Do bitters go bad?

There is something distinctly satisfying about drinking a cocktail in a bar. Maybe it’s because someone is making the cocktail for you and cleaning up when you are done, or it’s the flavor. Reproducing your favorite cocktail at home may be challenging due to creating the right balance of flavor profiles, and often it seems as if something is missing.

If you are not using bitters for your home cocktails, you are missing the trick that can make your home cocktail taste the same as a bar cocktail and even better in some cases. Bitters balance cocktails’ flavors, rounding off the harsh edges of some liquors.

This article will unveil some facts about bitters and why it seems to last forever. We answer frequently asked questions so you can make a professional cocktail in your home.

Let’s dive in.

Do bitters expire?

Yes, but it takes a long time, and you will have possibly consumed the bottle with your cocktails before that date rolls around.

Bitters is a shelf-stable product. An unopened bottle of bitters can last indefinitely stored correctly in a cool environment from direct sunlight. For this reason, you will not find an expiry date on a bottle of bitters.

When you crack the seal on bitters, it still has an incredibly long shelf life if sealed and stored correctly. Many opened bottles of bitters are reported to have lasted ten years or more with no degradation to the product.

You may not know, but bitters are high in alcohol. If you are unaware, it can be forgiven because bitters are used sparingly in drinks with their pungent flavor profile. You will only ever need a dash or two of this flavorsome spirit.

Having a high alcohol content of sometimes above 40% ABV enables the bitters to act like a preservative. Of course, if the alcohol evaporates, you are left with something completely different, which will go bad quickly.

Do bitters need to be refrigerated?

No, There is no advantage to refrigerating bitters other than it would make the bitters cold. The best way to store bitters once opened is in a cool dark environment or at least out of sunlight. In a bar, store them under the bartop, and at home, in a cool pantry or kitchen cabinet far from the cooking area.

Refrigerating bitters would do no harm to the product, so if safe storage is at a premium, go ahead and store them in the refrigerator. However, it will not extend the shelf life of the bitters.

How long can bitters sit out?

There seems to be some debate on how long bitters last. Given there is no expiry date, you can assume a new bottle of bitters will last indefinitely if stored in a cool dark place like the pantry or below the bar top surface.

According to some experts and users, if the bottle is open but sealed correctly and stored in the same manner, the bitters will last anywhere from 5 years to decades.

It will be perfectly fine if you have a soiree and the bitters are left on the side for an evening or day. However, despite its high alcohol content of 30% to 45%, the bottle should remain sealed after use to keep the bitters in tip-top condition.

The bitters will certainly not go bad if left out and will not incur a bacteria load with their high alcohol content.

Do bitters get better with age?

No. Bitters are fermented in casks of oak and other timbers to impart the woody flavors into the concoction of herbs, aromatics, and the other secret ingredients used to make bitters.

Once the bitters leave the cask/barrel, the aging and fermentation stops, and the product in the bottle should remain the same if stored correctly.

This is the same for all liquors.

How long do bitters last in the fridge?

Bitters should be stored in a cool dark place, so refrigerating bitters is not necessary for their long-term shelf life.

Keeping bitters in the fridge could reduce flavor profiles, making it less pungent for each dash of bitters you use.

Chilling bitters will not extend their already long shelf life.

Do frozen bitters go bad?

It’s an interesting concept and one with merit. If you want to extend the life of the bitters by freezing, it could work, but before the bitters go bad, the freezer is likely to expire, given the already long shelf life of bitters.

However, freezing bitters into ice cubes could make for an interesting addition to a cocktail. You could swirl the glass with bitters and then add some orange bitters to an old fashioned via ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, it would add some panache to the cocktail when not expected.

Experimenting with frozen bitters in ice cubes is a wonderful idea, although breaking with tradition could create an exceptional cocktail experience.

Different types of bitter

Do angostura bitters go bad?

Yes. But it’s not a simple yes and no answer. Angostura bitters are sold in two different guises. The first is the one most of you know. It’s an aromatic version, used in almost every cocktail bar worldwide, and has a beautiful flavor profile. 

The second type of bitter flavor, Angostura orange, is a truly remarkable bitter that adds the strong flavor of orange and can easily replace the spray of orange oil from orange peel in the cocktail.

The ingredients of bitters are pretty robust and, once fermented, are not susceptible to bacteria. 

Both are different from each other but have incredibly long shelf lives. The Aromatic and flavor version will expire or go bad over many years but not as you would expect.

Over time the flavor profiles start to diminish and break down, but it takes years, and because the flavor profile is so distinctive and aromatic, would you notice when only placing a dash or two in a glass of liquor?

It is more likely that you will have used the bottle before this point arrives.

However, if your bitters have turned a darker color and have a different flavor, you can consider they should be replaced.

Do aromatic bitters go bad?

If the bottle of aromatic bitters is unopened, you can assume it has an indefinite shelf life and high alcohol content, which will preserve it.

An opened bottle of aromatic bitters has a long shelf life if the bottle is sealed after use and is stored in a cool dark place like the pantry.

If you only use aromatic bitter infrequently, you can check on it after about five years. It should be ok, but if the color has changed, it is worth replacing.

Refrigerating aromatic bitters will not extend their shelf life.

Do cocktail bitters go bad?

Yes. Cocktail bitters are the same as discussed in the article, there may be more flavors, such as chocolate, but cocktail bitters are essentially the same.

Unopened cocktail bitters, including Angostura bitters, have a shelf life that is considered undefined if stored correctly, much like any unopened bottle of liquor.

Stored correctly, bitters last a long time, and the shelf life will possibly be irrelevant as bitters are reported to last for a decade or longer in the right conditions.

Do orange bitters go bad?

Orange bitters do go bad in the same way as aromatic bitters go bad, very slowly. Orange bitters have some fantastic fruit rinds used in the process of fermenting, but doing the fermenting process, the alcohol builds to a sufficient level where the bitters are preserved.

If you are concerned about the shelf life because you have stored bitters for a long time, you can see if the bitters have changed by color. Orange is an orange color. If it is dark and loses the scent of orange, it’s not fit for your cocktail.

Do creole bitters go bad?

Hmmm, the bitter truth that transports you to the french quarter for Mardi Gras.

Creole bitter, like other bitters, has an extraordinary shelf life but will go bad over many years. Stored correctly, bitter will last a minimum of five years, and if you enjoy a  cocktail once in a while, it will be used up before the five years come around.

Final thoughts

Bitters make the perfect cocktail, the seasoning on the cocktail bar that takes the bite away from whisky and puts Manhattan into the Manhattan.

Bitter has a shelf life much the same as liquors. It could be said it will last forever when unopened, but when opened, this pungent seasoning will still last a long time if it is stored in a cool room or cabinet and not exposed to sunlight and sealed correctly.

There is no requirement to refrigerate bitters, it does not extend the shelf life, and refrigeration may subdue the flavor profile.

If the bitters have the same color as when you bought it and the smell is good, then it’s OK to use regardless of how many years you have had it stored.

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