The most common drinks people think of that use bitters are an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. If folks are unfamiliar with using bitters it is often assumed that they only work in whiskey based drinks, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
There are a handful of classic cocktails that call for bitters and don’t use whiskey as a base. They tend toward a riff on a martini like an Astoria or Tuxedo or are aperitifs using vermouth and sherry as a base like the Adonis or Bamboo. Not only are all these cocktails extremely tasty, they also really showcase what a few dashes of bitters can do. Each of these cocktails are super simple, only 3 or 4 ingredients, but each has layer upon layer of complex flavor.
But you don’t need to relegate yourself to digging through dusty cocktail tombs to find a way to use bitters with gin, even your favorite cocktails that don’t call for bitters can be elevated by a few dashes. Since the main purpose of adding bitters to a drink is to bring balance to all the flavors, it’s not hard to see they can be a welcome addition to almost any drink. Try adding Grapefruit Bitters to your gin and tonic, or Lime Coriander bitters to a margarita, or Orange Bitters to a daiquiri.
How Do You Choose What Bitters To Use?
If you use a few simple guidelines for choosing a bitters flavor you’ll be a pro in no time.
The simplest of guides to help you get started is to match the color of the spirit with the color of the bitters. Clear, unaged spirits like vodka, gin, and silver tequila go best with the lightest of bitters like Lime Coriander and Grapefruit. Spirits with a little age like a gold rum, repesado tequila, or even an aged gin will benefit from Caradamom or Orange. And those brown spirits that have a lot of age and flavor stand up beautifully to Aromatic, Barrel Aged, and Chicory Bitters.
If that feels too basic my second bit of advice is to think of the flavors. Bitters can work in two ways when it comes to flavor, either to heighten the flavors already in the drink or to add a complimentary flavor that’s not coming from any of the other ingredients. Let’s us a margarita as an example, the main thing going on is lime so if you choose Lime Coriander Bitters you’ll be able to pump up that zesty, fresh lime flavor with just a few dashes. But you could reach for Cardamom Bitters to add a bit of warmth to your margarita because they go super well together but are very different flavors.
Bitters can be used in any drink you’re making whether the recipe calls for it or not. Once you start playing around a bit and seeing how the flavors work, you’ll find yourself reaching for bitters everytime you mix something up.