12 Secret Cocktail Ingredients Only Bartenders Know About

Unleash your inner bartender with these secret cocktail ingredients.

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Bartender is making cocktail at bar counter, adding some bitter in the shaker
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Regan’s orange bitters

Angostura Bitters is one of the most classic cocktail ingredients, but why not shake things up a little? “If you want to add a little complexity to a Manhattan or just brighten up a drink, these orange bitters are the right thing,” explains Ian Cliffe, a seasoned bartender who has worked in both New York City and Milwaukee.

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Fancy Dark Maraschino Cocktail Cherries in a Bowl
Shutterstock / Brent Hofacker

Luxardo maraschino cherries

When you’ve perfected your drink making game, adding these luxardo cherries as your secret cocktail ingredients could be the answer. “These are not your kiddie cocktail cherries, these are for the big kids,” says Cliffe. “Real cherries in a thick syrup, no dyes or bright red stems.” Introducing both flavor and a chic je ne sais quois to your drink couldn’t be easier.

Can’t find them at your local grocer? You can get them here.

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Lime Juice on a vintage background

Fresh citrus juice

Making a zesty cocktail? “Skip the reconstituted lemon and lime, the key to many great cocktails like margaritas and daiquiris is simply fresh lime juice,” explans Cliffe. “If you are making for a group, grab a citrus reamer and get going.”

Use fresh citrus in our signature margarita recipe.

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Sugar syrup in a glass bowl on a white wooden background

Simple syrup

Don’t bother buying syrup in the store, make your own from scratch! “Combine equal parts boiling water and sugar, stir until dissolved and chill,” says Cliffe. “When using fresh juices, this simple mixture can be the difference between a good-tart margarita and a perfectly balanced one.”

You’ll want this ingredient on hand—it’s a component of many classic cocktails.

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Pouring irish cream in a glass with ice, surrounded by coffee beans on a dark black background
Shutterstock / Victor Moussa

Creme de cafe

Do you have something of a sweet tooth? Dessert cocktails are gaining popularity right now and we can totally see why. Adding some creme de cafe to an otherwise subtle drink could be the way to go. Not sure which to choose? De Kuyper is a great place to start.

Pair it with these coffee-boosted desserts.

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Bottles of St. Germain liquor on display at 11th annual Jazz Age lawn party
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St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Looking for something to give your next cocktail a little pizazz? “This hit the market years ago and we started calling this ‘bartender’s ketchup.'” says Cliffe. He explains that when a cocktail is close to perfection adding “a dash or a half ounce of this could usually make it right.”

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Female bartender is decorating a cocktail with lime zest
Shutterstock / Kondor83

Citrus twists

Making a citrus twist is pretty easy to master. Cut a thin strip of the lemon (or lime or orange!) peel (but avoid the white pith) and twist it over the cocktail. The oils should release just before you drop the twist, adding some extra flavor.

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Herbal Iced Tea Cocktail with Edible Flowers and Crushed Ice
Shutterstock / Alp Aksoy

Edible flowers

Garnishing your cocktail well should be as much about the visual experience as it is the taste. Taking a simple cocktail to new heights could be as straightforward as adding a few edible flowers on top of the drink. Pick out colors that complement the tones in the drink for a stunning aesthetic.

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Aperol spritz cocktail in glass on wooden table
Shutterstock / etorres


“I think of this liquor every summer. It has notes of orange and rhubarb and a mild bitterness,” says Cliffe. You can even swap this ingredient out in some recipes. “Lighten a cocktail that calls for Campari or other bitter liquors with this slightly-less bitter relative. Or just make a spritzer and enjoy.”

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Barman pouring fresh alcoholic drink into the glasses with ice cubes on the bar counter
Shutterstock / Maksim Fesenko

Grand Marnier

“Sure, Triple Sec is the ‘go to,’ but a little Grand Marnier is even better,” says Cliffe. He explains that deciding which orange liqueur to use all comes down to the main alcohol component in your drink. “If I’m using brandy or whiskey the Gran Marnier is the best bet.”

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Cointreau, orange-flavoured liqueur (triple sec) produced in France.
Shutterstock / DeymosHR


Similarly, if you’re making a subtler drink, you might want to consider looking for an orange liqueur that offers a milder flavor. “I like to use Cointreau with lighter bases like vodka or blanco tequila,” says Cliffe. Experiment until you figure out what works.

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Martini cocktail with green olives on marble board.

Dolin Blanc vermouth

And now for one of those cocktail ingredients that works just as well on its own as it does in a drink. “It’s not your traditional sweet vermouth or dry,” says Cliffe. “This vermouth is sweet and clear with mild herbal tones. I’ve played around with this one many times and always return to it.”

Try it when you make martinis at home.

Charlotte Grainger
Charlotte Grainger is a creative feature writer, with a flair for food, health and lifestyle pieces. Her work has been seen in a number of national publications including Beyond Words Magazine, Reader's Digest and Psychologies. When she’s not typing away, you can find her trying out new recipes or binging Netflix shows— sometimes simultaneously.