Mixology at Home - Bitters

Most cocktails are sweet or sour. Adding a couple of dashes of bitters gives a drink a more complex flavor.
Updated: May. 11, 2023 at 7:45 AM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Believe it or not, a dash or two can make all the difference in a cocktail.

I have to admit, I don’t use bitters as much as I should, and when I do, I really am not that creative. But I’m learning.

Bitters is a mix of aromatic herbs or fruits, even tree bark. Bitters also has a little alcohol, but the amount varies, and some bitters are alcohol-free.

Historically, bitters can be traced back to ancient Egypt where they used herbs with wine for medicinal purposes. When people began distilling alcohol in the Middle Ages, it was added to the herbs, replacing the wine. But bitters were still just a medicine, a digestive by the time of the Rennaissance.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Americans began mixing distilled spirits, like whiskey, with sugar, water, and some bitters. By the mid-century, bitters were indispensable when it came to making cocktails.

What bitters should a home bartender have? Two come to mind.

Obviously the first is Angostura aromatic bitters, originally used to help sailors combat sea sickness. Angostura orange bitters are also popular, and many times can be used instead of Angostura … like in an old fashioned.

If you want to make a Sazerac cocktail, you really should use Peychaud’s Bitters. After all, it was first concocted in New Orleans, the birthplace of the Sazerac.

I picked up a bottle of habanero bitters for a specific drink but now experiment with it in several drinks we showcased on Mixology at Home, such as the Black Russian.

I’ve also added chocolate bitters. Watch for an upcoming Mixology segment when we smoke an “angel.”

Try just the basic bitters for a while and then, maybe get a sampling kit to experiment with.

How to add bitters

You don’t pour the bitters into a drink. You hold the bottle by the neck, turn it upside down over the glass and quickly shake out a dash or two, maybe three but always to your taste. Do not drizzle it into the drink. You won’t get the right measurement (about an eighth of a teaspoon). It needs to be a “quick dash” or two.