What Are Bitters? [+ Contest!]

Fee Brothers Bitters

Depending on the circles you run in, bitters could mean several things. ¬†If you watch enough British movies, you’ll run across the phrase “a pint of bitter.” While unfamiliar to us in the colonies, this just refers to a pale ale.

The second bitter you may have heard of would be a digestive bitter, an after-dinner liqueur that tastes more bitter than sweet, which would include Campari (my favorite), Aperol, Fernet Branca, and many more. These tend to be drunk straight, on ice, or mixed in a cocktail. You can buy them in full-size bottles and they’re similar in alcohol content to a port or vermouth.

The bitters that I will mention most on this blog, though, are cocktail bitters. Cocktail bitters add subtle flavoring and aroma to cocktails by adding just a dash or even a drop. These come in small bottles – usually 4-10 ounces – and some have very high alcohol content (like 45%), but as they can’t be drunk straight, you can find them at Target and other retailers, as well as grocery stores. They’re good for cooking as well. Brands of cocktail bitters include Angostura (the most popular), Fee Brothers, Bitter Truth, or Peychaud’s. Angostura is known for it’s oversized label:

The smell of cocktail bitters ranges from medicinal to herbal to fruity, depending on the brand and the flavor. Angostura is available in aromatic and orange versions, Fee Brothers and others make celery, grapefruit, aged whiskey, chocolate, and many other flavors of bitters. A traditional Martini recipe is gin, vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters. Manhattans cannot be made properly without aromatic bitters. The flavor of bitters are subtle, but you will likely notice when they’re not used in a drink.

Get a bottle of bitters. Use it in your cocktails, of course, but try it in soda or mineral water as well. ¬†To get you started, I’ve got a bitters giveaway for two lucky readers. ¬†One will win a bottle of Angostura Orange bitters and one will receive a bottle of¬†Fee Bros. Aromatic bitters. ¬†Here’s how you can win:

  • 1. ¬†You must be a resident of the United States.
  • 2. ¬†Follow @simpledrinks on Twitter.
  • 3. ¬†Click here¬†and¬†“Like” Simple Cocktails on Facebook.
  • 4. ¬†Comment below. ¬†Tell me your favorite cocktail.
  • 5. ¬†Winners will be chosen at random on August 1, 2012. ¬†I’ll contact them shortly after they win to get their shipping address. The contest is now closed.


3 thoughts on “What Are Bitters? [+ Contest!]

  1. Isaac B. Sharp

    Picking a favorite is difficult as it depends on the season/mood. Right now in Atlanta it is maddeningly hot: have to have simple gin & tonic. Though my wife is fonder of margaritas in summer so I’ve had to learn to make them so that we can both enjoy them. She likes sweeter drinks but I can’t palate the margarita “mixes.” I’ve been buying a lot of fresh limes recently needless to say. Since budget doesn’t allow buying a good orange liqueur very often, I’ve been substituting Fee brothers orange bitters with some real success.

    As fall approaches my staple becomes the old fashioned. I’m not a bourbon fan so I normally go with a brandy base (brandy sidecar is another fall favorite) but this past year tried making them with rye for the first time and fell in love.

    Hope all is well, cousin.
    Love reading your posts!

  2. Jesse

    I am a simple man. Give me an Old Fashion and I am happy. But I prefer mine with no fruit. I have gotten used to warm Old Fashions at work when I have to make a batch.(note: I prefer making as we go but I am in a high volume service bar) I like to make fresh simple syrup first. Then batch recipe is 1 bottle bourbon, 8.25 oz simple, 2 teaspoons bitters and 2 cups water. It’s still a little warm from fresh simple and I taste test each batch. Which has peaked my taste for a warm old fashion.

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