Cocktail bitters have been critical to cocktails from the very beginning. Their existence goes back hundreds of years (albeit current iterations of them are quite different now in both purpose and flavor), originally intended as “miraculous cures” for all types of ailments. They quickly incorporated themselves (thankfully) into the infant stages of cocktail culture.
The goal of bitters then, when used in cocktails, is to elevate. They are many times the deciding factor that makes the good cocktail you sip while making small talk with the person next to you, forgetting what it tasted like by the time it’s over, into a beautifully aromatic cocktail that you refuse to drink any other way again.
At their very basic level, cocktail bitters are a collection of concentrated flavors and aromas, usually packing a punch in alcohol proof, used in varying amounts (most commonly a dash or two) in cocktails.
Simply put: they’re freaking delicious. The problem is there are lot of them; too many perhaps? Although I do recommend you dance around with different flavors and brands until you find the ones that suit your needs best, here’s a basic selection of “favorites”, guaranteed to enhance your craft cocktails:
Angostura. If you only have one bottle of bitters in your arsenal, make it a BIG bottle of Angostura. Aromatic, slightly spicy and with a fantastic flavor profile dating back to way before any of us were old enough to drink, this is the long-running staple of cocktail bitters.
Orange bitters. Citrusy and wildly versatile, they go great with all types of spirits and come in a vast series of brands and styles, Reagan’s being one of the most respected.
Peychaud’s. Lovely red hue with a very medicinal flavor on its own, it is a New Orleans marvel and perfectly suited in Sazeracs or refreshing swizzles.
Random ones. It’s always fun to mix it up with random flavors and aromatics. Bittermens, Bittercube, Fee Bros and Scrappy’s (to name only a small fraction) make wonderful variations to play around with.
Some classic cocktails that use different types of bitters as an integral part are:
- 2 1/2 ounces rye
- 1 sugar cube
- 3 to 4 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
Place the sugar cube in a mixing glass. Dash with the bitters. Muddle the cube to dissolve it. Add the rye and ice. and stir. Rinse a rocks glass with a bit of absinthe; strain the cocktail into the glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.
- 2 1/2 ounces gin
- 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
- 1-2 dashes of orange bitters
Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled martini glass.
- 2 1/2 ounces bourbon
- 1 sugar cube
- 3 to 4 dashes of Angostura bitters
Place the sugar cube in a mixing glass. Dash with the bitters and a tiny bit of water. Muddle the cube to dissolve it. Add the bourbon and ice, and stir. Strain the cocktail into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with an orange peel.
For more recipes using a spectrum of cocktail bitters, visit:deathtosourmix.com
Photos by Raul Zelaya.