With quarantine stretching on and folks drinking with a post-Prohibition level of fervor, home cocktail culture is booming. That’s why you need some solid bitters on your bar cart — a mix of classics and newcomers to aid you in your drink mixing. Clever ways to up your game and straightforward additions to bar stalwarts like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
For the uninformed, bitters are a common cocktail ingredient, drawing their flavor from various botanicals and spices. They are highly concentrated and usually centered around subtly bitter or bittersweet notes (hence the name). And while the whole bitters scene is rapidly growing more eclectic and craft-focused, one name absolutely dominates the conversation.
“The best bitters, as far as I’m concerned, are the iconic Angostura bitters,” says Trevor Schneider, Reyka Vodka Brand Ambassador. “These bitters are great at delivering the perfect balance to a cocktail as well as providing great amounts of flavor.”
While having Angostura is a must, picking other types of bitters for your home bar requires some thought as to what you’ll be mixing up and which flavors you enjoy. To help get the conversation started, we still asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their go-to picks.
Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters
Emily Kraus, national beverage manager for Wolfgang Puck Catering
Scrappy’s Bitters – Lavender. Whether you want to get crazy and experiment with your cocktails or just brighten up a Vodka-soda or Gin and Tonic these lavender bitters add an herbal note that is more savory than sweet or floral.
Different brands have a flagship mix so having a collection of the best from a few different manufacturers — including some local craft entries — is your best bet. Ask them which is the best, which mix stands out the most.
Average Price: $19.99 for a 5 ounce bottle
Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Own Decanter Bitters
Sam Gay, bartender at Ojai Valley Inn in Ojai, California
I think the Jerry Thomas Own Decanter Bitters from the Bitter Truth are phenomenal—super clove and spice forward.
I put a dash behind my ear sometimes if I want to smell like Christmas morning.
Average Price: $4.99 for a 20ml bottle
Hector Acevedo part owner of Spanglish Craft Cocktail Bar & Kitchen in Miami
Angostura Bitters. Period. It has a unique flavor. The cinnamon, cardamom, clove are some of the flavors you taste. Angostura for a bartender is like salt for a chef — can’t do a damn thing without salt.
Average Price: $22.99 for a 16 ounce bottle
Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters
Ashley Thomas, Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum Brand Ambassador
Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters. It was created to compliment Tiki drinks and does it beautifully. The cinnamon and allspice go amazing with Sailor Jerry spiced rum.
Average Price: $19.99 for a 5-ounce bottle
David Powell, Hudson Whiskey Brand Ambassador
There are so many, but I think that some of the emerging bitters brands like Hella out of NYC and 18:21 out of Atlanta are doing some really amazing things. Certain brands will always be staples, but Hella and 18:21 are innovating and trying collaborations in certain instances, which are really smart initiatives.
Average Price: $14.99 for a 5-ounce bottle
Bitter Truth Orange Flower Water
Amanda Swanson, bar manager at Fine & Rare in New York City
The Bitter Truth has a line of Non-Alcoholic bitters that I think are going to start becoming really popular with the current rising trend/lifestyle change that many people are making in eliminating or reducing their alcohol consumption.
Average Price: $14.99 for a 125ml bottle
Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters
Nikki McCutcheon, beverage director at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge in New York City
Fee Brothers are a locally made bitters company from Rochester, NY (my hometown!) and have a vast array of flavors. One of my favorites is their Black Walnut Bitters.
They also make a Fee Foaming bitters that is a great egg white replacement and vegan alternative for cocktails.
Average Price: $8.99 for a 5-ounce bottle
Peychaud’s Aromatic Bitters
Kyle Walter, Bartender at Grayton Beer Brewpub in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
Peychaud’s Aromatic Bitters. They’re a New Orleans staple. From the balance to its beautiful red hue. If you’re about to make a Sazerac and you don’t have a few dashes of these, you’re about to make a mistake.
Average Price: $7.99 for a 5-ounce bottle
Bittercube Orange Bitters
We love a good Manhattan and we enjoy it topped off with the fresh flavor of orange. You can do this by rubbing an organic orange peel across the rim (or twisting it and putting it in your glass) or by using a few drops of Bittercube Orange Bitters for a little more bitter-meets-citrus flavor.
Average Price: $9.99 for a 10-ounce bottle
Copper & Kings Red Alembic Bitters
If you enjoy brandy, then you already know about Copper & Kings. If not, it’s time to get on the bandwagon. You can start by buying a bottle of their award-winning brandy and a bottle of their Red Alembic Bitters to give your favorite drink subtle anise and herbal flavor notes.
Average Price: $5 for a 5-ounce bottle