Originally used as a preventative or healing treatment, bitters have been used throughout time to augment cocktails and alcohol of all kinds. Thanks to today’s booming craft cocktail renaissance, bitters are behind every bar in the world. But, with so many varieties to choose from, how do you decide what you really need? Here are five must-have bitters to stock behind your cocktail bar.
Named for a town in Venezuela, Angostura aromatic bitters have been in production for nearly 200 years. Originally developed as a curative for soldiers in Simon Bolivar’s army, these bitters are strong and pair well with a wide array of spirits—from vodka, to gin, to whiskey. For those that like a truly bitter drink, especially something featuring the likes of Fernet Branca, Angostura can also be the feature flavor in a cocktail, as opposed to merely accenting a more traditional spirit like those previously listed.
Slightly sweeter and more floral, Peychaud’s will work with all the same spirits as Angostura, but it will bring out different aspects of the drink. The fruit behind Peychaud’s flavors works as a wonderful contrast to drinks who put whiskey or rye forward, and complements anything made with gin, mezcal, or tequila. The powerful red color also creates a distinct look.
Along with Angostura Aromatic and Peychaud’s, Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6 is the third member of the “Holy Trinity of Bitters.” A sweet citrus that goes with pretty much everything, orange bitters are like a swiss army knife in a bartender’s belt. There’s very little we won’t throw these excellent bitters into.
The Bitter Truth bitters boasts a range of available bitters from aromatic to citrus to grapefruit. They all have an edge and pronounced bitterness that’s definitely for those that prefer a kick. For those that truly love the digestif way of life, Bitter Truth offers an extreme measure for those that like something stronger.
Bittermens does things a little differently. Sure, they offer the standard bitters you’d expect, but their exotic bitters really shine. Several varieties of chocolate, pecan-vanilla, melon, nut, habanero, and chamomile are just some of the flavors they bring to the bar. Assuming you’ve stocked your bar with the old classics above, Bittermens will add a breadth of creative options that help you craft some truly unique cocktails.
For such tiny bottles, and applied in such tiny amounts, bitters can dramatically change the makeup of a cocktail. This list doesn’t even begin to account for what bitters you can make in-house. There are a million different ways to make bitters, but keeping a few staples around keeps you flexible when crafting the perfect cocktail.