What Are Bitters and Why Do We Put Them in Cocktails?

What Are Bitters and Why Do We Put Them in Cocktails?

If you have any interest in specialty cocktails, you need to know about the key to the perfect one. Whether you enjoy making them or drinking them, there’s one secret ingredient that can either make or break the cocktail. This ingredient can be used in cocktails of all sorts, including ones with whisky, vodka, rum, and tequila. The secret ingredient we are referring to is, of course, bitters.

Bitters have actually been used for thousands of years, although they have evolved over time. In the 1800s, bitters were used by doctors to help relieve stomach pain. In the early 1900s, the concept of bitters was almost destroyed entirely due to the Prohibition era. It wasn’t until recent years when they finally made a comeback in the world of mixology. Thanks to craft cocktail masters, bitters are back and better than ever. 

So what exactly are they? Bitters are liquid ingredients that have different flavors and essences infused into them. As their name suggests, they most frequently have a bitter flavor profile. You can infuse a large variety of ingredients into alcohol, which results in bitters. You can pretty much infuse anything you want, which means there’s a lot of room for creativity. 

The most common ingredients that are infused into alcohol are bark, herbs, fruit peels, and even flowers and roots. Each ingredient creates a different flavor once it’s infused with the alcohol. All bitters taste different, with some meant to add spice, sweetness, or sourness to your cocktail recipes. We put them in cocktails to accentuate and highlight the other flavor notes in the drink. Read on to learn more about bitters and how to use them in cocktails.  

What Are the Different Types of Bitters?

Now that you know what bitters are, you should also know there are actually quite a few varieties of them as well. That’s right – there’s not just one type of bitter that you use in every drink, but rather, a range of different flavors and types of them. Don’t worry, learning about and understanding the flavor profiles of each type isn’t rocket science and you’ll get the hang of it in no time. We have listed the main types of bitters below: 

  • Aromatic: This is the largest category of bitters by far. These bitters are flavored with bark, herbs, and spices, which gives them a very strong (aromatic) aroma. Most traditional cocktail recipes will use these kinds of bitters. You might recognize the name Angostura bitters, which is one of the oldest and most-used brands of aromatic bitters. 
  • Citrus: These bitters are used to give a tart and sweet kick to your cocktail. The most popular type is orange bitters, but there are other citrus flavors as well. You can get lime, grapefruit, and lemon varieties. Citrus bitters are the second most popular type besides aromatic. 
  • Herbal: Herbal bitters can come in a ton of different forms. This is due to the fact that there are so many herbs that can be used. Some popular herbs include thyme, lavender, and basil. 
  • Nut: A newer development in the world of bitters are those that are infused with nut flavorings. Two very popular ones are chocolate and coffee. While these aren’t actually nuts, when they are infused with alcohol, they develop a dark, roasted, and nutty flavor profile. 

What Are Some Cocktail Recipes That Use Bitters?

Interested in what bitters can bring to your cocktails? Then you need to master some recipes that use bitters as the star of the show in the drink. Thankfully, there are plenty of unique and interesting cocktails that use bitters to highlight and accent the other flavors in the drink. Many classic drinks that you know and love use bitters, and you might not have even realized it. In fact, most cocktails you order at a restaurant, lounge, or cocktail bar use bitters in some form. 

One of the good things about bitters is that they are not uncommon, and therefore not difficult to find. You will likely be able to purchase them from any grocery store or liquor store. Once you figure out the basics of adding bitters to drinks, you can really play around with them and have fun with flavors. Here’s an important thing to note: bitters are measured in dashes, which are small drops. You typically wouldn’t put more than ten dashes in a drink, but it does depend on the recipe. 

Bitters help to add complexity and depth to your cocktails. They can highlight other flavors and improve the overall taste. Those are two of the biggest reasons why people use bitters. If you’re not quite ready to play mixologist yet and come up with your own drinks, we’ve got you covered. We put together a list of a few cocktail recipes that use bitters for you to try. 

Dark and Stormy

This is a classic drink that can be found at any bar or restaurant. There are also many different variations of this drink. We think this recipe makes great use of some unique citrus bitters. It definitely packs a punch with its taste. Here’s what you need:

Start by adding ice to a short glass. Then, you will add in the bitters, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and ginger beer. Stir these to combine. To finish it off, slowly pour the rum on top to make a cloudy, “stormy” look.  

Lemon Whisky Sour

This whisky sour is a healthier alternative to the classic version. That’s because it skips out on the sugary sour mix that is typically used. This is a strong cocktail, so sip it slowly. Here’s the ingredient list for a Lemon Whisky Sour: 

Start by whisking the whiskey and egg whites in a shaker. Whisk until the egg white powder dissolves. Then, add the rest of the ingredients and shake well. Strain into a glass with ice, and add a lemon twist for garnish. 

Cherry Manhattan

This recipe is a sweet take on a Manhattan. It’s truly refreshing with a mix of tartness and sweetness from the cherries. It’s sure to be your new favorite, and you might never order a regular Manhattan again after trying this one. You will need these ingredients to make it:

  • Sweet cherries
  • Angostura bitters
  • Bourbon whisky
  • Sweet red vermouth
  • Orange

The first thing you will need to do is muddle the cherries in the bottom of a shaker. Then, add the rest of the ingredients (except for the orange) and shake well. Strain the drink into glasses with ice, and add an orange twist to top it off. 


As you can see, bitters are an essential part of many craft cocktail recipes. They add an enormous amount of flavor and bring a unique taste to any standard drink. They are typically used to add a sour, sweet, or spicy kick to a cocktail. Of course, they also add a bitter flavor, which can be paired with tons of interesting mixers and alcohol flavors to create a one-of-a-kind cocktail. If you want to improve your mixology skills, you need to include bitters in your drinks. 

If you saw a recipe that caught your eye in this article, then why not give it a try on your own? Once you pick a cocktail, you will need to gather your supplies. And luckily for you, Saucey has everything you need, from the alcohol to the simple syrup to the bitters. Head to our website, add everything from your recipe into your cart, and we will deliver it all right to your door. You’re one step closer to being a world-class cocktail maker (or just a master of your home bar, either one). 

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