A dash of Bitters!

When was the last you took an anlogy question? Let me put you to one right now.

Salt is to food as ___ is to cocktails.

The answer if you have not guessed by now is Bitters. It is the defining ingredient of a cocktail. Having bitters in gives a cocktail that little bit of spice that brings out the flavor in the other ingredients. They take a drink from ordinary to extraordinary.
Over the last week, I met quite a few whiskey drinkers and a bunch of cocktail sippers on the bar-stools of Take 5. And I asked every one of them , if they ever tasted their drinks with Bitters. Most of them did not know what it is and a few of them claimed to be conservative drinkers who stick to whiskey and soda and do not experiment at all. One of them did give it a try after all, on my insistence and promise that it won`t cost him extra.

We all have our favorite drinks or cocktails, but what if your favorite could be better. Hard to believe, but it could be true. I am of the opinion that cocktails are better with bitters. Just like a little spice in my food, I like bitters in my cocktail. A cocktail without bitters seems bland and ordinary to me.

The name "Bitters" makes people think that it is something they don't want in their drink but the elixir is not necessarily bitter. Bitters is an alcoholic beverage prepared by infusion or distillation of herbs and citrus, dissolved in alcohol or gyucerine and having a bitter or bittersweet taste.

Take your favorite cocktail whether it be a Gin and Tonic, Black Russian, Martini, Cosmopolitan, or whatever and add a dash or two of bitters. Don't put so much it over powers the drink. Simply add just enough to spice it up and give it that unknown characteristic. To do this properly you really need to make your drink as normal, taste it, add the bitters, stir, and taste it again. Or if you want to compare side by side make two drinks. I think you will be surprised of the results.


"Angostura Aromatic Bitters" is the most popular and most widely distributed bitters in the world. In India, its is almost the only one available. The bitters was actually named after the main port from which it was exported from out of the Caribbean. The only written recipe is hidden away in a vault in New York and the only confirmed ingredients are sugar and gentian. Its popular oversized label makes the spice instantly recognizable. How the oversized label came about is not exactly know, but a common story is that one person went shopping for the bottle and the other the label. After they had discovered the error and because the Caribbean is such a laid back place... they decided to just go with it and have another drink.

Where to buy?
If you want it but don`t know where to look for it, fear not. I am your friendly neighbourhood licquor savior. Look for Bitters in your nearest Nilgiris, Fabmall or any other departmental store. If you can`t find it there, Toms Store in Frazer town, Bangalore & Qmart in Banjara Hills , Hyderabad. A 100 ml bottle costs you around Rs400. You can also find at Metro sometimes, and obviously it costs a tad lesser there (Rs 350, I guess).
After you own a bottle of this, try tasting just a drop of its from your fingers. You will notice it is highly potent (alcoholic) and has a very pungent taste. This is the reason, most cocktails use just a drop or two of bitters and not more. A drop or two are not only enough to spike up the taste but it is simply not possible to consume anymore than that .

Once you come to realize "It's better with bitters!" don't just keep this knowledge to yourself. Go to your favorite bar and ask the bartender to make a new drink using bitters. Obviously don't just walk into any bar. This should be a liquid chef that you have gotten to know and have had conversations with concerning mixology. It should be someone you believe shares your passion about cocktails. (For ex: Yours Truly at Take 5 :) )

You might just get a drink named after you, you never know.


4 Responses to "A dash of Bitters!"

Anonymous said... November 19, 2009 at 5:35 AM

where can i get the bitters in mumbai?

Anonymous said... October 9, 2011 at 8:57 AM

Hi, where can I find bitters in mumbai. Also am looking for margarita salt - don't know where to buy in Mumbai! SOS

sanju M.V said... February 18, 2014 at 8:53 PM

Please let me know where can I get cocktail ingredients in Bangalore.

Chandra Shekhar Joshi said... April 13, 2016 at 9:10 AM

In bangalore you can find it in naturesbasket store. It will cost 475.

Post a Comment

About Shank

Shank is a cocktail enthusiast & a self-proclaimed mixologist. He likes to experiment with spirits. He has traveled around a bit visiting hundreds of bars and tasting the buzziest of alcohols, cocktails and shooters.

Shank spent early years of his dizziness in Mumbai. He has lived in Hyderabad for long and for the past few years is chilling his glass in Bangalore.

He is currently busy spreading his love for spirits through this blog - Cocktail Nirvana.

This blog is part of his ongoing quest for fine spirits, creative cocktails and classic mixology. These online journals will capture his cocktail inventions, adventures with alcohol, trips to bars, meeting with ace mixologists, lessons in the art of drinking and much more.

This apart, ignoring good judgment, the fine folks at www.mybangalore.com also allow him to take up valuable space on their portal with his words & pictures.

Away from Nirvana