Libations: A Guide to Cocktail Bitters
Blood Orange Negroni cocktail. Photo: Courtesy of Sipsmith London Dry Gin
Wondering what to add to that cocktail to give it that extra je ne sais quoi? Let’s start with a dash of bitters. And these are not your great-grandfather’s bitters, mind you, although a good shake of Angostura never hurt any libation. We asked the team at Toronto’s Cocktail Emporium – a one-stop boutique (it’s online, too!) that showcases bar ware and tools, cocktail supplies, vintage-inspired pieces, from stir sticks to champagne coupes, top-shelf ingredients and gift ideas – to give us a list of their favourite bitters and how to pair them with each spirit.
These bitters strike a balance of intense aromatic spice with light, floral and citrus notes. The flavour pairs beautifully with the botanical profile of small-batch gins.
Use these to add a fresh lime aroma and subtle hint of Latin spice to your gin & tonic or highballs.
Whether it’s lightening up a martini or adding a layer of freshness to a G&T or Tom Collins, these are an essential ingredient for gin lovers.
Try it in: Blood Orange Negroni
Recipe courtesy of Sipsmith London Dry Gin
1 oz Sipsmith London Dry Gin
1oz Sweet vermouth
1oz fresh blood orange juice
Dried blood orange slice
Add a dash of bitters such as Bitter Housewife Cardamom Bitters
Fill a mixing glass with ice and add all ingredients to the glass. Stir and strain into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with dried blood orange and rosemary.
Every whisky lover needs a solid aromatic bitter in their cabinet. We love the notes of dark fruit in these Saskatoon-made aromatic bitters.
These Edmonton-made bitters are the best spiced cherry bitters we’ve encountered. We use them to boost a Manhattan or dot on a whiskey sour.
Try it in: Uncle Tony
Recipe courtesy of Wayne Gretzky Distillery
Bartender’s note: Growing up in Niagara Falls, you get to know a lot of Italians. Even if you’re not Italian, you eventually start to feel like one. This cocktail is a take on the classic Negroni or Old Pal and is named after the Uncle Tony I feel like I should have.
1½ oz Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Red Cask Canadian Whisky
¾ oz Amaro Nonino
¼ oz Fernet Branca
4 shakes of bitters, such as Dillon’s Orange Bitters or Token Ritchie Cherry Bitters
1 orange slice
2 cinnamon sticks
Fill a rocks glass with ice or one large cube. Add all ingredients and stir until chilled. Toast the ends of two cinnamon sticks, stir drink and add as garnish.
This earthy spice and cacao blend complements agave spirits perfectly. We swap these in place of aromatic bitters in spirit-forward riffs on classics (think: tequila old-fashioneds and mezcal negronis).
Expect lively, fresh citrus and a bittersweet finish. Add a couple dashes to your margarita for a low-effort cocktail that’s sure to impress your guests.
Try it in: Smoky Jalisco Sour
Recipe courtesy of Patrón Tequila
2 oz Patron Smoky
.5 oz pumpkin chai syrup
1 tbsp pumpkin butter
.75 oz lemon juice
2 dash Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters or Dillon’s Mole Bitters
1 egg white
Freshly grated cinnamon
1 medium coupe or Nick and Nora glass (a hybrid of a martini glass and a coupe)
For pumpkin chai syrup: Using pumpkin chai tea from David’s Tea, make 8 oz. of tea using more leaves than you normally would to make it stronger. Strain the tea leaves out and add 8 oz. of sugar. Blend well.
In a mixing tin, add the Patron smoky, pumpkin chai syrup, pumpkin butter, lemon juice, mole bitters and egg white. Seal the tins and shake well to break down the egg white. Fill the tin with ice and shake again to dilute and chill. Double strain the cocktail into a chilled coupe and finish with freshly grated cinnamon.
Tropical flavours are accessible year-round without the plane ticket. We can’t imagine our rum sours without this fruit-forward bitter!
Rum and ginger are an iconic duo with staying power in the annals of cocktail history. These bitters add depth and warmth without overpowering, thanks to the inclusion of local Prince Edward County honey.
Crafted specifically to capture the Polynesian and Caribbean flavour origins of tiki culture. A lively blend of ginger, citrus peel, cinnamon, all-spice, and cardamom. When in doubt, we add these to whatever rum cocktail we’re working on, and it’s usually the final thread that ties it all together!
Try it in: Harvest Sour
Recipe courtesy of Creemore’s Batch House, Toronto
Bartender’s note: Apple pie in a glass, with a touch of tartness.
1 oz Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
1.5 oz Calvados Apple Brandy
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz Caramel/Nutmeg syrup
2 dashes Flinks Drinks Tobacco bitters or if you’re not fond of smoky taste, try a hint of island flavour such as Ms. Better’s Pineapple Star Anise bitters
House made cinnamon sugar to top
*A note on Aquafaba: Also known as “Water Bean,” it is the liquid reserved from a can of chickpeas. It works as a vegan replacement for egg whites, an ingredient used in many cocktails to add a bit of froth and texture.
Build ingredients, starting with non-alcoholic into the shaker tin top. Add ice to shaker tin top. Place shaker tin bottom over top, ensuring they are sealed and in a straight line. Smack the top of the tin bottom to ensure the seal. Shake vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds or until a layer of condensation appears on the outside of the tin. Dislodge the two parts of the tin. Double strain into an old fashioned glass with ice, using the Hawthorn strainer on the tin and the screen strainer above the glass. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top of foam. Use a spoon/straw to make a circular pattern.
A version of this story was originally published on Dec. 10, 2019