Best Bitters for Bourbon Cocktails

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What are the best bitters for bourbon cocktails? If I may sway your cocktail bitters opinion, here is a breakdown of flavors and brands I would recommend giving a shot, as you commit to your long-term relationship with this key cocktail component. Three categories cover classic, versatile and wacky options. Start with a couple from each to get your home bar off to a strong start. Read on to learn more!

From Classic to Versatile to Wacky

If I may sway your cocktail bitters opinion, here is a breakdown of flavors and brands I would recommend giving a shot, as you commit to your long-term relationship with this key cocktail component. 

Three categories cover classic, versatile and wacky options. Start with a couple from each to get your home bar off to a strong start. 

(PRO TIP: You can sample cocktail bitters on its own by dabbing a little on your finger to taste. A more effective method is to add several dashes to a glass of sparkling water instead. Dilution makes it easier to pick up the nuanced flavor profiles while the bubbles deliver aroma molecules up into the nasal cavity where we also have the ability to taste. A bitters and soda is also an excellent non-alcoholic beverage to enjoy at any time and can help settle a stomach ache.)

Classic Bitters - Angostura Bitters
Classic Bitters

Classic bitters embody a balanced essence of general bitterness. They balance the sweetness of a cocktail and add complexity without significantly adding new flavors. The recommended options for this category are as follows:

Angostura Aromatic Bitters

This is the godfather of all bitters. There likely isn’t a bar on planet earth without a bottle of this stuff hanging around. If you obtain one and only one brand, this is the one to have.

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Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Aromatic Bitters

I don’t really know what to say. These are just -good! They give a cocktail the depth it needs while somehow brightening up the overall flavor profile.

Frootbat - Making hard to find liquor easy to buy

Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrel Aged Aromatic Bitters

If you just really, really love the taste of bourbon then carry it a step further with classic aromatic bitters given some sweet bourbon barrel treatment.

Frootbat - Making hard to find liquor easy to buy

Peychaud’s Bitters

This option is really, well -optional. If you enjoy classic cocktails from New Orleans, like a Sazerac or Vieux Carré, then they are a must. Take note that these have a distinctive flavor of anise, which tends to fuel two teams of either love-it or hate-it. If you don’t love it then you really don’t need to keep this on hand. However, I will be bold and admit that, not only is anise one of my favorite flavors out there, I actually prefer how it is presented in The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters.

Versatile Bitters - Bitter Truth Chocolate Bitters
Versatile Bitters

Next in line from class bitter staples are a few that offer versatility. They hone in on specific flavors but are usable again and again from standard Old Fashioneds to crazy tiki thingies: Consider the uniqueness of the flavor as you make selections. There are a lot of bitters in this category that are extremely versatile but their flavor is also something that can be easily obtained with a simple syrup recipe or in the base spirit itself. For example, I love love love ginger bitters, but I also frequently use ginger syrup or sparkling ginger beverage mixers. Ginger bitters taking up room may be redundant. Shoot for a little diversity here.

Regan’s Orange Bitters

Okay, okay. I am going back on what I literally just stated about diversifying flavors. Orange syrup is very easy to make and is also added with a garnish. However, concentrated orange in bitters is an awesome flavor pop and can give that last little oomph you need in some of the more interesting recipes, like a pineapple, bourbon sour.

Scrappy’s Cardamom Bitters

Cardamom is a savory, slightly citrus spice that is both bold and coy. This unexpected but all-purpose version of bitters will make your drinks rock!

Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters

Nut notes are just plain, dang delicious in bourbon cocktails. Diversify your drinking portfolio with a bottle of these for soft, dark and delectable recipes.

The Bitter Truth Chocolate Bitters

Who doesn’t love chocolate? Have your aphrodisiac and drink it too.

Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters

Cherry is another best-friend flavor of bourbon, much like orange. (Tip: Use one dash of orange and one dash of spiced cherry, in lieu of the two dashes of aromatic bitters called for in a classic Old Fashioned recipe.) Cherry on its own, as a cocktail bitter, can get lost in other drink ingredients, but this spiced variety will hold its own.

Wacky Bitters - Mister Bitters Honeyed Apricot & Smoked Hickory
Wacky Bitters

Keep things weird with a couple of unexpected bitters. A helpful hint is to look for one that has a few, unique flavors rolled into one product, which will go a long way in adding dimension to your drinks. Those listed below may be out of the ordinary but are still worth some space on your bar:

Australian Bitters Company Smoke Bitters

It doesn’t always make sense (or in my case – I don’t always feel like it) to smoke a cocktail. With a dash or two of these, you won’t need to. I have tried several smoke bitters and these are by far the most powerful.

Crude “Rizzo” Bitters

Rosemary, grapefruit and peppercorn make up this awesome concoction. This combo of powerful, delicate and familiar flavors make an amazing match for bourbon mixology.

Bittermen’s Elemakule Tiki Bitters

The whole line of cocktail bitters from Bittermen’s is worthy of your bar space. If I had to pick one, this would be it. Even though I can’t pronounce the name whatsoever, the super cinnamon punch with a kiss of tropical cuisine is just freaking good when added to bourbon.

Mister Bitters Honeyed Apricot & Smoked Hickory Cocktail Bitters

I came across these when designing a specialty drink for a well-known brand, and have blessed that day ever since! It’s another creative combo of perfect-for-pairing-with-bourbon flavors. 

A Final Dash Of Advice

Now that you have equal parts classic, versatile and wacky cocktail bitters, here’s a final dash of advice. Seemingly the same flavors can vary wildly between brands. You may find a cocktail bitters producer that really sings in your drinks, making it easy to stick to the offerings within their line. In my opinion, Scrappy’s Bitters have the strongest and truest flavors across the board, along with lots of cool options. They offer a sample pack, which is nice so you can try a little of this or that before committing to a full bottle, as they are on the pricier end.

Would you like to learn more about taking your bourbon cocktail game to the next level? Then check out some more of the articles in Aften’s Home Bartending Guide!

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Aften Locken - Bourbon Pro

Aften Locken is a bourbon nerd and a cocktail geek, mixing the two together in ways that will make partakers say “wow” and stay thirsty for more. She has worked in the beverage alcohol industry for six years as a bourbon educator, presenter, tour guide and experience designer. Her mixology endeavors include the design and execution of showcased cocktails for the 6th Floor Millionaire’s Row at the Kentucky Derby, premium bar management for VIP attendees of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, regular cocktail class series for bourbon enthusiast groups and promotional videos for premium brands. In the bourbon realm, she creates and executes premium bourbon experiences and education offered through Bourbonpro.com.

Would you like to learn more about distilleries and bourbon? Are you planning a trip to Kentucky Distilleries? Maybe you would like to live the bourbon life vicariously through us?? If any of these are true, then check out BourbonObsessed.com today!

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Aften Locken
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