We are well into the cocktail movement that has watched a surge in spirits sales both new and old, distilled in far-flung places or created right down the street. Great attention is given to the base spirit of any drink recipe, as well as to the accompanying players. Serious dollars on spent to create the best cocktail experience imaginable. This is not just the situation at the swanky bar downtown. This is happening right peoples’ homes. Folks whose extent of bartending skills was filling a glass with Bacardi and Coke after cracking some ice cubes out of the tray living in the freezer are now straight-up mixologists. And thanks to the selection of products from Artisanal Ice Cubes, to Single-Barrel-Single Malt-Single-Sourced,organically-and-humanely-distilled spirits, even the arsenal of tools we own – we are becoming darn good at it.
After a while, like all things newly discovered, you tend to find your favorites, settle into your lane, so to speak. And when that happened to me (a gin & bourbon fan), one ingredient became more important to me in my bartending game. In fact, I never make a drink without them.
As with the advancement of products for the actual drink part of the drink, bitters have also had a season of rediscovery and resurgence. The old stalwarts like Angostura and Peychaud’s are reliable and familiar. Fee Brothers have a flavor for every imaginable drink. Newer brands like Bittercube and Dashfire are both blazing new flavor trails as well as leaning into the recipes of old.
Ideally – you want to find a bitter that can even elevate even a not so collectible favorite spirit. There’s a wide world of bitters out there! Here are the usual suspects you’ll always find on my home bar:
For Gin (or vodka) Martinis – Fee Brother’s Orange Bitters.
I like this over some of the more boutique-like orange bitters out there because it is simply orange. No getting fancy with cinnamon/clove/nutmeg. Just clean, bright orange notes that does wonders to the classic dry martini. It is also great in whiskey drinks, too.
For Bourbon/Rye Drinks –
#1: Bittercube Trinity Bitters
Cherry Bark Vanilla, Orange and Bolivar combine to make this an incredibly exciting addition to any whiskey drink. Bold aromatics offer up warm feelings and incredible layers of flavors will elevate even basic bourbon. Best used lightly as the flavor is incredibly pronounced.
#2: Angostura Bitters
The old classic is about as important, versatile, and comforting as I could ask a bitter to be. In other words – if I were to only have one bottle of bitters in my possession, this would be it.
It’s worth mentioning that any of these could be added to non-alcoholic bases to add a surprising complexity to boring old bubbly water.
(a formal) Wine Consultant and (informally) At-Home Mixology Expert