How to Navigate the Wide World of Bitters



Sometimes in life, having too many choices can be overwhelming. In the bar world, this is true for bitters beginners.

“There is just a giant amount of bitters out there right now for bartenders,” said Michael Page, Breakthru Beverage Development Specialist. “It’s kind of like gin where people are just geeking out over all of the available flavors and styles.”

With the recent explosion of the craft cocktail scene, training bar staff on how to build their bitters arsenal has been an ongoing task for Page. Some bitters brands available today have a seemingly endless range of flavors, which is very useful for savvy, seasoned and most of all, creative mixologists.

However, with this huge portfolio of potent potables, where would a budding bartender begin? We asked Page for some help.

Understand Flavor First

Michael Page: Before you even get started with bitters, you need to understand how certain bitter flavors react with various other flavors you’ll get from the base spirit or other ingredients.

What you need to understand first is that a bitter is a seasoning, not a main driver of a desired flavor in the cocktail.

If you want a cherry flavored cocktail, then cherry bitters would be a supporting player to other cherry liqueurs, cherry flavored spirit, or, quite possibly, just a good old-fashioned cherry.

I always recommend people pick up a copy of The Flavor Bible. Spending time reading how different flavors interact with each other, as well as learning how your drink will interact with certain foods, is an important thing to do and will help you build confidence behind the bar.

Getting Started

Simplicity is the key, so I tell people to pick one kind of bitters and get really good with just that one. Trying to master a variety of different styles right off the bat is just too much.

mixologist dripping bitters into an empty highball cocktail glass on a steel counter

Pick one and get comfortable making a variety of drinks with it. Maybe it’s an aromatic bitter, which is rich and spicy, and you learn to make some killer whiskey or rum cocktails with it. Then pick a second one, maybe a fruit-forward bitter, and learn how to make some really great gin or vodka cocktails with it. Then a third, and so on.

Don’t grab an entire lineup of different bitter flavors when you’ve never comfortably used them before. Starting slow is key.

Note: Check out our breakdown of different styles of bitters.

Don’t Go All In Right Away on a Cocktail

A quick way to burn through your inventory is to build an entire cocktail before taste testing it, especially when experimenting with bitters. Taste the bitters by itself first, then taste the other ingredients solo as well, and get a sense of how they are interacting on your palate. It’s a much more efficient test than just teeing up a cocktail and taking a sip.

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