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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
Region: Brooklyn, NY | Tasting Notes: Ginger, eucalyptus, citrus
“Black-owned and Brooklyn born, I'm all about Hella bitters,” said Darnell Holguin, co-host of Azucar y Limon podcast and co-founder of Silver Sun. “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.” Joshua Lopez, bar manager at Osaka Nikkei Miami, is also a fan. “I’ve personally become a fan of Hella Bitters and their attention to detail,” he says, “whether it’s the perfect citrus bitters to balance a cocktail or ginger bitters to add the kick you need. They’ve come through with exactly what I need when I’m in a pinch.”
Best for Old Fashioned: Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Region: Trinidad and Tobago | Tasting Notes: Fruit, spice, vanilla
Angostura makes perhaps the most ubiquitous bitters out there, one that you’ll see in nearly every bar - and one that you should have in your cocktail arsenal at home. This reddish-brown bitters provides a fragrant bouquet of fruits and spices, and it’s an essential ingredient for any 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.
Related: The Best Whiskeys
Best for Manhattan: Copper & Kings Old Fashioned Bitters
Region: Louisville, Kentucky | Tasting Notes: Honey, orange, oak
Louisville distillery Copper & Kings is best known for its brandy, gin, and liqueurs, but it also makes some high quality bitters. These 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. And yes, the name might lead you to use this in an Old Fashioned (and that works great), these bitters make an excellent Manhattan.
Related: The Best Rye Whiskeys
Best for Sazerac: Peychaud’s Bitters
Region: Kentucky | Tasting Notes: Licorice, cherry, orange
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 Sazerac cocktail, and the bitters are now produced at Sazerac House in the city. The flavors of licorice, orange, and cherry are an essential complement to the main ingredients of the cocktail - rye whiskey, sugar, and absinthe.
Best Orange Bitters: Regan’s Orange Bitters
Region: Kentucky | Tasting Notes: Citrus, spice, floral
This is another bitters brand owned by Sazerac. Regan’s Orange Bitters is a proven classic cocktail component. The citrus flavor and aroma is decidedly forward but not overpowering, allowing it to play well with nearly any spirit - whiskey, rum, brandy, even gin and vodka - as well as with other bitters. This is a relatively new brand, having been created in the 1990s and acquired by Sazerac in the 2000s, but it’s become very popular.
Best Chocolate Bitters: Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters
Region: Rochester, NY | Tasting Notes: Chocolate, espresso, cocoa
Fee Brothers has been around since the 1800s, and for good reason. The bitters this company makes range from black walnut to rhubarb to cherry. But the Aztec chocolate flavor really stands out, a blend of cacao sweetness and just a touch of spice. This livens up many different cocktails - try using it in a cognac Sazerac, for example, to bring a bit of heat to it.
Related: The Best Old Fashioned Mixes
Best Herbal: 18.21 Havana & Hide Bitters
Region: Georgia | Tasting Notes: Leather, tobacco, incense
“When it comes to bitters, I really enjoy using 18.21 Bitters out of Atlanta,” said Jose Medina Camacho of Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Birmingham, Alabama. “Havana & Hide are probably my favorite because I haven’t found anything else like it with that flavor profile.” These bitter are aged in charred oak barrels and have notes of leather, cigar leaf, and sandalwood, making them a good choice for cocktails that use whiskey of any type.
Best Citrus: Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
Region: Portland, Oregon | Tasting Notes: Grapefruit, hops, spice
“I’m a huge fan of Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters,” said Crystal Chasse, beverage director for 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
Region: Seattle, WA | Tasting Notes: Celery, vegetal, spice
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 example. A dash of Scrappy’s celery bitters in this classic brunch drink adds a vegetal element that works well. Or if you’re abstaining, throw a dash in some seltzer with ice and enjoy.
Best 19th-Century Style: The Bitter Truth Bogart’s Bitters
Region: Germany | Tasting Notes: Chocolate, toasted spice, cherry
This bottle from The Bitter Truth looks more like an amaro (which are also bitters) than your classic mini 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 Jerry Thomas’s 1862 book, a blueprint for many bartenders working today. 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 this bitters works its magic.
Related: The Best Bourbons
Best for Hot Cocktails: Bittercube Bolivar Bitters
Region: Milwaukee, WI | Tasting Notes: Jasmine, cinnamon, chamomile
“I love to use this bitters in Manhattan riffs as well as in hot cocktails,” said Mike Vacheresse, owner of Brooklyn’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 most notably chamomile, which really defines its flavor.
Best for Amaro Cocktails: Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Dandelion & Burdock Bitters
Region: Scotland | Tasting Notes: Ginger, anise, licorice
Sometimes you want to layer bitters on bitters in a drink. “These bitters from Dr. Adam Elmegirab pair great with amaro,” said 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.
Best Barrel-Aged: Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters
Region: Rochester, NY | Tasting Notes: Oak, vanilla, spice
“I’m a big fan of Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters,” says iluggy recinos (all lowercase), beverage director of Exxir Hospitality Concepts in Dallas. “They are very versatile and add a great body and aroma to any spirit-forward cocktail, all the while maintaining a subtle note not to overwhelm the main spirit you are working with in your cocktail.”
Best Pimento: Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters
Region: New Orleans, LA | Tasting Notes: Allspice, anise, herbs
These bitters are made in conjunction with absinthe distiller T. A. Breaux, and are made without any artificial colors or flavors added. Dale DeGroff is a renowned author, bartender, and cocktail expert, and recipient of the James Beard 2009 Wine & Spirits Professional Award. The man knows a thing or two about bitters, and these are great in rum drinks or classics like an Old Fashioned, Sazerac, or Painkiller. Also, try using them when cooking for an intense burst of flavor.
Best Variety Pack: The Bitter Truth Traveler’s Set
Region: Germany | Tasting Notes: Celery, spice, citrus
You can collect various bottles of bitters to keep on your home bar, but it’s also nice to have an option of a variety pack, especially one that you can bring with you on the go. The Bitter Truth’s Traveler's Set has five 20-ml bottles to choose from - Aromatic, Orange, Celery, Creole, and Jerry Thomas. They are small enough to bring in your carry-on bag when flying, but will be enough to use for making many different drinks.
Related: The Best Whiskeys for Beginners
Best Aromatic: Jack Rudy Aromatic Bitters
Region: Kentucky, South Carolina | Tasting Notes: Citrus, spice, vanilla
These bitters are made from a base of burnt cane syrup, giving them a nice hint of sweetness that is balanced by the spice and citrus notes. Try this in classic whiskey cocktails instead of your go-to bitters to see how they compare. Also, the brand recommends adding a few drops to soda water or ginger ale to help cure a hangover.
Hella Bitters (view at Amazon) is the best overall choice, according to some of the expert bartenders we spoke to. The Aromatic Bitters in particular is a good choice, with a nice balance of spice, earthiness, and sweetness. These bitters work well in so many different types of cocktails, so experiment with them and see what you like best.
What To Look For
There are so many different types of bitters, from citrus to aromatic to spicy to celery. Each one can be used in a different type of cocktail, and has a unique flavor. Look for brands that use all all-natural ingredients if that’s important to you, but some of the best and most popular companies do add artificial color to their bitters. Overall, you want to keep a few different styles of bitters on your home bar because each one brings a different character to a cocktail.
What are bitters?
Bitters are a concentrated tincture of water, alcohol, and flavoring, usually from various types of spice and botanicals. They are meant to be used in small amounts, just a few dashes at a time, but are an important component of many cocktails like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
Is there alcohol in bitters?
There is alcohol in bitters, something to be aware of if you are abstaining (there are some NA options available, however). The percentage may be as high as 45% by volume, but the tiny amount of bitters you use in a drink means that the actual amount of alcohol you are adding is negligible and doesn’t really affect the overall ABV of a cocktail.
Can you drink them on their own?
There are some bitters you can drink on their own, like The Bitter Truth Bogart’s Bitters. But bitters are mostly meant to be added to a drink, both alcoholic and otherwise. And they can be used for cooking as well.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries to taste and discover 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.
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