Cocktail bitters are concentrated flavoring agents used to enhance the taste and complexity of cocktails. They are typically made by infusing various botanical ingredients in a high-proof alcohol base. The main ingredients in cocktail bitters can vary widely, but they often include aromatic herbs, roots, fruits, spices, and botanical extracts. Common botanicals used in bitters production include gentian root, citrus peels, herbs like wormwood or dandelion, and spices like cinnamon, cardamom, or cloves. These ingredients are macerated or distilled in alcohol to extract their flavors, resulting in highly concentrated and potent bitters.
Traditionally, cocktail bitters do contain alcohol, which serves as the base for extracting and preserving the flavors of the botanicals. The alcohol content in bitters can range from 40% to 45% or higher. However, the amount of bitters used in a cocktail is usually minimal, often just a few dashes, so the overall alcohol contribution to a drink is minimal.
In recent years, there has been a rise in the production of non-alcoholic or low-alcohol bitters, catering to those who prefer non-alcoholic cocktails or have dietary restrictions. These versions often use glycerin or other non-alcoholic bases as a substitute for the high-proof alcohol.
Cocktail bitters, with their concentrated flavors, add depth, complexity, and a pleasant bitterness to cocktails. They serve as a crucial component in classic cocktails like Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Negroni, as well as in modern mixology, offering endless possibilities for flavor experimentation and creativity.