The Simple Fix For Overly Sweet Cocktails

There's nothing like the sweet taste of a well-made cocktail, but sometimes bartenders and recipe books can go overboard with the sugar. An overly sweet cocktail can leave a literal bad taste in your mouth and overpower subtler flavors, not to mention the headache that often follows.

Luckily, there's a quick and easy solution to this problem that doesn't call for adding acidic lemon juice or vinegar like you might when correcting a super-sweet sauce or dish. And all it takes is a few simple tweaks to the recipe. A drop of this, a dash of that, and you're on your way to enjoying a well-balanced cocktail with a complex and complete flavor profile that tantalizes your tastebuds in exactly as it should.

You don't need to be a professional to make your cocktails taste great, either. You just need some botanical-infused high-proof alcohol, otherwise known as bitters.

Whether you prefer classic drinks or unique, modern concoctions, it's fairly effortless to tone down the sweetness and achieve the perfect balance of flavor with bitters. Ditch the headache-inducing, syrupy mess, and learn how you can bring sweet drinks back to life.

Add bitters to cut the sugar

The simple hack for fixing an overly-sweet cocktail? Just add bitters. Bitters are a concentrated solution of herbs, spices, and botanicals that add complexity and depth to drinks. Adding just a few drops can be enough to balance out the sweetness in pretty much any cocktail.

For example, if an Old Fashioned is too sweet for your taste, you can easily counteract this with an extra dash or two of Angostura bitters (most recipes naturally call for one to two dashes to start). 

Orange bitters work wonders when used with clear spirits, including light rum. So if you find that your Rum Rummer, which is naturally sweet due to the banana and blackberry liqueurs and grenadine, tastes overwhelmingly sweet, try adding one to two more dashes of orange bitters to dry it out and give the fruity flavors a chance to shine.

Why does this work? Author of "Bitterman's Field Guide to Bitters & Amari" Mark Bitterman told Epicurious, "Bitters are to cocktails as salt is to food. They improve and align flavors just like salt does; they help to accentuate flavor."

Just remember to be careful and start out slow — over-bittering a drink isn't ideal, either! A drop or two should do the trick. If you're worried about overdoing it, use a dasher bottle. They're specialized containers that regulate the flow of bitters and help you measure your desired dose for the right mix of sweet and bitter.

The best bitters to add to sweet cocktails

Few ingredients can add more depth of flavor to a drink than a couple of drops of bitters. They're also great at enhancing sweet concoctions. But choosing the right bitters can be difficult.

Angostura bitters are perhaps the most famous type of bitter. They have an aromatic, slightly spicy flavor that pairs well with many classic cocktails like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. Orange bitters, being citrusy to start, are a great choice if you want to add a hint of spiced citrusy brightness. Absolut recommends adding a dash or two to fruity martinis as well as vodka-based cocktails or those with a light rum base.

For something a little different, Peychaud's bitters offer up incredible complexity with notes of anise and cherry, while chocolate bitters can really boost any cocktail's nutty and toasty notes, like in a delicious espresso martini (add vanilla gelato if you want to reintroduce some sugary sweetness).

Whether you're more into traditional Angostura for simpler drinks or want to get creative with adventurous flavors like chocolate, cucumber, or curry-flavored bitters, there's something out there for every cocktail enthusiast looking to correct a cocktail that's slightly heavy on the sugar. Just remember: Less is often more. Perfecting that sweet-and-bitter balance in your drinks is just a few drops away.