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Bitters and syrups are cocktail staples that add complexity and balance to drinks. Used for centuries by bartenders, cocktail enthusiasts, and home mixologists alike, bitters and syrups can be made from a variety of things such as citrus peel, herbs, or spices.
For this blog post, we will cover the basics of cocktail bitters and syrups so you can get started with your own cocktail creations!
What Are Cocktail Bitters?
Bitters were originally used as health tonics. They quickly found a home in mixed drinks, where they are utilized as concentrated flavor enhancers that provide a pleasant zing to the mix, even though they’re only used in very small quantities. Herbs, fruits, spices, and roots are some of the ingredients commonly included in secret formulas.
Bitters can be made from a variety of ingredients, but the most common are quinine and gentian root.
Quinine has an alcohol content ranging from 20% to 50%. Because they’re used in such tiny amounts, bitters seldom have an impact on a drink’s alcoholic strength.
It’s critical to distinguish cocktail bitters from bitter herbal spirits, which are typically served as aperitifs and digestifs.
Aperol, Campari, Cynar, and Fernet Branca are examples of beverages that have a prominent bitterness taste. In the Italian language, Amari is similar to bitters. They’re typically known as “a bitter” or an “amaro,” and they come in full-sized bottles. They may be consumed alone or used to flavor mixed drinks in shot-sized doses.
Cocktail bitters (or simply “bitters,” less often) are concentrated potions that come in tiny bottles and only a few dashes are necessary for each drink.
While there are other choices nowadays, this bottle should still be included in any bar and useful for everything from a metropolitan to a pink gin.
In 1824, a German doctor named Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert began producing Angostura, a secret combination of tropical herbs and plants. The company is now based in Trinidad, and the recipe is still closely guarded.
The brand’s distinctive and cartoonishly large label has also become a trademark (as well as other bitters). It’s said that the correct size was requested, but no one noticed because everyone thought someone else would take care of it. No one corrected it, so the label stayed.
In 2008, Angostura debuted its orange bitters. This bottle has the same distinctive label as its fragrant counterpart, making it easy to spot on the shelf. Clear bitters have a citrus flavor and work well in drinks like the Orange Martini or any other combination that requires a little acidic, bitter citrus touch.
Antoine Peychaud was an apothecary in New Orleans in the 1830s, and he began his mixing career after hours at his pharmacy. Peychaud combined his secret bitters recipe with brandy and absinthe to create the first Sazerac, a cocktail that has defined and influenced subsequent cocktails.
The taste of Peychaud’s Aromatic Cocktail Bitters is somewhat different from other aromatic bitters; it has a stronger anise flavor, similar to absinthe, rather than a spiced herbal combination.
Although this type of bitters is frequently used in cocktail recipes, it’s still beneficial to use Peychaud’s sparingly than you would Angostura.
Fee Brothers Bitters
Since the 1950s, Fee Brothers has specialized in making bitters in Rochester, New York. A butcher’s shop began for the family in 1847 and evolved into a winery and import business.
The balsamic vinegar and dry vermouth were introduced later, with the former growing in popularity among the most diversified bitters. They also produce other high-quality cocktail mixers, such as olive brine for dirty martinis, today.
The taste and usefulness of Old-Fashioned Aromatic Bitters, which is made by the same company as Angostura, compares favorably to that of Angostura’s. Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters can be used in place of aromatic bitters in modern mixed drinks such as the rustic Manhattan.
Fee Brothers is more fascinating to explore in the more unusual tastes. The choice includes black walnut, celery, grapefruit, mint, peach, and plum, all of which add an interesting twist to a variety of drinks. Spring-worthy rhubarb collins includes the rhubarb bitters; be sure to try them with the recipe.
Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6
Regans’ Orange Bitter No. 6 is a bright star in the world of mixed drinks. It was designed by experts and authors Gary and Mardee Regan to improve on an already excellent orange bitter.
The pair devised their own in the 1990s, which resulted in versatile bitters made with orange peel, cardamom, caraway, coriander, and other herbs. It’s a great match for any cocktail that requires or could benefit from orange bitters, including classics like sophisticated whiskey and modern inventions like the fall spice cordial.
How much is a dash of bitters?
What is the ratio of bitters dashes to teaspoons? The quantity of a dash of bitters ranges from ⅛ teaspoon to ¼ teaspoon. Most drinks require 1-2 dashes. Tip the bottle straight into the drink and give it a good shake to add bitters.
How much alcohol is in bitters?
Bitters, as a class, have a relatively high alcohol content of 35 to 45 percent ABV (alcohol by volume), thus they are very potent. They’re used in such little amounts, though, that the alcohol they add to a cocktail is virtually inconsequential.
The amount of dashes added to a cocktail is 0.04 ounces, which is roughly the same as half a teaspoon. Multiply that by the alcohol concentration, 0.45, and you’ve got less than 0.01 ounces of pure ethanol in every drink!
What are cocktail syrups?
One of those unique components that may totally change a drink is homemade, customized cocktail syrups. You can quickly create it and enjoy it at home, whether it’s basic simple syrup, demerara syrup, a fantastic seasonal flavor combination such as lavender strawberry, or a classic like grenadine!
Don’t be scared off by complicated recipes that require a lot of preparation and cooking time. Many cocktail syrups don’t even need to be heated, and whipping them up is quick and enjoyable.
Simple (sugar) syrup
Simple syrup is one of the most common syrups you’ll see in cocktail recipes and is made with water and sugar. There are lots of complex recipes for it but the simplest way to make it is:
- Measure equal parts of water and white sugar.
- Add to a mason jar.
- Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- Store in the refrigerator.
Demerara sugar is a less refined brown sugar with a mild molasses flavor that’s less processed than ordinary brown sugar. Its flavor complements well with brown spirits like aged rums or whiskies, and it’s ideal in mixed drinks.
Honey syrup is a thick liquid made by combining honey with an equal amount of water. You may use it to add sweetness without the added carbohydrates and sugar that would normally come from honey. If you’ve ever tried to put straight honey into an ice-cold beverage, you know how difficult it can be to dissolve.
Agave syrup is a commercially manufactured product derived from a variety of agave species. There’s no need to DIY anything here; agave syrup may be found at any supermarket and is usually quite inexpensive.
I like to experiment with flavor combinations using fresh (and, in some cases, frozen) fruit I have on hand. Apple, pear, melon, dragonfruit, peaches, pineapple, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry. Physalis berry is an exception; you can use any other kind of fruit instead.
Herbal syrups are one of the most interesting cocktail ingredients (in my opinion), and they’re no more difficult to make than fruit syrups. In reality, they’re probably a little less time-consuming.
Stocking up on those bitters and syrups
In short, cocktail bitters and syrups are important ingredients in cocktails. They add flavor and complexity to drinks and can be made at home with easily accessible ingredients. Start with the ones you need for the drinks you make the most often then experiment from there!
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