Do Bitters Go Bad?

Do Bitters Go Bad?

Reader Sam writes:

“Hi Drinkhacker, love your articles. I have a question maybe you can answer. I’ve had a bottle of bitters on my shelf for a while now, and I was wondering if bitters ever go bad. Thanks for reading and keep up the good work.”

Sam’s question is a good one. If you’re interested in mixology, you likely have a bottle of bitters stashed away for when it’s needed, but it’s not like you use a ton of the stuff when you make drinks; most recipes just call for a few dashes, so that 8-ounce bottle of bitters could last you for a decade or more. Is it a waste of money buying anything more than a little 2-ounce bottle, because the rest will spoil before you can use it?

To start: What exactly are bitters, anyway? Bitters are made by infusing a neutral spirit with various herbs, fruits, bark, spices, seeds, and just about anything else you can think of. In this way, they’re essentially a liqueur, like an amaro or any other bitter spirit. Could you drink a bottle of bitters straight? While we won’t recommend it (it gets the name ‘bitters’ for a reason, drinking it straight is a potent experience reserved for the insane), it’s perfectly safe to just take a swig of bitters, and in fact that was the idea when bitters were first invented: for a long time, bitters (as well as other bitter herbal liqueurs) were actually made as medicines, to be taken as a cure for everything from an upset stomach to gout. There’s evidence that suggests that bitters, or at least a bitters-like liqueur, was the first type of alcohol made: In China, they’ve uncovered evidence of a fermented concoction brewed with bitter hawthorne berries dating back to 7,000 BC, likely used as a medicine.

So now that you know a bitter more about what bitters are, let’s finally get around to answering Sam’s question. The general answer is that bitters don’t go bad, with one exception that we know of. As a liqueur, bitters have a high alcohol content that might surprise you: Angostura, the most famous brand of bitters, has a whopping 45% abv in that little bottle. Because of this, most bitters have a shelf life comparable to any spirit: essentially indefinite. Like all spirits, chemical reactions and evaporation in the bottle will eventually start to change the taste if you keep the same bottle for a decade or more, but none of it will hurt you and the product won’t spoil.

The one exception we have seen are some fruit bitters made by Fee Brothers, because they sometimes dissolve their flavoring ingredients in glycerin instead of ethanol like most liqueurs. Unlike ethanol, glycerin does have a shelf life of about a year or two before it spoils. If you want some fruit bitters and aren’t sure about that bottle of Fee Brothers that’s been sitting on your shelf for a while, maybe try buying a different brand, or just learn to infuse your own neutral spirit with a fruit of your choice. It’s easy and fun.

Thanks to Sam for the question, and if any readers have questions about the strange and wonderful world of alcohol, write to me at [email protected], and hopefully we can answer your questions, too!

Ivan Lauer is a contributor to Drinkhacker.


  1. jason kadushin on July 27, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    The pt about glycerin vs ethanol is fascinating. What happens to glycerin when it spoils? does it simply taste bad? can it make you sick? etc

    • Ivan Lauer on July 28, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      Thanks for reading, Jason. Glycerin is just sugar alcohol so it won’t kill you or anything if it’s spoiled, though I still wouldn’t recommend hunting down a spoiled bottle and chugging it. It will start to smell and taste bad, is all.

  2. Marie on December 28, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    Great article thanks.i will use my 5year old bottle.

  3. [email protected] on April 15, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    If i use a dasher bottle for my bitters, will the open dasher top shorten the shelf life of the bitters?

  4. Steve F. on November 13, 2021 at 4:38 pm

    I just finished a 23-25 year old bottle of Fee’s Orange bitters and am about to open a second bottle that I bought at the same time (1996-98) when Orange bitters were heard to find. Someone, thinking they were being helpful, bought me another one recently. So I am set for the next 45-50 years—thank you very much.

  5. David G on December 14, 2022 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks for the info! I thought my 6-7 year old bottle of Angostura still tasted good and now I know it does!

  6. Anonymous on January 7, 2023 at 12:21 pm

    My bitters must be 40 years old grocery price tag 89 cents Angostura 2 Oz bottle never opened. Can this still be good,?

  7. Jay Wright on February 21, 2023 at 2:31 am

    Interesting posting. I started making Manhattan’s later in my life requiring bitters. Digging through my 93 year old mothers liquor cabinet I came upon some Angostura’s bitters. .. not from her however but from her father who spent a career working the finest restaurants of San Francisco back in the day and knew how to mix a premium cocktail. So those bitters had to be at least 70 years old. Using all the right ingredients these cocktails turned out splendidly. So I ordered a new bottle of the same brand so as to not exhaust this little piece of family history, heirloom and legacy.

  8. DM Wilson on July 19, 2023 at 6:23 pm

    My dad died in 2002 at 81 y.o. He had not drank for at least 20 years before his death. That makes the bottle of 4 oz. of Angostura (priced at $1.09) at least 40 plus years old. My husband made me an Old Fashion tonight (that was my mom’s favorite drink) using this bottle. We used the 4 oz bottle of Angostura for the first time. I’m here to say the drink was delicious and I’m still here to tell the story!!

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