Any bartender will tell you that bitters are a staple of cocktail-making, whether you’re into modern concoctions or elegant classics. Bitters are essentially alcohol infused with flavorful ingredients like fruits, herbs, seeds, and spices.
“Think of them as liquid seasonings, like a liquid spice rack, beyond salt and pepper,” says Brad Parsons, author of the book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All.
We asked Parsons which bitters he would recommend home bartenders have on hand. His first piece of advice? “Don’t jump into something like lavender bitters unless you have a drink in mind for it. When people ask me, ‘what should I buy,’ I say, ‘well tell me what you’re drinking at home.’”
Beyond that, here is Parson’s list of bitters to consider for your home bar.
3 Must-Have Bitters
“It has a Christmas spice aroma, with cinnamon, allspice and clove.” Use it in a Champagne Cocktail, Manhattan, or Old Fashioned. Parsons also recommends adding a dash to a classic Daiquiri.
This is a “cherry red bitters out of New Orleans. Not as widely used, it has kind of an anise note to it, and that’s an essential to any New Orleans drink like a Sazerac or a Vieux Carré. It’s not widely used, but historically it belongs on your shelf.”
Bitters Beyond the Basics
Parsons is excited about the new bitters that are available to consumers today. After Prohibition, he explains, many bitters makers disappeared “New bitters started coming out around 2004, when Gary Regan put out his orange bitters, and that was the first new bitters on the market since the ‘50s.”
Parsons recommends the Bittermens brand. It’s a fun alternative to orange bitters.
Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Also from Bittermens, this will add some spiciness to tequila and rum drinks.
Bitters for Advanced Students
The “bitters boom” that is happening now, according to Parsons, has given rise to more and more craft bitters. “There are kooky ones out there like Memphis BBQ bitters, lavender, cardamom, Meyer lemon, black mission fig. And that inspires a lot of creativity with bartenders and people at home making drinks.” Here are three of Parsons’ personal favorites that may inspire some cocktailing creativity of your own.
Black Mission Fig from Brooklyn Hemispherical
Meyer Lemon from Brooklyn Hemispherical
Cardamom from Seattle Scrappys