What Are Angostura Bitters?

Updated: Nov. 30, 2023

What are Angostura bitters? Once a stomach soother for soldiers, today they're a key cocktail component.

What are Angostura bitters? They’re a semi-secret cocktail ingredient that explains why your favorite lowball libation tastes better at the bar than in your basement. A few drops enhance the flavor profile of a mixed drink—especially a dark and sweet one.

What Are Angostura Bitters?

Bitters are an infusion of aromatics, spices, botanicals, fruits, bark and roots into a neutral, high-proof spirit. You’re most likely familiar with the classic flavor of Angostura Aromatic Bitters, which come in a dark four-ounce bottle with a yellow cap and oversized white label.

The brand got its name from a Venezuelan city now called Ciudad Bolívar. According to the company, these bitters are the world’s oldest and best-selling. Next, learn how to make Pan de Jamon, a Venezuelan ham bread.

Why Is the Angostura Bitters Label Oversized?

Angostura Bitters via merchant

Angostura’s signature label comes up too high on the bottle and crinkles at the top. It was initially a production mistake caused by two of the founder’s sons, the company says.

The error came about when one brother become responsible for sourcing the company’s bottles, while the other sourced the labels—and the two failed to communicate.

Instead of fixing the flaw, they amplified it. It remains part of Angostura’s iconic brand today.

What Are Bitters Used For?

Bitters are used in classic cocktails like the old-fashioned (and brandy old-fashioned), Manhattan, sazerac and Rob Roy.

Many recipes call for a dash of bitters—but how much is a dash of bitters?

Hold the bottle upright with the cap off. Then, make a C-shaped flourish with your arm and tilt the bottle upside down into your drink. Channel your inner mixologist—you’ll get it.

The amount doesn’t have to be precise. It’s just enough to add something special. But if you must measure, start with 1/8 of a teaspoon, then bump it up to 1/4 if you want more flavor.

You can use bitters in more than just cocktails, too:

Don’t let their name fool you. Just because they’re bitter doesn’t mean they can’t be your best friend when it comes to spicing up your recipes!

The Best Bitters for Home Bartenders

The classic Angostura bitters are arguably the most well-known and popular bitters, but visit any well-stocked liquor store and you’ll discover that bitters come in many brands and flavor profiles.

Why so many bitters? These alternatives can make a great addition to palomas, martinis and other drinks that might not taste right with aromatic bitters. Others can add a new twist on an old-fashioned.

You can even make bitters from scratch by infusing ingredients like lavender, coriander, English cucumber or cardamom into 151-proof neutral-flavored grain alcohol.

The common thread for bitters is that they all have at least one bitter ingredient. Two popular ones are gentian root—the underground part of a flowering herb that’s supposed to aid digestion—and wormwood, which is also used in vermouth and absinthe.