You’ve stocked your bar with the basic three bitters (orange, celery and aromatic). You’ve learned how to dash the concentrated flavorings into classic cocktails and even started playing around with some creations of your own. Now, it’s time to expand your bitters repertoire. Here are five bitters flavors everyone should own after mastering the starting three.
If you love Gin and Tonics, you need to invest in grapefruit bitters. Bright and zingy, grapefruit bitters taste like fresh grapefruit zest. They add zip to cocktails and a mouth-watering citrus quality, making them especially useful when you have no fresh produce around. As was implied, a few dashes of grapefruit bitters do wonders in a Gin and Tonic or in a simple Gin and Soda, but they also work well in Whiskey Highballs or Vodka Martinis or Palomas. A few of our favorite brands include Fee Brothers, The Bitter Truth and Bittermens’ Hopped Grapefruit Bitters, which also include a touch of herbaceous hops.
There’s only one brand making tiki bitters: Bittermens. Their Elemakule Tiki Bitters first made their debut in 2008 and have since become a must-have for every genre of bartender. Made to reflect both the eastern (Polynesian) and western (Caribbean) sides of tiki, the bitters include flavors of cinnamon, allspice, ginger, citrus and cardamom. They are obviously dynomite in many tiki cocktails, but also great in classic cocktails like Old Fashioneds or Whiskey Sours.
Spiced, dark chocolate mole bitters (inspired by the famed Mexican sauce) are shockingly versatile. Pretty much any mezcal or tequila-based drink could use a dash or two of these bitters—try them in a Mezcal Negroni or an Acapulco—but they also give whiskey or rum cocktails a delicious zing. Try them in a Zombie variation or simply dashed into a glass of bourbon on the rocks or, if you’re feeling particularly indulgent, add them to a Chocolate Martini. Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters is the most well-known bottling, but The Bitter End also makes a variation.
If you need a hit of spring, break out the lavender bitters—they’re extremely aromatic with an easy-to-capture essence. Lavender shows up strong and fast in bitters, so don’t add too many dashes lest you end up with a cocktail that tastes like bath water. Used sparingly, though, lavender bitters can add an alluring scent and beautiful, bright flavor to cocktails like Gin Fizzes, Champagne Cocktails or Hot Toddies made with a clear spirit. They’re also great simply mixed into soda water for a refreshing midday thirst-quencher. Go-to brands include Scrappy’s, Bar Keep and Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.
Mildly sweet and slightly savory, cucumber bitters are what your Martini is missing. Also a delicious addition to a Bloody Mary or Michelada, you’ll find yourself dashing these pale green bitters into anything and everything. And while we can’t guarantee they’ll definitely work in everything (maybe pass on the cucumber Manhattan), they will give gin and vodka drinks in particular a tasty edge. Opt for brands like Cecil & Merl, The Bitter Truth and El Guapo.