Angostura has been the big name in bitters for centuries—since 1824 to be exact—but now there are dozens of companies across the nation cranking out equally delicious small-batch bitters perfect for making Manhattans, Singapore Slings, and other cocktails in the comfort of your home bar. Here are a few of our favorites:
Genevieve Brazelton knew that she could create bitters that rivaled Angostura, which she used during her time working as a bar manager in California. After moving to Portland, Oregon, she cleared a kitchen shelf in her new digs to make room for a growing collection of Mason jars filled with booze-soaked fruits, herbs, and roots. After some tinkering, Genevieve and her husband, Dan, came up with the recipe for The Bitter Housewife using natural ingredients that are completely free of nasty artificial flavors.
Husband-and-wife team Bill and Lill Buitenhuys looked to the Sonoran Desert surrounding their Arizona home for inspiration for their line of bitters. With punchy flavors like Orange Sunshine, Más Mole, and Figgy Pudding, AZ Bitters Lab’s creations quickly caught the eye of local bartenders who use them to make Southwestern-style riffs on cocktail classics like Sazeracs and Old Fashioneds.
When your nickname is King Cocktail, you can hire someone else to make your bitters. But don’t think that the James Beard Award-winning bartender didn’t have a hand in every single step of the development process when it came to creating his handcrafted Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters with boutique absinthe maker Jade Liqueurs. Using whole botanicals like Jamaican pimento berries, DeGroff’s concoction is great for giving a blast of flavor to Manhattans, tiki drinks and even seafood dishes like stuffed clams and fried oysters.
Every single step of the production process to make Minneapolis-based Bittercube Bitters is done by hand, from peeling hundreds of pounds of citrus to filling bottles. The result is a collection of six bitters with bite, which creators Nicholas Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz call “a bartender’s spice rack.” And with flavors like cherry bark vanilla and cinnamon-y blackstrap, the only other ingredient you really need is booze.
Bitters not only help to amplify cocktails, but they also contain nutritious plants and herbs that have been linked to health benefits like improved digestion. With this in mind, Shae Whitney created DRAM Bitters using flora foraged in the mountains of her home state of Colorado, including sage and black walnuts. But the flavor we covet the most after a night of hard drinking is the “Hair of the Dog Hangover Tonic,” made with tummy-soothing ingredients like ginger, fennel, citrus, and wintergreen.
The co-founders of Dutch’s Spirits didn’t have to look far for inspiration when brainstorming names and flavors for their bitters. Instead New Yorkers Ariel Schlein and Alex Adams took inspiration from U.S. history when deciding on the ingredients to make their handcrafted bitters. Their Colonial Cocktail Bitters contains Kinnikinnick leaf, which Native Americans supposedly smoked with early settlers, while their Boomtown Bitters are made with sarsaparilla and wintergreen, two flavors of carbonated beverages popular in the 19th century.
An herbalist by trade, Californian Jesse Smith based the idea for his Five by Five Tonics Co. line of bitters on traditional Chinese medicine, which is comprised of five flavors (pungent, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty) and five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water). It took him several years but he successfully created two perfectly balanced bitters recipes: aromatic and aged citrus.