Bitters Substitutes

Bitters are a crucial ingredient in many classic cocktails, but they can be difficult to find in a pinch.

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bartender is making cocktail at bar counter, adding some bitter in the shaker

Fortunately, there are several bitters substitutes that can be used to add depth and complexity to your drinks. While no substitute can perfectly replicate the flavor of bitters, there are several options that come close.

One of the best bitters substitutes is Campari, a popular Italian bitter liqueur. Campari is bright red and intensely bitter, with a lightly sweet finish. It’s commonly used in the Negroni cocktail, but it also works well in an Old Fashioned or other whiskey-based drinks. Another option is using citrus peels, which can add a bright and tangy profile to your cocktails. Citrus peels work well with spirits like tequila, vodka, and rum.

Ultimately, the best bitters substitute will depend on the specific cocktail you’re making and your personal preferences. It’s worth experimenting with different substitutes to find the perfect flavor profile for your drink. With a little bit of creativity and experimentation, you can create delicious cocktails even if you don’t have bitters on hand.

Key Takeaways

  • Bitters are an essential component of many classic cocktails, but there are several substitutes that can be used in a pinch.
  • Campari and citrus peels are two popular bitters substitutes that can add depth and complexity to your drinks.
  • Experimentation is key when it comes to finding the perfect bitters substitute for your cocktail.

Understanding Bitters

History and Significance

Bitters are an essential ingredient in many cocktails, adding depth, complexity, and balance to the drink.

how bitters are made

They are essentially a concentrated blend of herbs, spices, roots, and barks, infused in alcohol. The use of bitters dates back to ancient times when they were used for medicinal purposes. The first recorded use of bitters in cocktails was in the early 1800s.

Angostura bitters, one of the most popular brands of cocktail bitters, was first created in the mid-1800s by a German doctor named Johann Siegert. He developed the recipe as a treatment for stomach ailments of soldiers in the Venezuelan army. The recipe was later sold to a Trinidadian businessman who began producing and marketing it under the name “Angostura Bitters.”

Aromatic bitters are another popular type of bitters, which are made with a blend of botanicals, including cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. They are often used in classic cocktails like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned.

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Bitters are known for their bitter note, which is a flavor that is not sweet, sour, or salty. It is a distinct taste that is often described as sharp, pungent, or harsh. Despite their name, bitters are not always bitter. Some bitters have a bittersweet flavor, which is a combination of bitter and sweet notes.

Bitters are used in cocktails to balance out the sweetness of other ingredients, add complexity to the flavor profile, and enhance the overall drinking experience. They are typically added in small quantities, usually just a few dashes, to impart their unique flavor to the drink.

Types of Bitters

Bitters are a crucial ingredient in many cocktails, adding depth, complexity, and balance to drinks. There are various types of bitters available, each with its unique flavor profile. In this section, we will explore some of the most popular bitters and their characteristics.

Angostura Bitters

Angostura bitters are the most well-known and widely used bitters in the world. It is a versatile bitters that can be used in a wide variety of cocktails, including the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Martini.

Bottle of Angostura Orange Bitters in a Glass

Angostura bitters have a complex flavor profile that includes notes of cinnamon, clove, and allspice. It also has a slightly bitter taste that helps balance out the sweetness in cocktails.

Orange Bitters

Orange bitters are a type of bitters that are made from the peels of Seville oranges. They have a bright, citrusy flavor that pairs well with gin and other light spirits. Orange bitters are commonly used in classic cocktails like the Martini and the Manhattan. They add a subtle sweetness and a refreshing aroma to drinks.

Peychaud’s Bitters

Peychaud’s bitters are a New Orleans classic. They were created by Antoine Peychaud in the 19th century and are still produced today. Peychaud’s bitters have a light, floral flavor with notes of anise and cherry. They are commonly used in the Sazerac cocktail, a New Orleans classic.

Fee Brothers Bitters

Fee Brothers is a family-owned company that has been producing bitters for over 150 years. They offer a wide range of bitters, including classic flavors like Old Fashioned and Peach, as well as more unique flavors like Rhubarb and Black Walnut. Fee Brothers bitters are known for their high quality and versatility.

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bottles of Fee Brothers bitters at shop

Bittercube Aromatic Bitters

Bittercube Aromatic bitters are made from a blend of 15 different botanicals, including cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. They have a warm, spicy flavor that pairs well with dark spirits like whiskey and rum. Bittercube Aromatic bitters are also great in non-alcoholic drinks, adding depth and complexity to mocktails and sodas.

Bitters Substitutes

When it comes to cocktails, bitters are an essential ingredient that adds depth and complexity to the drink.

However, sometimes you may not have bitters on hand, or you may be looking for a non-alcoholic alternative. In this section, we will explore some of the best substitutes for bitters.

Non-Alcoholic Substitutes

If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic substitute for bitters, there are a few options to consider:

  • Aromatic spices: Many of the flavors found in bitters, such as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, can be found in aromatic spices. Try adding a pinch of one or more of these spices to your cocktail to mimic the flavor of bitters.
  • Citrus zest: Citrus zest, such as lemon or orange, can add a bright, bitter flavor to cocktails. Simply peel a small strip of the zest and muddle it in the cocktail to release the oils.
  • Tea: Certain teas, such as Earl Grey or chai, can add a bitter, spicy flavor to cocktails. Brew a strong cup of tea and use it as a substitute for bitters.

Alcoholic Substitutes

If you’re looking for an alcoholic substitute for bitters, there are a few options to consider:

  • Campari: Campari is a popular Italian bitter liqueur that can be used as a substitute for bitters. It has a similar bitter flavor and is often used in cocktails such as the Negroni.
  • Peychaud’s bitters: Peychaud’s bitters is a brand of bitters that has a unique flavor profile. It can be used as a substitute for other types of bitters.
  • Quickly-infused bitter: If you have a few minutes to spare, you can make a quickly-infused bitter by grinding whole spices with a mortar and pestle and letting the spices sit in one to two tablespoons of vodka or rum for five minutes. This can give you a quick substitute for bitters.
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Creating Your Own Bitters

Making your own bitters is a great way to customize the flavor profile of your cocktails and experiment with different herbs and spices. Here are some tips for creating your own bitters.


Choosing Botanicals

The first step in creating your own bitters is to choose the botanicals you want to use. Botanicals are the herbs, spices, and other all-natural ingredients that give bitters their unique flavor profile. Some popular botanicals for bitters include:

  • Angelica root
  • Cardamom pods
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Coriander seeds
  • Gentian root
  • Orange peel
  • Wormwood

You can use a single botanical or a combination of several botanicals to create a unique flavor profile. When choosing botanicals, it’s important to consider the flavor profile you want to achieve and the potency of each botanical.

Infusion Process

Once you’ve chosen your botanicals, it’s time to start the infusion process. The most common method for making bitters is to infuse the botanicals in high-proof alcohol. Here’s a basic recipe for making your own bitters:

  1. In a glass jar, combine your chosen botanicals with high-proof alcohol. The ratio of botanicals to alcohol will depend on the potency of the botanicals and the flavor profile you want to achieve. A good starting point is to use 1-2 teaspoons of botanicals per 4 ounces of alcohol.
  2. Seal the jar and let it sit in a cool, dark place for several weeks. The length of time will depend on the potency of the botanicals and the flavor profile you want to achieve. A good starting point is to let the mixture infuse for 2-4 weeks, shaking the jar once a day to swirl the ingredients.
  3. After the infusion is complete, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or coffee filter to remove any solids. You can add sweeteners or other flavorings at this point if desired.

Another method for making bitters is the art of flash infusion. This method involves using a whipped cream dispenser to infuse the botanicals in the alcohol in a matter of seconds. This method is quick and easy, but it may not produce as complex a flavor profile as the traditional infusion method.

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Paul Kushner

Written by Paul Kushner

Founder and CEO of MyBartender. Graduated from Penn State University. He always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. His restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time he turned 17 he was serving tables, and by 19 he was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, Paul opened his first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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