Booze 101: All about bitters


An elementary cocktail education wouldn’t be complete without discussing bitters and their place in drink-making. A few dashes of these magical concoctions can soothe a bellyache and change the course of a cocktail.

Dating back to the 1800s, bitters are concentrated flavor extracts derived from infusing berries, roots, flowers and barks into alcohol. There are various categories of bitters, including aromatic, citrus, herbal, spice and nut. Aromatic bitters are a blend of various botanicals, with Angostura reigning as king of the aromatics. Another mainstay is Peychaud’s, a gentian-based classic from New Orleans that is mandatory for a proper Sazerac.

As cocktail culture explodes, a bevy of brands are on the market, but look toward these solid picks to get started.

Fee Brothers

A classic since 1864, these bitters have been lining bar tops for decades with an astounding array of choices such as Aztec chocolate, black walnut, mint, molasses, cherry, gin-barrel aged orange, and rhubarb.


With the tagline “because modifiers matter,” this New Orleans company makes a considerable variety of flavors including Xocolatl Mole, Grapefruit, Orchard Street Celery Shrub, Hellfire Habanero Shrub, Buckspice Ginger, and New England Spiced Cranberry.

R&D Bitters

San Diego’s very own bitter company is founded by bartenders Ryan Andrews, Eric Lockridge and Brett Winfield. Used at bars and restaurants and sold at retail shops around the county, the company is taking the local cocktail scene by storm. Flavors include cherry apple, sarsaparilla (as in root beer), fire, smoked, and the house, a blend of cardamon, star anise, gentian, and allspice.

Around San Diego, bartenders are working with an impressive array of bitters, blending flavors from every spice one could imagine. Here are a few to check out.

St. Elizabeth Sexy Party at Lion’s Share

Bourbon, cinnamon, allspice, chocolate bitters.

Manzana at Curadero

Dewars White Label blended scotch, Rittenhouse rye, apple cider, lemon, simple, apple and Chinese bitters (made with star anise, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorn, and fennel).

Taco Diet at Prohibition

Henebery rye whiskey, horchata orgeat, lime, burnt cinnamon and R&D sarsaparilla bitters.

Oaxacan By at Sycamore Den

Mezcal, Campari, dry vermouth, salt, and Bittermens hopped grapefruit bitters.

Rasputin’s Revenge at The Nolen

Cognac, apple brandy, lemon, ginger, honey, and cardamom bitters.

At home

Try this recipe from Ryan Andrews to make at home.

Prohibition Old Fashioned

¼ oz. Rich Demerara syrup

4 dashes R&D Bitters aromatic #7

4 dashes R&D Bitters cherry apple

2 oz. Wild Turkey

Orange peel for garnish

  1. Start with 1/4 oz. Rich Demerara syrup, followed by four dashes of R&D bitters aromatic #7 and four dashes of R&D Bitters cherry apple.
  2. Add 2 oz. of Wild Turkey.
  3. Add ice, stir and garnish with an orange peel.