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What are Bitters for Cocktails?

What are Cocktail Bitters?

Bitters are an indispensable component in the art of cocktail making. At Pascale's Liquors, located at 7401 Oswego Road in Liverpool, NY, you will find an extensive collection of the finest cocktail bitters, essential for both classic and innovative concoctions.

Using bitters in cocktails is like adding a dash of exotic spices to a gourmet meal; it enhances flavors, adds depth, and can transform a simple drink into a complex masterpiece. Bitters are essentially a concentration of select botanicals—like herbs, barks, roots, and fruits—infused in alcohol. Their primary role is not just to add bitterness but to harmonize the various components of a cocktail so that no component dominates the other ingredients in the drink. 

The History of Bitters

The origin of bitters can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, who were perhaps the first to infuse medicinal herbs in jars of wine. This practice was refined through the ages, notably by the Romans and later in the Middle Ages, when the distillation of alcohol allowed for more potent medicinal tinctures. However, it wasn't until the 19th century that bitters found their place in the world of cocktails. Originally used as a digestive aid, bartenders began incorporating bitters into alcoholic beverages to enhance their flavor. The iconic Angostura Bitters, for example, created in 1824 by Dr. Johann Siegert, remains a staple in bars worldwide.

Best Cocktail Bitters

Bitters are broadly categorized into two types: aromatic and non-aromatic. Aromatic bitters, such as Angostura and Peychaud's, are known for their complex flavors with floral, spice, and herb notes. Non-aromatic bitters, on the other hand, focus on a single flavor, like The Bitter Truth's orange bitters. However, the modern market is brimming with an array of bitters, each offering unique profiles that can elevate a cocktail from good to unforgettable.

The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters

Dominant aromas of bitter orange peel lead, complemented by the spicy notes of cardamom, caraway, and nutmeg.

Peychaud's Aromatic Cocktail Bitters

With aromas of licorice, saffron, citrus, peel, and caramel, this classic bitter is lighter, fruitier, and less astringent. 

How to Use Cocktail Bitters

At its core, bitters serve three main purposes in cocktails: balance, complexity, and aroma. By adding some astringency, bitters counteract the sweetness of the mixers and the harshness of the alcohol, creating a balanced drink that is neither too sweet nor too potent. They introduce an array of subtle flavors and aromas that can complement the primary ingredients, adding layers of complexity to every sip. 

Cocktail Bitters in Modern Mixology

The resurgence of cocktail culture in the 21st century has brought with it a renewed interest in bitters. Mixologists around the globe have been experimenting with homemade bitters, infusing them with everything from exotic fruits to bacon. This innovation extends to the cocktails themselves, with classics being reimagined and new creations being developed with bitters at their heart. The use of bitters now goes beyond traditional cocktails; they are being used in non-alcoholic beverages, cooking, and even as a therapeutic aid.

Bourbon Bitters Cocktails: Are They Good?


Heublein 1792 Manhattan

A ready to drink cocktail with the perfect combination of bitters, bourbon, and vermouth. 35% ABV

Heublein 1792 Old Fashioned

Made using the classic Old Fashioned recipe with just the right amount of sweetness and bitter complexity. 35% ABV
Yes, bourbon and bitters work very well together in cocktails! Bitters add a complex layer of flavor, enhancing the depth and character of bourbon without overpowering its natural flavors. Here are a few classic and popular bourbon cocktails that utilize bitters:

Old Fashioned: This timeless cocktail showcases the smoothness of bourbon with a touch of sweetness and the complexity of bitters. It's typically made with bourbon, sugar (or simple syrup), and Angostura bitters and garnished with an orange peel or cherry.

Manhattan: Another classic cocktail that combines bourbon with sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters, often garnished with a cherry. This drink highlights the spicy notes of bourbon balanced by the sweetness of vermouth.

Boulevardier: Similar to a Negroni but with bourbon replacing gin, this cocktail blends bourbon with sweet vermouth and Campari, offering a bitter, sweet, and spicy flavor profile.

Whiskey Sour: While not always made with bitters, a dash can add an extra dimension to the mix of bourbon, lemon juice, and sugar. A variant, the New York Sour, adds a float of red wine on top, which works surprisingly well with the complexity added by bitters.

Sazerac: A New Orleans classic that combines rye whiskey or bourbon with absinthe, a sugar cube, and Peychaud's bitters. It's known for its complex flavor profile that's both spicy and aromatic.

When using bitters in bourbon cocktails, it's all about balance. Start with a few dashes of bitters and adjust to taste. The goal is to complement the bourbon's natural flavors without overshadowing them. Bitters are potent, so a little goes a long way in adding depth and complexity to your cocktail.

Upgrade Your Home Bar with Bitters!

Using bitters adds a dash of history, flavor – and in some cases – innovation, turning simple beverages into sophisticated cocktails. For those looking to delve deeper into the world of bitters and bourbon cocktails, Pascale’s Liquors at 7401 Oswego Road in Liverpool, NY, offers a curated selection. Visit www.pascalesliquor.com or call (315) 701-0781 for more information.