Try adding the best cocktail bitters to your homemade libations. From classic Angostura to whimsical flavor combinations, they’re bound to take your cocktails up a notch. Or two or three.
As bartenders say, bitters are the finishing salt of cocktails.
And finishing salt should be, well, really, really good salt. Sorry, Morton’s salt girl.
Bitters are strong, botanical, alcoholic infusions that pack a serious punch for… well, punch.
And old-fashioneds. And manhattans. And negronis.
Don’t know what bitters are? Let me do a quick recap from Cocktail Bitters 101.
What are cocktail bitters?
Cocktail bitters, AKA bitters, are alcoholic infusions steeped for weeks or months with botanicals like herbs, fruits, seeds, roots, flowers, leaves or bark.
The result is a strong, fragrant and flavorful liquid that you can add to cocktails for a deeper, more complex flavor.
How to use cocktail bitters
Bitters are commonly used in cocktails, but you can cook with them too.
Try adding them to baking recipes in lieu of vanilla extract, or to meat marinades and salad dressings for a more sophisticated depth of flavor.
The best cocktail bitters
I’m often asked what my favorite cocktail bitters are, and the answer is…
Well, I have a collection. I haven’t counted, but I easily own 20-30 types. Don’t @ me. (But yes, I know, and I have too many to put them in cute bottles like this for my bar cart.)
My top recommendations for flavors of cocktail bitters:
- aromatic bitters (must-have)
- orange bitters or citrus bitters (must-have)
- ginger bitters (for fall)
- cinnamon, cardamom and/or clove bitters (for winter)
- hibiscus, coconut and/or pineapple bitters (for tiki lovers)
- cherry, coffee and/or chocolate bitters (for dessert lovers)
- jalapeño, habanero or mole bitters (for spice lovers)
Make your own bitters
Did you know you can make your own bitters? You can! All it takes is some natural ingredients, some vodka and some time.
High Desert Botanicals sells a number of amazing DIY bitters kits on Etsy so you can get started quickly and follow their instructions.
I’ve never tried them myself, but it’s been on my list for years! Maybe I should put one on my Christmas list…
What are the best bitters brands?
I got you! I put together a list of my favorites for you. Just like I did with my guide to the best ginger beers, I’m covering my top brands and flavors from my own collection and bar adventures.
Bitters make great gifts for foodies and cocktail lovers alike, so this is a great list if you’re shopping for the budding mixologist in your life. (Even if it’s you.)
I love and trust all the brands presented here, so if you find another flavor by one of these brands, I say go for it — especially if it sounds intriguing to you. Bitters last a long time, so you are safe to hang onto a bottle for a while.
If you’re not sure how to use it, you can always drop me a line in my Facebook group!
Angostura | Aromatic Cocktail Bitters
Angostura aromatic bitters are the most popular option when it comes to cocktail bitters. But it's not the only one! Truthfully most brands have their own blend of aromatic bitters, so feel free to branch out from Angostura if you like. Angostura is still a classic that's worth keeping around. It comes from Trinidad and is famous for its oversized label.
Peychaud's | Aromatic Cocktail Bitters
Peychaud's is another common one you'll see behind bars. This brand hails from the French Quarter in New Orleans, which is famous for its cocktails like the Sazerac.
Infuse Bitters | Ginger Cocktail Bitters
Infuse Bitters is my absolute favorite brand of bitters. I love their ginger, clove and cinnamon bitters the most. My favorite part is that all of their flavors come with pieces of the spice or fruit still in the bottle, meaning they keep infusing over time. I think I have every flavor they make in my cabinet right now! The ginger is definitely a favorite.
Hella Cocktail Co. | Citrus Cocktail Bitters
It's a good idea to have some citrus bitters at your disposal. Orange is classic, but lemon, grapefruit, lime or a combination would also be helpful for adding some citrus flavor. This is especially handy if you're making an old-fashioned but don't have any fresh citrus handy — these bitters can stand in well. Hella is a reputable brand with a few flavors that you can find in many grocery stores.
Woodford Reserve | Spiced Cherry Bourbon Barrel Aged Cocktail Bitters
I love Woodford Reserve as a bourbon for my cocktails, but I also love their other cocktail and home bar products as well. These cherry bitters are lovely for many cocktails, but especially so if you are out of their amazing cocktail cherries. They have a few other flavors of bitters as well including aromatic, and the barrel-aging adds an extra layer of flavor.
Fee Brothers | Aztec Chocolate Cocktail Bitters
I love having chocolate bitters in my arsenal. They are delicious to add a little hint of cocoa goodness to your old-fashioneds and manhattans. Fee Brothers is another brand you see in grocery stores and specialty shops. They have tons of unique single flavors like lemon, peach and walnut.
The Bitter Housewife | Cardamom Cocktail Bitters
Cardamom bitters are key in my chai old-fashioned, and this brand has some really tasty cardamom bitters. The Bitter Housewife is from Portland, Oregon and produces some really delightful flavor combinations like lime coriander and hazelnut. Plus, the retro bottles look so cute on a bar!
Bittermens | Burlesque Cocktail Bitters
Every bar needs a whimsical flavor in addition to aromatic and citrus bitters. I love the Burlesque bitters from Bittermens which feature hibiscus, açai berry and long pepper, which is lovely in tiki drinks. They have a number of other fun combinations, which are definitely their specialty.
Bittercube | Blackstrap Cocktail Bitters
Molasses is a fun flavor to bring into cocktails, but it can be too strong with molasses alone. I like these Blackstrap bitters from Bittercube because if gives you the flavor without the heavy sweetness. They also make quite a few unique flavor combos and single flavor bitters that are worth a dash or two.
Scrappy's Bitters | Lavender Cocktail Bitters
Floral flavors are underrated in cocktails, but so good and not too cloying when added with bitters. Scrappy's Bitters were my first foray into floral bitters with their lavender flavor of cocktail bitters. I really enjoy adding this one to champagne cocktails.
Strongwater | Spicy Bonfire Cocktail Bitters
Spicy bitters can bring some serious heat to a cocktail. The Bonfire Bitters from Strongwater are made with lime zest and a combination of habanero, jalapeño, ghost & hatch green chile peppers. They would go beautifully in a tequila old-fashioned, a margarita or even a bloody Mary.
Crude Bitters and Sodas | Sycophant Orange & Fig Bitters
Crude Bitters is local to me here in North Carolina, but they sell their bitters all over the U.S. I'm in love with their Sycophant bitters specifically, but they have a number of fun flavor combinations. One of my other favorites is a vanilla & clove combo that I love to use at the holidays.
I’d love to know what else you’d add to this list! Do you have other favorite brands or flavors that I didn’t cover?
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