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What Are Bitters and Why Are They in Cocktails?

A bottle of bitters sit on a countertop.
Alexander Prokopenko/Shutterstock.com

Ever wondered why the drinks you buy out taste so delicious and complex, but when you make them at home, something is… missing? It could be a cocktail’s inclusion of bitters. But what are bitters? What do they add to a cocktail?

Bitters in cocktails are created from botanicals such as fruits, bark, roots, and aromatic herbs. They add flavor, depth, and oomph to your favorite cocktails.

There are many unique types of bitters that pair best with different types of drinks. No matter your drink of choice, there is likely a type of bitter to enhance it.

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There are several different kinds of bitters including aromatic, herbal, nut, and digestive. Aromatics are some of the most common and orange is a popular flavor for them. Herbal bitters are exactly what they sound like and feature flavors like mint and lemon balm. Some of the rarer options are coffee and chocolate-based nut bitters. Basically, if you’re looking to bolster a flavor, there’s likely a bitter for it.

Bitters were once popular cocktail ingredients, but during Prohibition—when alcohol was outlawed—they declined in popularity. Now, though, there’s a bit of a resurgence thanks to a renewed interest in cocktail making, and of course, classic recipes like Old Fashioneds have always called for bitters.

If you want to try mixing up some drinks at home, you might want to pick up some bitters (and these bar accessories to jazz up your cart).

Abbey Ryan Abbey Ryan
Abbey Ryan is a storyteller, preferably of stories in written form. Across the 5 years of her professional writing career, her work has been featured in The Chicago Tribune, Amazon, The Medical News Today, and more. When she's not writing (which is rare), she's likely traveling, painting, or on the hunt for a good snack. Read Full Bio »
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