Cocktails with Bitters

Homemade bitters — no problem!

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of fantastic companies making bitters right now. And since I am known as a person who likes to make fancy cocktails, I have been gifted dozens of bottles of all kinds of bitters, in addition to flavors that I bought on my own. So why would I ever need (or want) to make bitters?

Making bitters at home requires purchasing obscure ingredients from boutique herb shops in Seattle, special bottles for dispensing, they take weeks of sitting in the dark, filtering, shaking, boiling, and mixing before you even get to taste what you’ve made. Total P.I.A.

What can I say? It seemed like a good idea.

What are bitters for? They are for making cocktails delicious. We all know bitters are essential for your Martini and Manhattan. They are also tasty in sparkling water, and they might even be good for your digestion.

This is a short selection of other cocktails that use aromatic or Meyer lemon bitters (the two types I made), though of course there are more flavors than you can shake a stick at. All of these recipes are very flexible. You may also add bitters to your G&T. Other cocktails on this site use bitters, so be sure to check out Gin Cocktails and Whiskey Cocktails. If you want to make your own bitters, drop me a note and I will attempt to reconstruct my recipes.

Meyer Lemon Ginger Spritz

1 oz ginger simple syrup**
1 oz Meyer lemon juice
1 1/2 oz gin
Meyer lemon bitters

Add ginger simple syrup, lemon juice, and gin to a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a glass with crushed ice. Top with a splash of soda water (even better, top with a splash of dry sparkling wine) and a few drops of Meyer lemon bitters.

**Ginger Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 inch of fresh ginger, sliced

Combine the water, sugar, and ginger in a saucepan. Bring to a light boil, then turn down to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool, strain out the ginger.

Maple Old Fashioned

I’m not going to lie, I am not typically a fan of the Old Fashioned. But this version is just delicious enough to have on the roster when you need a little extra sweetness in your life. Sure, you could make a traditional Old Fashioned, but do you have a sugar cube? Do you want to drink processed sugar? Maple syrup is straight from a tree! Basically a vitamin. Try it.

2 oz bourbon
1 teaspoon maple syrup
3-4 dashes of aromatic bitters
A fat slice of orange zest (or lemon zest if you want to buck tradition completely and cut the sweet a bit)

Add bourbon and maple syrup to a cocktail shaker without ice and stir until combined. Add bitters and ice and stir until cold. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Squeeze the zest over the drink and along the rim of the glass before dropping it into your glass.

The Fitzgerald

This beauty can, of course, be adjusted to taste. I’ve seen versions with a whopping full ounce of simple syrup and only 1/2 ounce lemon juice. Too much sugar kills the gin flavor, in my opinion, but if you like it a bit sweeter by all means add a bit more simple syrup. Traditionally it calls for Angostura bitters, but I prefer my homemade aromatic bitters here, which are a little more subtle (and because they are homemade bitters).

2 oz gin
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 oz lemon juice
3 dashes of aromatic bitters

Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon zest.

(Anything) Ginger

2 oz whiskey (Irish, bourbon, rye…) or gin if you prefer
2-3 dashes aromatic bitters (or try Meyer lemon if using gin)
High-quality ginger ale or ginger beer
Lemon wedge

Pour the whiskey or gin over ice in a 12-ounce glass, and add 2-3 dashes of bitters. Top with ginger ale and stir lightly. Squeeze in lemon.

Fibber McGee

This is a variation on one of my favorite cocktails, the Palm Beach Special, that I found on the always amazing Cocktail DB. Apparently, Fibber McGee was a vaudeville act (with Molly), but beyond that, I can’t find anything about why this cocktail is named what it is. No matter. This is my own variation, with slightly different proportions and aromatic bitters, so maybe I can give it a different name… like the Jib and the Sea.

2 oz gin
3/4 oz grapefruit juice
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Combine everything in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, strain into a cocktail glass, and enjoy.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA