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Bitters are typically specified by the dash. Add a dash of bitters. Add two dashes. But what is a “dash” and how does one measure it? For the measuring type, 1 dash = 1/8th of a teaspoon (or 1/6th, in some references). Even with this imprecisely precise information, it’s hard to accurately measure 1/8th teaspoon even if you have a 1/8th teaspoon measuring cup (which I do) as surface tension effects will give you varied measures.
For bitters with a shaker top (like ours at AZBL), some say a quick, hard shake over the mixing glass puts out a “dash”. Others like to tip the bottle slowly and let gravity coax the liquid, drop by drop, out of the bottle. In this case, something like 6-8 drops are comparable to a “dash”. What we do know is that the hole in the top of various bitters shaker tops varies from company to company and even within the product lines of a single company so counting drops isn’t a foolproof measuring approach for accuracy either. Still others go the eyedropper route with more precise control over counting droplets but the hole in the tip of glass droppers varies with bottle supplier or dropper size. Assuming using the same bitters bottle, the drop counting approach will at least give you consistency from drink to drink, yet not accuracy.
So how much bitters should be used and how should it be measured? This is really akin to asking how much salt or pepper should I use. Ingredients in bulk tend to have a measurement assigned to them. Add ¼ cup of raisins. Add 1 cup of chopped tomato. This type of ingredient is pretty easy to measure and in most cases don’t have to be measured precisely. In baking, measurements can be particularly important which is why people turn to very accurate weight-based measurement instead of volume-based. But seasonings, like salt, pepper, or even bitters, are often specified as “to taste”. You add some, you try, you add some more. Guidance like “a dash” or “two dashes” are a good starting point.
It’s far easier to add more salt than it is to take some out. We treat bitters the same way. First combine all of your other cocktail ingredients in your mixing glass. Taste. Add some bitters – maybe a single shake, maybe counting out 3-4 drops, taste again, adjust, taste, repeat. After a while, you’ll get the feel for it based on the flavor of your drink or recipe prior to adding the bitters.
So how do you add your bitters to a cocktail? Do you do the shake? Do you precisely measure by the drop? Do you like your cocktails gently bittered or aggressively so?
Let us know…and happy cocktails!