Bitters Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad or Expire? How To Tell

Angostura bitters—the little bottle with a big white label and bright yellow cover that you can easily spot on almost all bar counters. Since this is a mainstay ingredient in every bartender’s arsenal, you thought it would instantly help you make great cocktails, so you went ahead and bought one.

But you were wrong. Dead wrong.

Instead of becoming a whiz on the bar counter, you ended up wasting a lot of liquor in making flat-tasting mixed drinks. So you packed up your dreams of being a great bartender and hid the little bottle in your pantry.

After so many years, you uncovered this small bottle and wondered if you should give mixing another a try. But before you do that, you should check if the bottle hasn’t spoiled yet, which leads to the big question: Can bitters go bad?

News Flash: 

Bitters are less likely to go bad because of their high alcohol content. BUT, there is one exception to this rule!

What’s this exception? Is it the Angostura bitters? Continue reading if you want to find out!

In this article, we’ll also answer the following questions:

  • What are bitters made of?
  • Can bitters go bad?
  • How long do bitters last?
  • How to store bitters?
  • And other frequently asked questions about bitters!

If you’re ready, let’s get started!

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What are Bitters Made Of?

image of Bitters

Bitters are considered spirits infused with different types of botanicals, including spices, leaves, barks, fruits, roots, and herbs. In short, it’s a type of alcohol that is infused with different plant matters.

Bitters comprise three parts— a neutral spirit, aromatics, and a bittering ingredient.

The most commonly used neutral spirit for bitters production is grain alcohol. Grain alcohol is the liquor of choice because of two main reasons. (*)

First, it has a strong alcohol content which is beneficial in maximizing the extraction and preservation of flavor. Second, it’s a neutral spirit that can highlight the flavor and character of the infused botanicals used.

On the other hand, the ingredients used for the other two parts vary a lot. For the bittering ingredient, some of the best options you have are:

  • Sarsaparilla
  • Licorice Root
  • Wormwood
  • Koala Nuts
  • Wild Cherry Bark
  • Dandelion Root
  • Angelica Root

With regards to aromatics and spices, you can choose from these ingredients:

  • Mint
  • Hibiscus
  • Chamomile
  • Valerian Root
  • Cinnamon
  • Lemongrass
  • Coriander
  • Cardamom
  • Cloves

Do Bitters Go Bad?

As liqueurs, bitters contain a high amount of alcohol. Case in point: Angostura bitters have an ABV of up to 45%.

Its high ABV makes its shelf life comparable to that of other spirits-= essentially indefinite.

So can bitters go bad? The simple answer is not likely.

But there’s one small catch: While bitters will most likely not go bad for decades, but its flavor and taste will eventually start to deteriorate as the years go by.

How Long Do Bitters Last?

Like other spirits containing alcohol, most bitters are also susceptible to evaporation and different chemical reaction—two common causes of flavor and quality change in alcoholic drinks.

So what does this mean? It means that you should finish off that bottle of Angostura bitters within a few months to years after opening if you want to enjoy it at its best quality,

But wait, there’s more. As we’ve said, there might be an exception to this rule.

Have you ever seen, bought, or used a bottle of fruit bitters from Fee Brothers?

In their bottle, you can find the instruction saying: refrigerate after opening, which implies that it comes with an expiration date or it may have a limited shelf life.

Well, that’s sort of true. Some bitters may go bad over time, and these are the fruit bitters dissolved in glycerin instead of ethanol.

Why is this so? Glycerin has a shorter shelf life than ethanol and can last only 1 to 2 years, so these bitters will definitely spoil beyond this short shelf life or expiration date.

And since these contain glycerin or sugar alcohol, an alcohol enthusiast may not consider them true bitters.

How to Store Bitters Correctly?

When it comes to storing bitters, the most common question is: should you refrigerate bitters? Here’s a simple answer: No.

Since alcohol acts as a natural preservative, you don’t need to refrigerate bitters to extend their shelf life or prevent them from spoiling.

With that said, the best way to store bitters is to keep them away from heat and light to prevent chemical reactions. That’s why you should store bitters in a cold, dry, and dark place like your kitchen cabinet, pantry, or cellar.

But again, there’s one exception: an opened bottle of fruit bitters produced using glycerin has to be refrigerated.

Frequently Asked Questions

We cure your curiosity with our frequently asked questions for those who still have burning questions about bitters!

1. Can Angostura bitters go bad?

Aromatic bitters, like Angostura bitters, are less likely to go bad over time.

2. Can you drink bitters by itself?

Yes, you can, BUT you shouldn’t do so. Keep in mind that these really small bottles pack not just a lot of alcohol but also intense flavors, so you need only a dash or two in your cocktails.

3. What are bitters used for?

Bitters are divided into digestive bitters and cocktail bitters when it comes to purpose.

From its name, digestive bitters are after-dinner drinks formulated to help the drinker digest their meals.

On the other hand, the primary purpose of cocktail bitters is to balance out the flavor of cocktails. In their original form, cocktails are mostly only sweet and sour. By adding a dash of bitters into the drink, you can add complexity and depth to the taste, making its flavor profile more complete.

4. What are the different types of cocktail bitters?

To be honest, exploring the different types of cocktail bitters can get a bit overwhelming since you’ll come across lots of the kinds with other uses and ingredients.

But to give you a sneak peek at cocktail bitters, here are the most popular types:

Aromatic Bitters

This bitters type is the oldest and most commonly used bitter of all. The most famous brand is Angostura aromatic bitters made up of gentian root, Angostura bark, and many different aromatic herbs and spices.

Citrus Bitters

These bitters are infused with peels of citrus fruits like orange bitters, lemon, grapefruit, and even lime. As expected, this lends a sweet taste to the drink.

Herbal Bitters

Herbal bitters offer the most options when it comes to flavor and aroma. The herbs used range from ones with strong flavor and taste (thyme, mint, and tarragon) to spices that impart warmth (cinnamon).

Bean and Nut Bitters

Regarded as the latest discovery in the bitters industry, these are taking the world by storm. The popular beans used are chocolate and coffee, while macadamia, pecan, and walnut are the widely used nut options.

In Summary

Do bitters expire? Due to their high alcohol content, bitters can be considered shelf-stable, which means they can last for years without going bad.

But there’s one exception—the fruit bitters containing glycerin which can last for only one to two years.

Be warned, though. Bitters may lose their flavor and taste when exposed to light and heat.

Luckily, you can prevent this by storing your bitters properly. It couldn’t be any easier.

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and store your bitters the right way so you can preserve their flavor for many years to come.

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