Bitters are classic, aromatic tinctures that are staples in both professional and at-home bars. They date all the way back to ancient Egypt and can still be found in supermarkets and specialty shops today. Bitters are an alcoholic food product, meaning that while they do contain alcohol, they are not meant for direct consumption. This is why you can find them in stores that do not typically sell alcohol in some states. Bitters act as a flavor additive, applied through small dropper amounts (or sometimes called “dashes” in recipes if the bottle is designed to shake free a dropper amount) in cocktails. These dashes add flavorful undertones which either round out a drink or, in some cases, define it (such as with a Whiskey Sour). Bitters come in many varieties, each adding different notes and flavors to your cocktails, so let’s take a look at some you can add to your at-home bar.
The History Of Bitters
As mentioned earlier, bitters have a very long history, which traces their roots all the way back to ancient Egypt. While a far cry from what we would think of as bitters today, ancient Egyptians would add medicinal herbs to wine as a way to make the herbs more easily consumable. However, what we would consider bitters were created during the renaissance era as medicinal tonics or tinctures. These tinctures combined barks, seeds, roots, and other botanicals with alcohol as a means to cure common ailments like digestion. Over time the elixirs were mixed with soda water and other liquors.
The cocktail as we know it was defined as a combination of bitters, sugar, liquor, and water. The Sazerac, one of the original cocktails, used bitters to “melt” a sugar cube in a mixing glass and then is stirred with iced and rye. The cocktail is strained over a prepared rocks glass has a rinse of absinthe in it. This classic cocktail is best for a winter holiday. We love rolling this out for Fat Tuesday.
1 sugar cube
3 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
2 oz Rye Whiskey
Slice of lemon peel
Rinse a chilled rocks glass with absinthe, discarding any excess, and set aside. In a mixing glass, muddle the sugar cube and both bitters. Add the rye, fill with ice and stir. Strain into the prepared glass. Twist a slice of lemon peel over the surface to extract the oils and then discard.
What Bitters Should You Stock In Your At-Home Bar
Angostura: Likely found in every professional bar around the US, Angostura Bitters are a staple in the industry for a reason. Sharp, bitter, aromatic, reasonably priced, and with a wide selection, these bitters should be every at-home bar’s first addition.
Peychauds: The classic bitters from New Orleans, these were origianlly made by a Creole pharmacist, Antoine Peychaud, and were eventually distributed by the American Sazerac Company. These bitters are still being made by Buffalo Trace in Kentucky. We love these bitters for their bright red color, and the gentian root and mint combination that makes them wonderful as a bitters and soda addition.
Copper Kings: Copper Kings make a wide assortment of products, such as Gins, Brandy, cocktail cherries, and of course, bitters. Their bitters have a smokey and deep flavor which is slightly richer than their contemporaries.
The Bitter Truth: The Bitter Truth has by far the most extensive assortment of high-quality bitters to choose from; separated into three distinct categories, aromatic, fruity, and savory, they boast 12 different flavors in total. Reasonably priced, their more unique flavors offer the ability to experiment with different kinds of cocktail flavors you wouldn’t be able to find at a professional bar; we recommend their chocolate bitters.
Bittercube: Our Milwaukee friends at Bittercube have a killer set of bitters, but our favorite is the Mole bitters. Try this drink with Bittercube bitters and Top Note Grapefruit Soda for a spirit-free (well alomost) version of a smokey cocktail.
Non-Alc Smokey Bitters and Grapefruit
Express lemon peel and drop into a rocks glass. Add 2 droppers of mole bitters on top of peel. Add ice, and top with Top Note Club and Grapefruit Sodas.
Bitters can be a crucial element to any at-home bar, their ability to add a depth of flavor to almost any cocktail is invaluable. Along the same lines, having high-quality mixers, like club soda or tonic water, is equally important. If you want to view our selection of artisan mixers, you can check out our products here.