As a mixology hobbyist, I’ve accumulated a lot of bitters over the years. They’re relatively inexpensive but can provide big flavor and up the caliber of your home bar. While most classic cocktail recipes call for classic bitters (chiefly Angostura and Peychauds), the booming domestic bartending trend has granted us with a plethora of fanciful new bitters flavors to play with at home.
Here’s what I have and how they rank, from least beloved to most favorite:
The Not Great
Celery – I had high hopes for these guys, especially in a Sunday morning bloody mary, but there was no luck to be had. The taste of these bitters is reminiscent of the dirt on a piece of celery. They are somehow both too watery and too potent, and I have failed to find them a suitable mixing mate.
Herb de Provence – I wanted to like these. I wanted to LOVE these. Hand-crafted by a local bitters genius, the herb de Provence bitters deliver exactly what they proclaim to: big herbal bite. Unfortunately, this results in something I’d rather dip bread in than mix with my drink. Wonderful on the nose, terrible on the palate.
Peach – Artificial peach flavor is another near-miss. I loved peach soda as a kid, but even with my love of peach, these fail to hit the mark. I’ve never added peach bitters to a drink and felt satisfied with the peachiness they deliver. Make your own peach bitters, or just add real-deal peach to your drinks instead.
The Pretty Good
Cherry – The false characteristic of cherry in this bottle is not ideal, but it absolutely can do its job. If you are looking for something to replicate the sweet-tart qualities of fresh cherries, keep looking. If you want something to lightly sweeten a sparkling vodka lemonade, grab a bottle of cherry bitters and dash away.
Aztec Chocolate – Let’s be clear: this is barely not chocolate syrup. Calling it “bitters” is laughable, as this is 100% sweet. But it does the same job as a squirt of Nesquik without disturbing the viscosity of your cocktail or weighing it down. Try it in a whiskey drink or with some rum for a warming treat.
Peychaud’s – They’re a classic, and they’re great, but I rarely find myself reaching for these spur-of-the-moment or when exploring a new cocktail idea. These are your good ol’, standard, middle-of-the-road bitter. They serve a purpose, and that’s terrific. But they’re not really anything to write home about.
Chicory Pecan – When my sister gave me these for Christmas, I had hopes of deeply smokey, campfire bitters. These are not them, but they are still outstanding. Chicory Pecan bitters do a tremendous job of cutting through a cocktail with liqueur in it to amplify the flavors and neutralize sweetness. Keep these like with like, and mix with darker spirits.
Grapefruit – I love this guy. Grapefruit bitters make a terrific addition to tequila drinks in particular. The bitterness in them is distinctly citric, bringing brightness to hot-weather cocktails. I’ve even added them to a glass of prosecco for a little flavor kick!
Molasses – When I think of molasses, I think of sticky sweet syrup on griddle cakes in the South. I don’t think, “this should go in every cocktail.” But it should! Molasses bitters do an outstanding job of adding an herbal spiciness to drinks, especially those with ginger in them. Toss a splash into your next Kentucky Mule and thank me later.
On my list of bitters to try…
Plum – Reminiscent of British plum pudding?! UM OKAY YES. I believe I could take these babies for a nice Christmas spin.
Black Walnut – Was there ever a warm drink not improved with a nice nuttiness? I’m thinking this in a warm mug of rummy nog and nutmeg on top sounds quite nice.
Spiced Cherry Bourbon Barrel – Four finer words have not yet been found together. This one seems like a no-brainer from the fine folks at Woodford Reserve.
Smoked Chili – I discovered Hella Bitters by way of Alton Brown, whom I hold in the highest regard. The man takes his cocktails even more seriously than I, so I trust that this delivers on its promise to ensure that “margaritas will never be the same.”