Do Bitters Go Bad? How Long Do Bitters Last? (Updated 2023)

do bitters go bad

Are you curious about how long bitters last? Stick around as we discuss the answer in this article…

Almost everyone loves a drink after a long and tiring day at work, especially with friends and family. After all, who better to share your life with than those nearest and dearest to you, right? One of the best ways to do so is, of course, enjoying a couple of cocktails in the comforts of your own home, many of which are made with bitters.

If you’re a cocktail aficionado, chances are you’re well-acquainted with bitters and their ability to add depth and dimension to just about any drink. With a renewed interest in this additive, it seems they have made their way into many aspiring bartenders’ toolkits.

Because of their potency, bitters tend to linger on the shelves and bars, leaving one wondering about their shelf life. To learn more about these flavorful liquids and if they go bad, make sure to read through this article.

What Are Bitters?

Bitters are flavor extracts infused with alcohol. These extracts are made from infused botanicals, such as flowers, berries, aromatic herbs, roots, bark, and other pieces of plants. Pure and potent in form, most drink recipes use them in drops and dashes, kind of like an additional flavor boost. As such, they come in small bottles.

There is a wide range of bitters in existence today, with perhaps the most famous one being Angostura. You can find aromatic bitters that help engage the senses with their strong smells and intense flavors, as well as citrus bitters made with orange, lemon, yuzu, or grapefruit peels.

Angostura Bitters

Herbal bitters, in contrast to the previous, hold a stronger taste and flavor, such as those containing tarragon, thyme, or even mint, Meanwhile, the spice variety, such as those made with cinnamon, has a tendency to impart warmth.

Nut bitters also exist, with coffee and chocolate varieties under the roster. Meanwhile, fruit bitters tend to err on the sweeter side.

Angostura, on the other hand, was created as a digestive bitter designed to help food digest better. It was reportedly created in the 19th century to alleviate digestive problems and help combat Venezuelan parasites. Today, however, you will most commonly find it in a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned.

Bitters and Their Shelf Life

Bitters are less likely to go bad because the alcohol base acts as a natural preservative to the botanicals. The higher the alcohol by volume (ABV), the more shelf-stable they are. Most have an ABV rating of more than 40 percent, almost the same as bourbon or vodka, thereby effectively preserving the aromatics and botanicals within.

Experts say that bitters retain their condition for up to five years, while some can last even longer.

Beyond this, their flavor and aromatics tend to break down, resulting in a slightly mellow and less potent taste. Oxidation, evaporation, and other chemical reactions happening within the bottle cause this change.

For them to retain their stability, store them away from sunlight and instead, place them in a relatively cool and dry place.


Do Bitters Go Bad at All?

Technically no, given that the alcohol content preserves them for a long time. As a matter of fact, the shelf life is considered “essentially indefinite.” While chemical reactions or oxidation may take place, they won’t spoil the product or harm you in any way when consumed.

There are, however, some types of bitters that tend to go bad over time. This includes fruit bitters dissolved in glycerin rather than ethanol. Glycerin has a shelf life of only one to two years. Beyond that, they can spoil. Case in point: the fruit bitters that come from Fee Brothers. Some argue that the use of glycerin, also referred to as sugar alcohol, does not make ‘true’ bitters.

Some signs that these types have gone bad include smell and taste. If they have a slightly sour or tangy odor, much different from the originally sweet liqueur you know, this may indicate that you should toss them out. The taste will likewise be affected.

While a spoiled bottle of fruit bitters won’t necessarily kill you or harm you, consuming it and doling it out in your drinks may produce a bad aftertaste.

The Bottom Line

Now that you know the shelf life of bitters, you can rest easy knowing they’ll last you for years at a time. Do what you want with this information. Who knows, you might be able to enjoy a drink or two with these bitter and potent liquids.

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