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Bitters are one of the most important ingredients in the cocktail world. These small bottles pack a big punch of spicy, botanical flavor, so drinks recipes usually call for just a few drops or dashes. There are also many different brands that offer a wide selection of flavors that can be used in almost any cocktail. To help you find options, here are some of the best bitters out there, with expert advice on what makes them worth checking out.
Best Overall: Hella Cocktail Co. Aromatic Bitters
"Black-owned and Brooklyn born, I'm all about Hella bitters," says Darnell Holguin, co-founder of The Silver Sun Group and beverage partner at New York's?Las' Lap. "They make some perfectly balanced bitters. They have these unique flavors like Ginger and Eucalyptus, and I especially like their bitters and soda in a can." The brand's Aromatic Bitters are a fantastic, all-around option to use in classic cocktails.
Best for Old Fashioned: Angostura Aromatic Bitters
A must-have for any home bar, Angostura makes perhaps the most ubiquitous bitters out there, and with good reason. These reddish-brown bitters provide a fragrant bouquet of fruits and spices, and they're an essential ingredient for a classic Old Fashioned. Muddle these bitters with sugar or simple syrup to temper the sweetness, add your favorite bourbon and you’ll see why this brand is so popular.
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Best for Manhattan: Copper & Kings Old Fashioned Bitters
Kentucky-based distillery Copper & Kings is best known for its brandy, gin and liqueurs, but it also makes some high-quality bitters. The Old Fashioned Bitters combine a mixture of botanicals, herbs, and concentrated oils into a brandy base with honey and orange peel, which is then barrel-aged to infuse it with flavor. Though its name might lead you to use this in an Old Fashioned (which works great), these bitters make an excellent Manhattan.?
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Best for Sazerac: Peychaud’s Bitters
A Sazerac really isn’t a Sazerac if you are not using these classic bitters. Peychaud’s has a long history in New Orleans, as does the aforementioned cocktail, and the bitters are now produced there at The Sazerac House, an interactive cocktail museum. The flavors of licorice, orange and cherry complement nicely with the main ingredients of the cocktail: rye whiskey, sugar and absinthe.
Best Orange Bitters: Regan’s Orange Bitters
Regan’s Orange Bitters is a proven classic cocktail component. The citrus flavors and aromas are decidedly forward but not overpowering, allowing them to play well with nearly any spirit (including whiskey, rum, brandy, gin and vodka), as well as with other bitters. Developed by world-renowned bartender Gary Regan, these bitters work well with a range of drinks, from a Manhattan to an Old Fashioned.
Best Chocolate Bitters: Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters
Fee Brothers has been around since the 1800s, with bitters that range from black walnut to rhubarb to cherry. But the Aztec chocolate flavor really stands out, which is a blend of cacao sweetness and a touch of spice. This will liven up many different cocktails—try using it in a Sazerac with cognac, for example, to bring a bit of heat to it.
Best Herbal: 18.21 Havana & Hide Bitters
"When it comes to bitters, I really enjoy using 18.21 bitters out of Atlanta," says Jose Medina Camacho, bar manager of Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Birmingham, Ala. "Havana & Hide are probably my favorite because I haven’t found anything else like it with that flavor profile." These bitters are aged in charred oak barrels and have notes of leather, cigar leaf and sandalwood—making them ideal for cocktails that use any type of whiskey.
Best Citrus: Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
"I’m a huge fan of Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters," says Crystal Chasse, beverage director of McCarren Hotel and Talk Story Rooftop. "The combination of grapefruit oil and Pacific Northwest hops creates a succulent addition for a variety of drinks." These work especially well in cocktails using rum, tequila or mezcal, according to the brand.
Best Celery: Scrappy’s Celery Bitters
Celery may not be the first flavor that comes to mind when considering bitters, but it’s actually a welcome component in certain cocktails. Take the Bloody Mary, for instance: a dash of Scrappy’s Celery Bitters in the classic brunch drink adds a vegetal element that works perfectly. Or if you’re abstaining, throw some in seltzer with ice and enjoy.?
Best 19th-Century Style: The Bitter Truth Bogart’s Bitters
This bottle from The Bitter Truth looks more like an amaro (which are also bitters) than your classic bottle of bitters, but you can use it in much the same way you would one of its smaller cousins. It’s based on the bitters found in the first book on cocktails, written by Jerry Thomas in 1862. The flavor here veers more towards dark spice, chocolate, and cherry notes than floral herbs and botanicals. Try this in everything from an Old Fashioned to a Martini to see how these bitters work their magic.
Best for Hot Cocktails: Bittercube Bolivar Bitters
“I love to use this bitters in Manhattan riffs as well as in hot cocktails,” says Mike Vacheresse, owner of New York's Travel Bar. “It has a familiar flavor, but softer than most aromatic bitters like Angostura.” Bittercube Bolivar is made using a variety of botanicals, including jasmine, cassia & ceylon cinnamon, prune and chamomile, which really defines its flavor.
Best for Amaro Cocktails: Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Dandelion & Burdock Bitters
Sometimes you want to layer bitters on bitters in a drink. “These bitters from Dr. Adam Elmegirab pair great with amaro,” says Vacheresse. “I use this with Meletti—it mellows the sweetness and gives a flowery back end to the cocktail.” Some of the key botanicals used are ginger, star anise and dandelion root, giving them a soft spice and licorice flavor.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for many years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.