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: does bitters go bad?
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:
If you’re ready, let’s get started!
Before we delve into the question of whether bitters can go bad, let’s understand what bitters actually are. What are bitters made of? 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.
They 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:
- Licorice Root
- Koala Nuts
- Wild Cherry Bark
- Dandelion Root
- Angelica Root
With regards to aromatics and spices, you can choose from these ingredients:
- Valerian Root
Do Bitters Go Bad?
Do bitters have alcohol? 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 expire or go bad? The simple answer is not likely.
But there’s one small catch: While they will most likely not go bad for decades, its flavor and taste will eventually start to deteriorate as the years go by.
Signs of Spoilage
Table Signs of Bitters Spoilage
|Darkened, cloudy, or significantly altered color
|Reduced aromatic intensity or unpleasant, off-putting odors
|Diminished flavor complexity or undesirable taste notes
|Presence of unusual sediment or particles in the liquid
|Layers forming or settling in the bottle
How can you tell if your bitters have gone bad? There are a few telltale signs to watch out for. Firstly, changes in color might indicate spoilage. If your bitters have significantly darkened or changed color, it’s a sign that the ingredients may have broken down.
Additionally, alterations in aroma and flavor are key indicators. If your bitters no longer smell as aromatic or taste as flavorful as they used to, it’s a sign that their quality has diminished.
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 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 Correctly?
When it comes to storing bitters, the most common question is: Do bitters need to be refrigerated? or should you refrigerate them after opening? Here’s a simple answer: No.
Since alcohol acts as a natural preservative, you don’t need to refrigerate to extend their shelf life or prevent them from spoiling.
With that said, the best way to store is to keep them away from heat and light to prevent chemical reactions. That’s why you should store 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.
Using Expired Bitters
Now, the million-dollar question: Is it safe to use expired bitters? In general, consuming slightly expired bitters won’t cause harm, but their flavor profile might be significantly altered. If your bitters are just slightly past their prime, they can still be used, albeit with a shift in taste. However, if the signs of spoilage are pronounced, it’s best to avoid using them, as they won’t contribute the desired flavor to your cocktails.
Frequently Asked Questions
We cure your curiosity with our frequently asked questions for those who still have burning questions about bitters!
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 bottles properly. It couldn’t be any easier.
So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and store your bottles the right way so you can preserve their flavor for many years to come.