Thanks to the craft cocktail resurgence over the last decade or so, bitters have become a staple in both high-end establishments and local dive bars. All it takes is a few drops of these powerful (and yes, bitter) liquids to turn a decidedly meh drink into an out-of-this-world experience. Still, you might be wondering, what exactly are these mysterious ingredients? Put simply, they’re flavor extracts made by infusing berries, barks, flowers, roots, and other plant parts in alcohol. Think of bitters like salt: they add flavor and pop, and bring out the best elements of your drink of choice.
Bring on the Brands
Want to dive into the bitters world but not sure where to start? We’ve got the sweet lowdown on some of the best brands, so the next time you have a drink, add flavor like a pro.
Angostura: Any bar or bartender in the know should be stocked with plenty of Angostura, arguably the most popular brand of bitters. Its origin story goes back to Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German doctor who was in Angostura, Venezuela, in 1824. There, he created a secret blend of tropical herbs and plants, the results of which are often found in metropolitans, old fashioneds, and tequinis. Bonus: the company released an orange bitter back in 2008, which gives a nice kick to an orange martini.
Peychaud’s: Antoine Peychaud was an apothecary in New Orleans in the 1830s, and used his pharmacy to mix up concoctions after hours. He used a combo of super secret bitters, brandy, and absinthe to create the very first sazerac, a highly influential, and delicious, cocktail. It’s a must-have bitter for those with classic taste and a hankering for something vintage.
Fee Brothers: The family business that is now known for its delectable line of bitters began as a butcher shop in 1847, followed by a liquor store, winery, import business, and finally in the 1950s, the bitters we now love. Although late to the scene, the Fee Brothers’ products quickly wound up in the spotlight thanks to a diverse line of bitters perfect for the creative and curious. Try the Aztec chocolate, grapefruit, rhubarb, black walnut, and West Indian orange.
Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6: This is one of the newer bitters, but one of the most popular around. In the 1990s, cocktail experts and authors Gary and Mardee Regan decided they wanted a better orange bitter and came up with the No. 6. Their invention includes orange peel, cardamom, caraway, coriander, and other herbs that remain a secret. It adds an elevated touch to any cocktail in need of citrus.
Miracle Mile Bitters Co.: Created by Louis Anderman in 2010, this company has been producing small-batch, handcrafted bitters that have been crowd pleasers ever since. Often looking towards the past and using 19th-century recipes for inspiration, they also have more modern offerings such as chocolate-chili, redeye, and yuzu bitters.