago as medicine to evade taxes. Drinks with bitters remain a common home remedy for upset stomachs. Most bars stock the Angostura brand of bitters, but television shows like AMC's Mad Men have renewed interest in complex cocktails, and have spurred new brands of bitters on the market. Each brand of bitters is different, and they may not be a good substitute for one another.
Go to your supermarket. Bitters can contain up to 45 percent alcohol, but many will be freely available in supermarkets because some states do not consider them alcoholic beverages -- the taste is simply too strong. Look for them near the drink mixers.
Go to the liquor store. The leading brands of bitters in the U.S. are Angostura and Peychaud's. Most liquor stores will stock these, and a good liquor store may have a few bottles of some of the newer, small-batch bitters.
Try Internet distributors. In early 2010, a trade dispute between the maker of Angostura bitters and its U.S. distributor caused a shortage that has since ended. A Washington Post article recommended Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters as a substitute, or a bitters aged in a whiskey cask. In the event this isn't available in your local liquor store, several Internet sites, including Amazon, may have some in stock. If you are looking for an obscure or small-batch bitters, several Internet sites make them available -- though you should check your state's laws on accepting alcohol in the mail before ordering.
- Photo Credit antique bottles image by Michael Shake from Fotolia.com