Up your bitters game with the country’s best small-batch creations.
Cocktail lovers have a way of losing their minds over bitters. It’s understandable: Much time and effort go into well-made bitters, and slight adjustments in ingredients can have a profound effect on finished cocktails. These 12 producers from across the United States take their bitters very seriously. Stock up; start experimenting; go nuts, if you’re so inclined: It’s all better with bitters.
1. Hella Bitters
This Brooklyn-based company creates two types of bitters: citrus and aromatic. Now the company offers a make-your-own kit for DIYers keen on crafting their own bitters. Too ambitious? The pre-made offerings, manufactured in Queens, New York, are straightforward and affordable. Made with wormwood (versus an Angostura base) the small batches are handcrafted and the aromatic variety is flavored with beet juice, which explains its magenta hue. Find it in cocktails at Noorman’s Kil in Brooklyn.
It was a love of botany and science that led three grad student scientists to form a bitters company. Those smarts are reflected in the group’s product. Look for flavors like Black Bear’s Bitters, made with juniper cone and osha root, a plant favored by, yes, bears. Shoots and Roots defines the small-batch operation: Made in Harlem, their bitters are crafted 60 at a time in nine variations—plus one-offs for particular bars and restaurants (like the “Tree Kisser: Eastern Forest,” currently featured in a cocktail at celeb chef Wylie Dufresne’s New York restaurant Alder).
Based in Georgetown, a historically significant industrial neighborhood in south Seattle, this two-man company has created a spice-laced product that changes the flavors of a cocktail with just a dash or two. While not quite bitters, these handmade tinctures are handcrafted from whole spices, fresh herbs, chile peppers, and the like using a traditional maceration process in flavors like rosemary and curry. Seattle bar Brass Tacks used the curry spice in their piña coladas this summer, which gave depth to the coconut milk and a kick of heat.
4. Mariena Mercer, chef mixologist of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
A Las Vegas native, Mariena Mercer oversees the beverage program at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, specializing in molecular mixology, tequilas and edible cocktails. Mercer splits her time between the bar and kitchen to craft layered cocktails and house-made bitters. Her varieties include grapefruit, mole (made with Abuelita chocolate, poblano peppers, golden raisins, and cinnamon) and Thai bitters (made with Birds eye chiles, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and garam masala).
Derrick Turner, the resident mixologist at Harding’s in New York, makes his own bitters at the restaurant and uses them in a variety of cocktails. His recipe (below) can be used for anything from Old Fashioned toppers to sangrias.
Harding’s Homemade Lavender Bitters
.75 cup lavender, dried
.5 of an orange peel
4 tbsp simple syrup (1:1)
10 oz everclear or vodka
1 bay leaf
Let the ingredients sit in a mason jar for 2–3 weeks, depending on how strong you would like the bitters to be. Double strain and enjoy.
Produced in small batches with a history that traces back over a century, Abbott’s was a cherished bitters brand until it folded. Tempus Fugit, a spirit and liqueur company based in California, recreated Abbott’s classic formula through research and well-executed updates. The results can be found in drinks at Trick Dog in San Francisco and at Cure in New Orleans.
A family-run company (named after the two founders’ great-grandfather) based in Charleston, South Carolina and Lexington, Kentucky, Jack Rudy collaborated with Cocktail Punk in Boulder, Colorado, to create its aromatic bitters. Made in small batches with burnt cane sugar syrup as a base, it’s a full-blooded American product. Find it made in cocktails at Fedora in New York City.
Named for the Los Angeles stretch where it began, Miracle Mile was founded by Louis Anderman. He began with chocolate-chile bitters and the company grew from there, expanding with flavors like bergamot, sour cherry and toasted pecan. The batches are still small and handcrafted, and can be found in cocktails at Honeycut in Los Angeles, where Miracle Mile provides the house-made bitters.
Produced using natural ingredients, the flavors stand out in Cecil & Merl’s bitters, particularly the cherry version, which is excellent paired simply with soda water. The Brooklyn-based company, started by a husband-and-wife team and named for their grandfathers, sells its bitters—along with cheesecake and totes—online, and cocktails using the bitters are made at its flagship restaurant, James, in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
More herbaceous and medicinal than typical bitters used in cocktails, Urban Moonshine hails from Burlington, Vermont and features certified organic herbs and roots. The bitters come in dropper bottles and spray bottles in flavors from orange to maple, which makes sense knowing the brand’s Vermont connection. Urban Moonshine is used in cocktails at the Bluebird Tavern in Burlington.
One of the larger small-scale bitters companies is Scrappy’s, which launched in 2008 in Seattle. Its products range from classic varieties (aromatic and celery) to more out-there flavors like coffee and firewater, and the company chooses mostly organic ingredients. Find it served across the country, including at The Hideout in Scrappy’s hometown.
This purveyor based in Santa Fe offers food-inspired bitters, like Memphis Barbecue and Jamaican Jerk. You wind up with quite the savory cocktail experience that way. Made with 100-percent natural ingredients—all of which are listed on the bottle—there are no added colors. Find Bitter End at Secreto Lounge at the Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe.
In your mention of sources, there is no better place to try and purchase bitters than Bar Keeper, in Silver Lake area of Los Angeles. In addition to stocking many of the craft bitters they have a tasting area where you can see if they are to your liking.
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