We Asked 15 Bartenders: What Are the Most Underrated Cocktail Bitters?
If you’ve ever made cocktails at home, you probably have a bottle of Angostura bitters hanging out in the cabinet or on your bar cart. You know enough to shake a few drops of them into your Old Fashioned or Manhattan, but have you considered the bitters beyond? There are literally hundreds of kinds of bitters on the market, with flavors ranging from celery to mole and almost anything in between. But how do you know what’s worth adding to your selection with so many options? To track down the most interesting bitters, we asked bartenders to share some of the most underrated bitters out there. Here’s what they said.
The most underrated bitters, according to bartenders
- Bitter Queens Tobacco Bitters
- Black walnut bitters
- Bittermens Elemakule Bitters
- Bogart’s Bitters
- Gran Classico
- Cardamom and celery bitters
- Yamazaki’s The Japanese Bitters in shiso and umami
- Bogart’s Bitters
- Cardamom bitters, lavender bitters, and celery bitters
- Firewater bitters
- Scrappy’s Cardamom Bitters & Scrappy’s Firewater Bitters
- Bittered Sling Lem-Marrakesh
- Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
- Chicory pecan bitters
“Bitter Queens Tobacco Bitters is a favorite bitter of mine that always seems to be overlooked. It adds an umami quality that is hard to find in beverages. It also pairs well with smoky flavors that peated Scotch or mezcal bring to the table.” —Jonathan Pizano, beverage director, Lazy Bird, Cira, Cabra, Chicago
“Black ealnut, or any walnut bitters for that matter, are super underrated to me. They add a little bit more depth than your typical Angostura or Jerry Thomas bitters, and that richness goes so far in a cocktail — especially a stirred bourbon drink. I also kind of love a dash or two with bright shaken drinks like a Gold Rush or a Mojito.” —Alex Cuper, beverage director, El Che Steakhouse & Bar, Chicago
“Bittermens Elemakule Bitters bring versatility and island flavors to a cocktail, adding layers and depth that elevates the drink from good to great. We don’t see these bitters used in the wild as often as we’d like!” —Lukas Garrett, head bartender, RT Lodge, Maryville, Tenn.
“Bogart’s Bitters was the first-ever bitters mentioned in what is regarded as the world’s first cocktail book, published in 1862. It has a welcome complexity, with notes of licorice, coffee, dark chocolate, and hints of spice. I’m a fan of the flavor and unique history. I’m surprised more bars aren’t using it!” —Shiva Thapa, head bartender, Miller & Lux, San Francisco
“Gran Classico is my go-to bitter to bring in an exceptional layer of flavor to any cocktail. It is a very dynamic bitter and can be applied in ways to amplify sweetness, provide a pleasant bitter backbone, and add an extra touch of body due to its viscous nature. It can be easily integrated into shaken cocktails to complement citrus, add a beautiful color and body to a spritz, or be stirred into a spirit-forward cocktail to complement bitter notes. And of course, and its core, is lovely on rocks with a splash of soda.” —Anna Thorn, bar manager, Boka & Alla Vita, Chicago
“Cardamom and celery bitters are full of flavor. They add such cool nuance to cocktails and should be reached for more often.” —Michael Carlisi, beverage director at Barrio, San Francisco
“Yamazaki’s The Japanese Bitters in shiso and umami would be the two I would highlight and recommend.” —Alicia Perry, beverage director, CH Projects, San Diego
“Unless you’ve been fortunate enough to have an Old Fashioned with Bogart’s Bitters, you’ve never experienced the cocktail how it’s meant to taste. The flavor profile of dark spice, coffee, rich cocoa, orange peel, and herbs create a wonderfully complex cocktail that draws no comparison from any other bottle of bitters. If you have yet to experience the pleasure of enjoying an Old Fashioned with this bottle, I suggest you make it a point to do so.” —David Miller, beverage director, Pennydrop Bar + Kitchen, St. Louis
“Cardamom bitters, lavender bitters, and celery bitters are some of my favorite bitters to use as they pack a nice punch of flavor. The names aren’t as interesting as their origin of flavor, such as cardamom bitters being from a seed pod of a plant in the ginger family. In the bitters game, less is more.” —Nicolas Albertini, mixologist, Reforma, Palm Springs, Calif.
“Scrappy’s didn’t make great forays into the professional bar scene until a few years back, but I was gifted a sample set of the Seattle, Wash.-based company’s bitters 12 years ago and I was immediately hooked. Their grapefruit, fire tincture, and chocolate varieties are tough to beat, though Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters are a personal favorite for chocola-fying cocktails, particularly Negronis.” —Christopher Struck, beverage director, ilili NYC, New York
“My favorite underrated bitters are firewater bitters, which add an intense habanero heat to your cocktail. They are a must-have for your bar if you are a fan of cocktails with a kick. I love to pair it with sweeter, fruitier flavors to round out the profile of a drink.” —Lindsey Karlsson, beverage director, Wilson Hardware, Arlington, Va.
“I recommend having Scrappy’s Cardamom Bitters and Scrappy’s Firewater Bitters in your bars. The firewater saves you from having to run to the kitchen when you need to make a spicy cocktail. No need to get spice in your eyes; firewater has your back. I recommend adding one dash of firewater to a citrus- forward cocktail, the spice can round out quite well. I also like to have the cardamom because it adds depth in flavor in a short period of time. You can make any cocktail taste marvelous with these two additional bitters in your bars!” —Judy Elahi, bar directors, 101 Hospitality, Washington, D.C.
“My absolute favorite bitters are Bittered Sling Lem-Marrakesh and Bittered Sling Cascade Celery. The entire Bittered Sling bitters lineup offers beautiful complexity and depth to cocktails while helping highlight existing flavors in your cocktail.” —Kate Boushel, director of beverage and education, Groupe Barroco, Montreal
“They do get some love deep in the beverage community, but any form of chocolate bitters can add complexity to a wide variety of cocktails. I’ve used Scrappy’s and Fee Brother’s off and on for different stirred beverages, Manhattan and Negroni riffs, tiki drinks, takes on Daiquiris, etc. The bitterness hearkens to the complexity of cacao in its raw form, and using that specific chocolate flavor lends itself more to savory drinks as opposed to a dessert cocktail (though it would be effective in one of those as well). It works brilliantly with agave spirits, especially mezcal. Try an Oaxaca Old Fashioned with a couple dashes of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters.” —Caden Worley, beverage manager, Don Angie, New York
“Living in New Orleans and being exposed to the amazing products by El Guapo, I would say their Chicory Pecan bitters. They provide a bite and spice to any drink they are invited to. I personally love them in our Daiquiri machine (what we call frozen drink machines here in NOLA) concoction called Double Feature, which is an ode to the Coca-Cola Icee at your favorite movie theater. It features bourbon, Liquore delle Sirene, Coca-Cola, and, of course, El Guapo Chicory Pecan bitters.” —Roxy Eve Narvaez, beverage director, The Chloe, New Orleans
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