The Trick To Fixing Sickeningly Sweet Cocktails

Ever wondered what makes an Old Fashioned cocktail so delicious and nuanced in flavor? Or how a Negroni can taste so pungently bitter, yet still carry botanical effervescence? That's all thanks to the cocktail component known as bitters. Bitters are essentially spirits that have been steeped in botanicals, such as spices, fruits, and roots. The infusion process leaves you with a concentrated, well, bitter beverage. But bitters aren't just for the hardcore cocktails that contain little more than the spirit itself. They can curb the cloying sweetness of any cocktail. 

Just like a good meal, the perfect cocktail is balanced. Usually, you want a mix of sweet, sour, and yes, bitter. Consider the beloved margarita — sure, it would taste just fine with tequila, lime juice, and simple syrup, but it could also taste incomplete, tasting only of the saccharine sugars and tart citrus. Some opt for bitter citrus liqueurs such as Cointreau or triple sec to add some extra interest, but aromatic orange bitters work just as well, and you only have to add a few drops for the same effect. The balance and nuance in flavor that bitters offer is like a tiny magic trick that elevates a cocktail, especially of the too-sweet variety.

How to use bitters

While you're mixing up a beverage, consider what flavor profile you're working with. Bitters are available in a wide variety of flavors, like celery, cilantro, rose, hibiscus, cucumber, and olive, just to name a few, so you can easily find one to pair with your cocktail. Just add a few drops to the treacly beverage, and be sure to give it a good stir. 

If you do ever find yourself in a phase of life where you want to drink less booze but love the ritual of a cocktail, mocktails are a go-to, and bitters are a sure way to make other mocktails taste a bit more sophisticated, which tend to be mixed very sweet. And while bitters are alcoholic, they are only used in such small quantities that it wouldn't be easy to catch a buzz from them. This is a much more affordable option than the premade, fancy low-to-no-booze aperitifs like Seedlip and Everleaf.