Bitters are a great way to add depth of flavor and balance to spirit focused cocktails like the Manhattan and Old Fashioned, but what happens when you use bitters with citrus? Let’s take a look and make a few drinks to test them out on.

Bitter and Balance:

The Test Cocktail:

I like using the Lemon Drop as my test bed cocktail whenever I am doing any form of substitution or addition of ingredients. Since it’s such a simple drink, any change in balance will become clear very quickly. I ended making three different drinks in order to see how the bitters was affecting the citrus, and vice versa. The first drink that I made was your basic Lemon Drop, followed by a Lemon Drop with the addition of 2 dashes of bitters and the final drink was Vodka with simple syrup and bitters.

The Lemon Drop

2 oz spirit
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup

The reason I chose to make all three drinks was not only to find out how bitters was affecting the balance with the citrus, but I also wanted to see how the citrus was affecting the taste of the bitters as well.

The Results:

1. Traditional Lemon Drop

Exactly what you would expect, a balanced drink that showcases the lemon flavor, and not much else.

2. Traditional Lemon Drop with Bitters

The addition of bitters actually increases the vibrancy of the lemon juice and brightens it up a bit. Since bitters also has a lot of flavor, there was also more depth of flavor to the cocktail as well.

3. Vodka with Simple Syrup and Bitters

I made this last drink to test how the acid was affecting the bitters in cocktails. I substituted water for the lemon juice so that I would have equal volumes to compare. The result that I noticed was that the lemon juice tamed down the bitters. In this drink, the bitters were more pronounced and had a longer finish.

Bitters are a great way to add depth of flavor to a drink and help to balance spirit driven cocktails. They can also be used to increase the citrus profile of your cocktail while the citrus will help to subdue some of the bitterness in the bitters.

Do you have a favorite cocktail using bitters with citrus? Leave your comment below.

Chris Tunstall

Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.