Given the name it’s easy to assume that Cocktail Bitters are really bitter. And compared to most things people eat and drink they are pretty bitter, but you also might be surprised at how tolerable they are, especially if you already consume bitter things.
It’s actually quite hard to say how bitter cocktail bitters really are because the perception of bitter is relative to what you’re used to eating and drinking. Someone who doesn’t eat a lot of sugary things, drinks black coffee and/or tea, and eats a lot of leafy greens probably won’t think bitters are that bitter. However, if you’re someone who drinks soda every day (diet or otherwise), puts cream and sugar in your coffee, and doesn’t eat a lot of bitter foods you will probably find bitters unpleasant to taste on their own.
But I don’t want to scare you off bitters if you fall into the latter camp. A few dashes, even as many as 8 or 10, won’t make your drink bitter. It will balance out the sweetness to make it taste less sweet, but it will not taste bitter. Read more about how bitters work in a cocktail here. The purpose of bitters is not to make your drink bitter, they are to bring balance and complexity to your cocktail.
How bitter cocktail bitters are also depends on whose making them. Some brands will definitely taste more bitter than others, this may be because they don’t have any sugar in them, they might also be crafted to simply be more bitter. When it comes to taste, everyone has their own opinion.
At The Bitter Housewife, I craft our bitters to be extremely balanced. Not only do I use a bit of sugar to help round out the bitterness, I also choose a few ingredients that have a natural sweetness and use a variety bitter ingredients to give you a very rounded taste experience. Another way to think about it as if tasting something were a line. If you taste something that is not balanced you’ll get spikes of sweet or sour or bitter. If it’s balanced the line will have just a subtle wave as you experience the different layers of taste.
All this means that The Bitter Housewife bitters blend easily into your drinks and it’s also very hard to ruin a drink with our bitters. Two or three dashes will make a subtle difference, 4-6 dashes is about right for most folks, but even 8-10 won’t turn your drink into something unpalatable.
I hope this gives you the confidence to dash away and find the amount of bitters that work for you. Also remember that you might like 3 dashes in one drink and 6 in another, it all depends what you’re adding them to and the desired end result.