Dr. Hostetter's American Bitter Liqueur

Difford's Guide

alc./vol: 20%

Proof: 40°

Vintage: Non-vintage

Aged: Unaged

Product of: Product of United Kingdom United Kingdom


Dr. J. Hostetter's Celebrated Stomach Bitters were launched in 1853 by David Hostetter, based on a prescription dispensed by his father, Dr. Jacob Hostetter. A modern-day replica Dr. Hostetter's Bitters with trademark St. George astride a horse while slaying the Dragon were launched in summer 2022.

The eldest child, David Hostetter moved to California in 1850 to capitalize on the Gold Rush and started a grocery business in San Francisco only for his stock to be destroyed and his business with it during the San Francisco Fire of May 1851. After the disaster, he returned to the family home in Pennsylvania where he worked as a railroad contractor. Obviously, his entrepreneurial spirit was unfaultered by the disastrous fire and in 1853 he partnered with George W. Smith, a boyhood friend, and established Hostetter & Smith to market and commercialise the bitters his father had formulated and prescribed the patients of his own practice.

The bitters were compounded in Pittsburgh, USA according to Dr. Hostetter's recipe with ingredients including extracts of anise, coriander, cinchona, and gentian, fortified to around 47% alc./vol. and sweetened with sugar.

Obviously anticipating success, the doctor retired the same year as the bitter's launch and although initial sales were low by the late 1850s they were a commercial success. Dr. Hostetter's Bitters went on to be one of the most successful tonic biters of the 1800s making David Hostetter a multi-millionaire.

The bitters were rationed to union soldiers during the American Civil War in the dubious belief they would ward "against the fatal maladies of the Southern swamp." But while they were originally made and marketed as a health tonic, Hostetter's Bitters were also served in saloons across America by the glass. The Hostetter Company thrived into the 1930s run by a successive fourth generation of the Hostetter family.

The modern-day reformulated bitter is a mere 20% alc./vol. (compared to the original 47%) and "combines original ingredients with aromatics & botanicals, rose & candied fruit, and the red carmine extract of the cochineal cactus beetle." Indeed, as the label says, "turns drinks red."

Review and Tasting

Sampled on 06/09/2022


Clear, rust red.


Cracked black pepper, gentian, quinine and bayleaf with cherry, thyme-led herbal woodiness.


Herbaceous quinine and gentian bitterness enlivened by cracked black pepper spice and flavoured with sweet zesty citrus and red berry/cherry fruitiness.


Long bittersweet finish with black pepper spice.


Perhaps it's the red colour and "bitter" liqueur categorisation but the modern-day Dr. Hostetter's Bitter nestles close to the Italian red bitters category headed up by Campari. Indeed, one of the two cocktails promoted on the label is a Boulevardier.

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Difford's Guide Certification


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Product Information

Barcode UPC: 5070000336213
Bottle Size: 700 ml
Closure: Agglomerated cork stopper

More about Dr. Hostetter's Bitter

Produced by: Silent Pool Distillery

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