Any bar worth its rimming salt should be stocked with at least a couple of bottles of bitters. Sure, you can make a cocktail without them, but you can also roast a chicken without salt or pepper. Like these everyday seasonings, cocktail bitters add flavor and depth to almost any beverage, and making your own allows you to put a unique stamp on every cocktail you serve.
I urge you to think of bitters as a sort of “cocktail spice rack”, and to think of every cocktail as a choose-your-own-adventure type of situation. Homemade bitters are so easy to make (you just throw stuff in jars) that there’s no reason not to have a bottle to suit each and every one of your whims. Plus, they make great, super thoughtful gifts. (It’s September, everyone, which means it is just about time to start stressing about the holidays.)
No matter how good you think they would be, never try to eat the fruit soaked for bitters. 😉
If you find yourself at a bar unable to afford decent bourbon (or the well sludge is on happy hour) ask for a splash of aromatic bitters with your drink. Turns a really crappy bourbon into a mediocre-to-poor bourbon, and they’ll never upcharge you for it.