Adding depth to your cocktails with bitters, the spice cabinet of the bar

World Best Bar

Dec 01, 2022

WBB Bitter cocktail
Sometimes when you’re making a drink, you manage to get just the flavor profile you were after, with interesting, balanced…

Sometimes when you’re making a drink, you manage to get just the flavor profile you were after, with interesting, balanced and nicely complex tasting notes, but somehow your cocktail ends up lacking that elusive depth — it’s as if it weren’t really “sitting” on anything.

How can you avoid this next time you’re experimenting at home? What is it that adds depth of flavor to tall those great drinks you’ve ordered at your favorite bar?

First, you have to think of the four key components of cocktail-making: the spirit, the sweet, the sour and the bitter. Creating depth is all about layering your flavors while ensuring you keep the balance between all four components.

Often this means fiddling with your ingredients — think infusing your base spirit with fruits, herbs or spices, or charring your fruit before juicing it for some smokiness… the possibilities are endless. And you can also create a layered, deeper flavor with no need for prior preparation, for example by bringing different types of sugars or sweeteners (honey, agave etc.) into your cocktail, experimenting with different fruit juice blends, or marrying your base spirit with one or more complementary liqueurs.

It can be as simple as adding a touch of simple — syrup, pun intended. If your cocktail lacks depth, a dash of 1:1 simple syrup can do wonders to open up flavors and enhance the drink’s mouthfeel. For some mixtures, a bit of saline solution can have a similar effect. You can also increase the acidic element brought by citrus, if that’s something you’re using, or try throwing interesting bitter liqueurs like Fernet, Cynar or Becherovka into the mix to bring it into another dimension.

Or you can just use bitters. And no, bitters are not about imparting bitterness, despite what their name suggests. While their taste can be bittersweet on its own, when added to cocktails, that sharpness disappears and the magic happens. Bitters are all about adding aroma, flavor, complexity, and yes, depth, helping your drink achieve a new level of vibrancy. They’re the “spice cabinet” of the bar, if you will. They also help balance your drink, too, so it doesn’t end up veering towards the too spirited, too sweet or too sour.

Another benefit of using bitters is that, with only so much room inside your glass, every ingredient ends up adding volume. What you don’t want is to add too much volume to your drink and lose the alcohol’s proof. With just a few dashes necessary, bitters add all that extra depth, aroma and contrast with almost no extra volume.

Whether you add more or less is up to you, but in balancing your drink, you should always consider how your choice and dosage of bitters, the liquor’s proof, the sweetness and the sourness are going to tie your cocktail together.

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