There are three ingredients in a Manhattan—whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters—and they are all equally important. So, just as you should use a high-quality whiskey and vermouth for the drink, you should also opt for a good quality bitters brand. From the most commonly used bitters to more obscure bottlings, here are the five best bitters to mix into the stirred and strong classic.
These are the most commonly used bitters in a Manhattan. One of the oldest bitters in production, Angostura has been produced on the island of Trinidad since 1824. While the recipe remains a secret—it’s speculated that it contains more than 40 different herbs and botanicals—its iconic flavor is easily identifiable. In a Manhattan, the bitters add a robust woodsy spice and flavors of tamarind, clove, stone fruit and cinnamon bark. If you’re new to mixing the classic, start with these bitters.
If you want your Manhattan to be lighter, brighter and more citrus-forward, these are the bitters to use. Produced by legendary bartender Gaz Regan since the ‘90s, they are the most popular orange bitters on the market. Derived from a recipe that Regan found in Charles H. Baker’s Gentleman’s Companion (it supposedly took six tries to get it right, hence the number in the brand’s name), these bitters are lively, rich and layered. Pair them with a squeeze of fresh orange oil over your Manhattan for a vivacious twist on the classic.
These intensely dark bitters produce a rich and decadent Manhattan. Made with raw cacao, vanilla, wormwood and gentian, they bring to mind a bitter dark chocolate bar. While they can be used in both bourbon- and rye-based Manhattans, we actually prefer them paired with reposado tequila or dark rum.
Developed by King Cocktail Dale DeGroff, these bitters are produced at the Combier distillery in Saumur, France. Using allspice as the primary ingredient, the flavor is similar to allspice dram, albeit drier, more layered and anise-y. While it produces a Manhattan that’s akin to one made with Angostura bitters, there is more spice, depth and backbone with DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters. Use them when you want to give your Manhattan a little more complexity.
Before it was banned in France and became unavailable stateside, it was common for bartenders to adorn their Manhattans with a few drops absinthe instead of bitters. This anise-flavored liqueur, which was created in New Orleans as a substitute for absinthe, is one of our favorite Manhattan additions. At 100 proof, it is almost as potent as bitters or absinthe, but unlike either, it is sweeter and palatable on its own. In the cocktail, the liqueur rounds out the drink and gives extra dimension and weight. Whether or not you like absinthe or black licorice, this is a Manhattan that needs to be experienced to truly understand how spectacular it is.