“What are bitters?” It's a frequently asked question and ultimately gets at the heart of what we do. Of course we make bitters, but we also educate folks on why they should try bitters.
So, what are bitters?
Inside that bottle of bitters bottle on your home bar, there is a liquor that’s highly concentrated with herbs and other plant elements but it’s not a liquor for consuming outright. Bartenders often refer to bitters as the salt and pepper of a cocktail because bitters act as an enhancement rather than the backbone of a cocktail. The bitters we make at The Bitter Housewife and bitters that are used in this way are referred to as cocktail, or tincture bitters, and are typically used in small doses: a few drops or dashes per drink. About a teaspoon. If in the back of your mind you're thinking about other bitter liquors like Fernet Branca or Campari, you’re not off in your thinking. These products are referred to as “digestive bitters” and are traditionally served at the beginning or end of a meal, consumed neat, over ice, or mixed in a cocktail like a Negroni, but in all of these instances, you would use an ounce or more.
Origin of Bitters
Since bitters are generally synonymous with cocktails, it’s important to note when bitters were first used in cocktails. According to Smithsonian magazine, Farmer’s Cabinet, an agriculture periodical published in Philadelphia made an early description of what we know to be a cocktail in 1806 that called for four ingredients: “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” That my friends is an Old Fashioned.
But, bitters didn't first appear in the early 1800s. Many, if not, all sources point all the way back to ancient Egyptian times where wine was infused with herbs. Fast forward to the middle ages where bitters, along with distilled alcohol became staples in pharmacology and medicine.
Fun fact, in Oregon bitters are still classified as patent medicine.
Alcohol Content of Bitters
Most cocktail bitters, ours included, have an alcohol base. They are generally bottled at 35–45% alcohol. Since most bitters are used by dashes or in drops, the amount of alcohol is minuscular, making the ABV difficult to trace. That’s why they’re often marketed as non-alcoholic, although they are made from alcohol.
The bitters you may be most familiar with are Angostura or Peychaud’s. These are considered aromatic bitters and pair best with darker spirits like whiskey. The Bitter Housewife Aromatic Bitters fit into this category as well and was made specifically to go in an Old Fashioned, although it can be used in many other cocktails. Because bitters can be made up of any botanical combination, there are many options available that differ significantly in flavor than aromatic bitters and can be used with all different spirits. As you explore the world of bitters, look for other options like orange bitters, or grapefruit bitters. Keep exploring and you may find black walnut, chocolate, spiced cherry, lemon, peach, and more. The flavor you choose depends on what you plan to mix it with. At The Bitter Housewife, we combine botanicals and bitter ingredients to create flavor profiles such as Lime Coriander, Cardamom, Orange, Barrel Aged Bitters, Grapefruit, and of course, our signature Aromatic Bitters.
How to Use Bitters
Bitters don’t need to be mixed in a complicated cocktail. Something as simple as a gin and tonic will benefit from a few dashes of orange bitters or grapefruit bitters. Many people even mix aromatic bitters and soda as a refreshing alternative to a cocktail with almost no alcohol.
How else can you use bitters? You can cook with bitters. Cocktail bitters can be added to pies, cookies, cakes, marinades, salad dressings, and so much more.
For some great recipes for cocktails and mocktails, check out the recipes section on our website.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Old Fashioned Bitter Housewife
- 1.5 oz bourbon
- 4-6 dashes The Bitter Housewife Aromatic Bitters
- 1 tsp 2:1 simple syrup
- orange wedge
- brandied cherry
- a generous splash of soda water
Muddle the orange, cherry, bitters, and syrup in an old-fashioned glass. Pour in bourbon, add ice, stir to chill and top with soda.
Lime Coriander Margarita
- 1.5 oz tequila
- 0.5 oz Triple Sec
- 0.5 Freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 spoon agave syrup
- 1/2 pinch salt
- 4-5 dashes The Bitter Housewife Lime Coriander Bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into ice-filled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with salt rim (optional) & lime wedge.
The Classic Champagne Cocktail
- sugar cube
3-4 dashes The Bitter Housewife Aromatic Bitters
- 4 oz Champagne
Place a sugar cube into a champagne flute, soak with bitters, fill the glass with Champagne.
Use any flavor of bitters in place of Aromatic. Orange and Cardamom are particularly tasty.
In most states across the country, bitters can be purchased at the grocery store and at liquor stores. Specialty shops across the country sell our bitters, you can find one near you. Bitters can also be purchased online because they are considered an ingredient, not a stand-alone drink, and can be shipped right to your door. Check out our online store to place an order today.