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Bitters Recipe | Top 8 Basic Bitters Recipes to Try

By
Brad Johnson
Table of Contents

When first hearing the word “bitters,” you may wonder what are bitters, and why anyone would want to use them in drinks. After all, alcoholic drinks are already bitter--who wants to drink something even sourer? 

While bitters are botanicals, herbs, and roots infused in alcohol, they add surprisingly rich flavor elements to beverages. Many bitters recipes make use of lemon and orange zest, too. This creates a citrusy sweetness in drinks, especially summer cocktails.

If you haven’t learned how to make bitters before, it helps to start with general-purpose recipes. Keep reading for our top eight bitters recipes, as well as recommendations on steps and variations.

Angostura Bitters Recipes

Angostura bitters is one of the oldest bitters recipes still used today. They were created by German doctor Johann Siegert in 19th century Venezuela. Its dark, savory, and strongly bitter taste has made it an excellent addition to popular cocktails ever since.

Below we have simple and advanced Angostura recipes, depending on your needs and interests: 

Simple Angostura Recipe

  • 1 teaspoon gentian root
  • 1/4 cup cinchona bark, chopped
  • 400 ml or 13.5 oz of Everclear (or grain liquor)

Place all ingredients together in an infusion jar and seal tightly. Shake the jar once daily, and let sit for three to six days. Test the concentration by smelling it every day, and filter the solids out with a strainer when the scent is just right. Put your completed bitters in a dropper bottle and store in a dry, cool location (not your wine storage cabinets, of course). 

Advanced Angostura Recipe

  • 1 teaspoon gentian root
  • 1/4 cup cinchona bark, chopped
  • 1/2 cup whole cloves
  • 1/4 cup whole cardamom
  • 6 to 8 sticks of cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons whole allspice berries
  • 400 ml or 13.5 oz of Everclear (or grain liquor)
  • 2 to 4 cups of water for dilution

Place the gentian and cinchona in one jar and all spices in another. Divide the Everclear evenly between the jars. Seal and shake the jars, and test the scent every day or so. Allow the ingredients to infuse for about four to six days, checking for a balanced scent.

Filter the solids out when done and store bitters in a fresh dropper bottle. Use the water to dilute your bitters if it comes out overpowering. 

Whether you use the simple or advanced recipe, be sure to test it in multiple drinks. You can try it in Manhattans, old fashioneds, Aperol spritzes, and martinis--some of the drinks every bartender should know.

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Orange Bitters Recipe

Aside from Angostura bitters, orange bitters are one of the most widely used. The piquant, citrusy, and intricate flavors afforded by this much-loved bitters style makes it great for popular cocktail recipes.

Here’s an orange bitters recipe that works with almost any drink: 

  • 1 cup Everclear or other 100 proof grain liquor
  • Zest of 3 to 4 oranges
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon gentian root
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seed

Split the Everclear into two different infusion jars. Place the orange zest into one, and the spices and root into the other. Keep the orange bottled for two to three days and the other ingredients bottled for four to six. Check the scent strength every day or so, then filter ingredients out when they’re ready. Combine both liquids in one dropper bottle to complete your orange bitters. 

Aromatic Bitters Recipe

As the name implies, aromatic bitters are pleasant to smell in addition to enhancing the flavor of a beverage. These bitters rely on keeping fresh ingredients in stock, which should be included in your bar manager job description

Most aromatic bitters involve orange zest, which has a chemical compound called limonene. This is the familiar citrus smell you notice when an orange is cut open. 

Here is an easy-to-use aromatic bitters recipe:

  • Zest of 1 medium orange
  • 750ml of Everclear or high proof grain liquor
  • 35-40 drops gentian root extract
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick (3 to 4 in)
  • 1 1/2 in piece fresh ginger, cut in large pieces
  • 4 whole allspice berries
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cup water to dilute (optional) 

Locate a medium to large infusion or tincture jar. Put the heaviest dry ingredients in first and softer ones on top (e.g. allspice, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon first, with peppercorns and orange zest later). Pour in the Everclear and add the gentian root extract.

Allow ingredients to infuse for four to six days, and shake the jar at least once per day. Check the ingredients’ scent daily to ensure they’re infusing well. When the tincture smells strong, filter out the solids with a mesh strainer. Test a couple drops of your bitters in a drink or with some water. Dilute your bitters with the water if it’s a little too strong. 

Chocolate Bitters Recipe

Chocolate bitters can take the right kind of beverage from ordinary to remarkable. If you manufacture your own beverages and reach customers by selling alcohol online, this is a bitters recipe you need to perfect.

In addition to the cacao and tree bark that gives this bitter its name, this recipe comes with other sweet and potent ingredients to take it over the top. Here’s what you need for a chocolate bitters recipe: 

  • 1 1/2 cups high-proof bourbon or Everclear
  • 1 1/4 cups cacao nibs
  • 1 cinnamon stick (3 to 5 in)
  • 1 split and scraped vanilla bean
  • 4 to 5 cardamom pods
  • 2 teaspoons gentian root
  • 1 teaspoon wild cherry bark
  • A sprinkling of black walnut leaf or wormwood (optional)

Place all ingredients in one medium to large infusion jar. Put the largest dry ingredients in first, like the cherry bark, cacao nibs, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick. Slowly add the liquor, and add in smaller ingredients, like the gentian root and vanilla bean. Seal the jar when complete.

Let all ingredients infuse for four to seven days, checking the scent each day for its strength. Shake the jar at least once each day. When the scent is strong, filter out the solids.

Cocktail Bitters Recipe

Finding a cocktail bitters recipe that works for your needs is a bit like car shopping. There are tons of options out there--some that may work, some that won’t. You’ll also find several options that look fantastic but don’t work well with the spring cocktails or winter cocktails you’re creating. 

These factors mean there’s no one-size-fits-all bitters recipe for every drink. At its core, making bitters is about experimentation, creativity, and using the ingredients you have available. As you create more batches over time, you’ll discover what works well and what you love. 

If you’d still prefer a launchpad to get you started, we researched a few recipes that can work with various drinks. Take a look at these cocktail bitters recipes below: 

Rhubarb Bitters

  • 1 1/4 cups of 100 proof vodka
  • 1/2 cup light rum (e.g. Banks 5, Flor de Cana, El Dorado)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb 
  • 1 tablespoon zest of lime
  • 1 tablespoon zest of lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped cinchona bark
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender
  • 1 teaspoon dried chamomile
  • 3 juniper berries

Grapefruit Bitters

  • 3 cut and skinned grapefruits
  • 4 1/4 cups 100-proof vodka or grain liquor
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon culinary lavender
  • 1/2 tablespoon juniper berries
  • 1/2 tablespoon gentian root
  • 1 teaspoon black walnut leaf
  • 1/4 cup simple syrup (one of the bar terms for sugar and water)

The ingredients in both recipes above can be combined into a single infusion jar. Take care to place larger and denser items towards the bottom of a jar, like roots, tree bark, pods, and dried berries. Add softer and smaller items on top, then pour liquor in. Seal the jar and shake it once daily for a few seconds. 

Test your ingredients’ smell once daily to ensure successful infusion. When it’s ready, strain the solid ingredients out. Check your bitters by adding them to a drink or consuming a few small drops. Add simple syrup if you want it sweeter and use water to dilute if necessary. 

All-Purpose Bitters Recipe

Sometimes, you’d rather test your cocktail skills than spend too much time making bitters. After all, bitters take at least one or two weeks to make, and that’s time that you could be perfecting your margarita or doing some menu engineering.

On the other hand, maybe you just like keeping bitters simple. There’s nothing wrong with that. If so, try out the all-purpose bitters recipe below: 

  • 3 cups 100-proof vodka
  • 1/2 tablespoon gentian root
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped cinchona bark
  • 1 teaspoon chopped cassia chips
  • 3 to 4 cardamom pods
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of allspice berries
  • 1/4 cup simple syrup

Put roots and bark in one jar, spices in a second, and fruit in a third. Seal the jars tightly and shake for a few seconds. Infuse the spice and fruit jars for three days, and the roots and bark jar for five days. 

Only add the simple syrup after you have filtered all of the ingredients from their jars, and combined them in a new jar. Then stir the syrup into the bitters concoction, and taste a little bit to ensure it’s to your liking. 

Lavender Bitters Recipe

Lavender is a world-renowned flower, largely for its many functions. The richly colored flower is used to flavor meals, heal cuts and bruises, reduce hair loss, absorb toxins, and yes--spice up drinks. 

Rye whiskey, rum, tequila, and gin all go well with lavender bitters. If you’re ready to make your own, check out the following lavender bitters recipe: 

  • 1/2 cup Everclear or grain liquor, 100 proof or higher
  • 1/2 cup white rum, 100 proof or higher
  • 2 tablespoons red vermouth
  • 2 tablespoons simple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons culinary dried lavender
  • 2 tablespoons dried chamomile flowers
  • 2 tablespoons dried rose petals
  • 1 teaspoon dried hibiscus
  • 1 teaspoon dried burdock root
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dandelion leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried wild cherry bark
  • 1 tablespoon dried elderflower (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried hyssop leaf (optional)
  • 4 or 5 fresh edible flowers (optional)

Put the fresh and dried flowers in one infusion jar and the roots and bark in another. Split the liquor, vermouth, rum, and simple syrup evenly between the two jars. Let the softer ingredients infuse for two to four days, and the firmer ingredients infuse for four to six days. 

Shake each sealed jar once daily to ensure successful infusion. When the scents smell great but aren’t overpowering, you’re ready to filter out the solid ingredients. Combine the tinctured liquids, shake the bottle, and let it sit for a few hours to a day. Test the flavor in a drink or with a few drops on a spoon. Add a little extra simple syrup if desired, otherwise, place in a dropper bottle and store your bitters. 

Remember to perform periodic recipe costing with bitters, too. The ingredients necessary for some recipes can be expensive, so it’s important to run a budget before introducing tons of new drink options on your menu. 

Cardamom Bitters Recipe

Cardamom is a widely used spice when it comes to bitters, and for good reason. Its nutty, fruity, and piney taste contributes a wonderful dimension to drinks, especially fall cocktails

This spice matches well with nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon. Here is a simple cardamom bitters recipe you can make in a week or less: 

  • 1 cup rye whiskey
  • Full zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons cardamom pods
  • 2 whole nutmeg seeds
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

Put half of the whiskey and lemon in one jar and the other half and spices in the other. Seal both jars and shake well for a couple seconds. Let the lemon infuse for two to three days, and the spices for four to five days. 

Filter out the solid ingredients when they smell just right, and combine the liquids in a new jar or bottle. Check how well the bitters turned out in a drink. Dilute with a bit of water or sweeten with a touch of simple syrup if needed. 

Peychaud's Bitters Recipe

Peychaud’s bitters was invented by Antoine Peychaud in the 19th century. He was a resident of New Orleans, and because of how much locals loved his drink’s flavor, it eventually became associated with the city itself. There isn’t much of a standardized recipe for this flavor, but we pulled details from popular variations.

This style of bitters is sweeter and lighter than Angostura bitters, which is what most bitters recipes are compared to. If you’re ready to dive into this citrusy, floral, and aromatic bitters recipe, check it out below: 

  • 2 1/2 cups grain liquor, 100 proof or greater
  • 1 orange peel
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint
  • 3 to 4 edible flowers (optional)
  • 1 or 2 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 tablespoon gentian root
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 to 3 ounces of dried cherries
  • 1 cup water to dilute (optional)

Arrange your tincture jars. Place the orange, mint, and flowers in one, and the cardamom pods, gentian root, star anise, and dried cherries in the other. Seal both jars, shake them once, and let sit to infuse. Keep the citrus and floral jar infused for two to three days, and the root and dry spices infused for at least four to five days. 

Test your ingredients’ smell once daily to ensure successful infusion. When it’s ready, filter solid ingredients out with a mesh or plastic strainer. Check your bitters by adding them to a drink or consuming a few small drops. Dilute with a little bit of water if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bitters Recipe

If understanding bitters feels a little murky sometimes, don’t fear. The recipes for all bitters differ, which can make it challenging to perfect a recipe. 

Understanding what ingredients are used to make bitters, as well as how they’re made, simplifies the process. If you’re looking for more info before you create your own, check out these frequently asked questions below: 

What are bitters made out of?

Bitters are made out of any combination of herbs, fruit, spices, roots, or botanicals. The ingredients are infused in alcohol, separately or together, and the solids are strained out after a couple days. Next, the individual tinctures are combined into one liquid, which is the bitters mixture. 

You can make bitters with any edible that infuses well in alcohol. Roots, plant pods, dried berries, and herbs are often used because they release complex aromas and tastes over a few days. 

While some invent their own kinds of bitters, many people use Angostura bitters as a base ingredient. Angostura bitters were not only one of the first kinds to be created, they offer a savory, rich flavor profile that many enjoy in alcoholic beverages. 

What can we substitute for bitters?

If bitters are too, well... bitter for your taste, that’s no problem. There are several bitters alternatives that offer similar flavor enhancements, like Campari, absinthe, and amaro.

Campari, an Italian liqueur, is an infusion of fruit and herbs in a mixture of alcohol and water. Absinthe is another popular bitters alternative, which is made with wormwood and aniseed. Any amaro, which means bitter in Italian, makes a great substitute for harsher bitters. 

What are bitters in a drink?

Bitters are any liquids, roots, spices, herbs, or fruits that increase the flavor intricacy of a beverage. They add their own element to drinks while enhancing the existing flavors. 

Bitters can be strictly drops of liquid, a combination of liquid and herbs, or raw herbs. Mixologists often develop several tinctures at a time that are later combined to produce a bitters concoction. 

Drinks Are Better With Bitters

Whether you only need bitters for one drink recipe or are excited to make several kinds, one thing is certain. Bitters provide any alcoholic beverage a more complete flavor experience. Once you get started, it’s hard to stop!

Remember that bitters can be customized to taste however you want them to. If a flavor seems missing or is too strong, take notes so you can improve upon the recipe later. Keep crafting and experimenting until you find flavor profiles you and your customers love.