What Can You Substitute for Bitters?


When you’re making your own cocktails, you’ve probably come across bitters, which are a common ingredient made to help enhance your drink’s flavors.

You can find them in many famous classic cocktails we know and love today, like the Manhattan, Pisco Sour, or the Old Fashioned. (*)

With its unique taste and characteristics, it can get tricky to find the best bitter substitute. But that’s where we come along to help you out, so read on!

We’ll share what you need to know about bitters for your cocktails and what you can use to replace it with the next best thing.

The Best Bitter Substitutes

If you aren’t familiar with bitters yet, these are alcohols infused with different ingredients, such as fruits, herbs, spices, leaves, among other botanicals. As the name suggests, expect a bitter and herbal flavor used to add more nuance and intrigue to favorite cocktails.

  • Fun fact: There are three famous types of bitters: the Angostura bitters, Peychauds bitters, and Orange bitters.

You can usually find bitters in grocery stores, liqueur stores, or online shops. However, sometimes we’re in a pinch and need a bitter substitute ASAP, or we can’t find any bitters around our area at all.

That’s alright because there are numerous bitter substitutes you can try instead, such as:

1. Campari

The best bitter substitute is Campari, a popular Italian bitter liqueur. It’s bright red and popularly known in the Negroni cocktail, tasting very bitter and lightly sweet. (*)

It’s considered more of a digestive bitter with similar ingredients to Angostura bitters, such as cinnamon and cloves, so you get a nice bittersweet flavor.

You can use Campari in the Old Fashioned and other cocktails, and you most likely already have this liqueur in your home or the liqueur store. For every four dashes of bitters required in a cocktail, use ¼ teaspoon of Campari.

Note that Campari is sweeter than particular bitters, which have more spice.

You also get hints of orange peel and cherry, though you won’t usually notice the difference, especially if you like sweeter cocktails.

2. Absinthe

Another excellent bitter substitute is Absinthe, a famous liqueur featuring a black licorice finish. This liqueur is a part of well-known cocktails like the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and Sazerac. Like Campari, use ¼ teaspoon of Absinthe for every four dashes of bitters.

Note that Absinthe features a noticeable flavor of anise, fennel, and licorice, which may be detectable in certain cocktails. But it might enhance the flavor, so it’s worth experimenting with!

  • Fun fact: Did you know that Absinthe is known for being banned in Europe and the USA for almost a century? No worries, as you can now find it for sale in these areas.

3. Fernet-Branca

Another great bitter substitute is the Fernet-Branca, or any type of amaro, really.

Amaro is a family of Italian herbal liqueurs tasting bitter.

It would encompass a wide variety of spirits, such as the super-bitter Fernet-Branca, and even the Campari.

What makes Campari and Fernet-Branca different are their bitterness levels. Since the latter is far stronger, you’ll only need a few drops. For every four dashes of bitters required, only use two drops of Fernet-Branca of ¼ teaspoon of other types of Italian amaro.

  • Fun fact: Amaro stands for bitter in Italian, so expect it to have the same flavor as your favorite cocktail bitters.

4. Mix of Spices

As mentioned, bitters are usually made of various spices, herbs, fruits, botanicals, and other flavorful ingredients. If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic bitter substitute for soup and broth, you can’t go wrong with a lovely spice blend!

However, the spice blend you choose will depend on what kind of bitters you need. For example, if you need an Angostura bitter substitute, then add cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and mace to your recipe for that Angostura-like spiciness. If you want extra sweetness, add sugar or molasses.

  • Pro-tip: We recommend adding a form of citrus peel to balance out the bitterness!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are you left with more questions about bitters and finding a bitter substitute? Here are frequently asked questions:

1. What cocktails use bitters?

Numerous cocktails use bitters for the intense flavors, such as:

  • Amaretto Sour
  • Bitters and Soda
  • Black Manhattan
  • Brooklyn
  • Manhattan
  • Champagne Cocktail
  • Old Fashioned
  • Pisco Sour
  • Sazerac
  • Singapore Sling
  • Tequila Sour
  • Vodka Sour
  • Zombie
  • And so many more!

2. How do you make an old fashioned without bitter or bitter substitute?

While you can skip bitters in cocktails, there will be a noticeable difference in flavor.

It’s not exactly a bad thing, but your experience may not be as enjoyable.

Bitters are a binding factor in cocktails and emphasize the flavors. In fact, some people describe bitter-less cocktails as a bit dull!

That said, it’s possible to make an Old Fashioned cocktail without bitters or a bitter substitute.

The traditional recipe features whiskey, Angostura bitters, orange peel, and sugar. But without bitters, you can substitute it for muddles fruits like maraschino cherries or oranges.

Muddled fruit and simple syrup can act as the bitter, bringing your cocktail together.

Simply muddle your fruit with sugar syrup, then add ice and whiskey.

Add a bit of club soda, then garnish with an orange peel.

Serve and enjoy!

2. Are Angostura bitters similar to orange bitters?

No, they are different in terms of their ingredients.

Angostura bitters have different flavors, including orange bitters, though they have a unique taste. Orange bitters don’t feature the similar taste of Angostura or other types of bitters, having a specific spicy flavor with hints of citrusy or orange notes.

3. What’s the difference between Cointreau and Angostura bitters?

Unfortunately, we don’t recommend using Cointreau as a bitter substitute.

They have very different flavor profiles. Cointreau is an orange liqueur with a milder flavor in cocktails than Angostura or orange bitters’ stronger taste.

Wrapping It Up

We hope you found the best bitters substitute based on our list above!

The next time you’re making your favorite cocktail, you can always refer to this list so you can nail that refreshing drink you dream of.


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