Better with bitters

Add your own unique flavour to cocktails with homemade bitters. Here’s how

A variety of spices, herbs and other botanicals give bitters their intense flavour. Dan Toulgoet photo

Making your own bitters at home is a lot easier than you may think. However, we need to understand a few things first. Cocktails, by definition, are made up of four essential ingredients: spirits, sugar, water and bitters. Spirits are self-explanatory. The sugar and water elements can be exactly that or they can take on other forms, such as syrups and juices. Bitters are much more complex, though. Bartenders use bitters to bridge the flavours of spirits, sugar and water so they come together. The key to selecting the right bitter is to use one that complements the other three components in the cocktail.

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Bitter is better

Cocktail bitters are a bartender’s salt and pepper. Here’s our guide to B.C.’s best

Victoria Distillers produces the Twisted & Bitter lineup, which ranges from fruity (orange, grapefruit, schizandra) to spicy (pepper, ginger). Victoria Distillers photo

Aficionados of Old Fashioneds are familiar with oversize-label bottles of Angostura, the classic aromatic bitters from Trinidad and Tobago that have made a million cocktails sing. Signature mixes of botanicals, often originally used as medicine, have earned famous bitters brands like Sazerac, Peychaud’s and Amargo Chunchon (for Pisco Sours) a place in the classic-cocktail canon.

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Post Opium Daiquiri

Post Opium Daiquiri. Andrew Kong photo

The base:
• 1.5 oz Havana Club 3-year-old rum
• 1 oz Ms. Better’s passionfruit purée
• 0.5 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
• 0.5 oz Ms. Better’s demerara syrup
• 1 dash Ms. Better’s Lime Leaf Bitters

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Canadian Coffee

Canadian Coffee. Bittered Sling photo

• 1.5 oz Lot 40 Rye Whisky
• 0.75 oz maple syrup
• 4 oz hot brewed coffee
• 2 dashes Moondog Latin bitters
• Heavy cream, lightly whipped
• Grated cinnamon

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Curandero

Curandero. Apothecary Bitters Company photo

• 2 oz blanco tequila
• 1 tsp agave nectar
• 1 tsp Port
• 2 dashes Apothecary ‘Mason Dixon’ Southern Pecan bitters
• Orange twist, for garnish

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Sweet launch for bitters line

Bitters by Christos took home three double gold awards at the San Diego Spirits Festival. Central City Brewers and Distillers photo

It’s not even available for sale yet, but already Christos Kalaitzis’ new bitters line is reaping the kind of recognition a crafty bartender could only dream of.

Bitters by Christos, created by the spirits brand ambassador and mixologist for Central City Brewers & Distillers, just took home not one, not two, but three double gold awards at the prestigious San Diego Spirits Festival, the premiere West Coast celebration of spirits and cocktails. (Central City’s Lohin McKinnon Peated Whisky also won double gold.)

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It’s better with bitters

Ms. Better’s Bitters Miraculous Foamer is a vegan substitute for egg whites in frothy drinks such as the Hotel Georgia cocktail. Tarquin Melnyk photo

It’s right there in the original description of a cocktail, dating back to 1806: “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters – it is vulgarly called a bittered sling.”

In other words, bitters are what make a cocktail a cocktail. And that makes bitters an essential part of any home or professional bar.

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