The 8 Best Bitters for Whiskey Cocktails with Flavor

Angostura Aromatic Bitters are our top bitters

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The first bottle of bitters every home mixologist ought to own is the Angostura Aromatic Bitters (view at Amazon), which features in many of the most prominent whiskey cocktails. To take your game to the next level, invest in both Peychaud's Aromatic Cocktail Bitters (view at Amazon) and Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 (view on Drizly), both of which will make appearances in more advanced whiskey libations.

Cocktail bitters can account for the difference between an average cocktail and a great one, especially when it comes to whiskey cocktails. Bitters are essential for the modern bar because they're a key ingredient in many of the best drinks, especially those in which whiskey takes center stage. From the Old Fashioned to the Manhattan, bitters play a vital role. As recently as a decade ago, Angostura Aromatic Bitters was the undisputed king of the bitters scene, but consumers now have a great variety to choose from.

These bitters are the best options for your favorite whiskey cocktails.

Best Overall: Angostura Bitters Set

Angostura Bitters Set

Amazon

What We Like
  • Found in a variety of recipes

  • The most well-known bitters brand

  • A bar staple

What We Don't Like
  • Smaller bottle; lasts 25 to 30 drinks

Angostura is the king of bitters due to its longevity. It would have been the only brand of bitters stocked in most bars 20 years ago. This bottle is instantly recognizable thanks to its oversized label and its yellow cap, and it remains indispensable for any well-stocked bar.

Essential in a Manhattan cocktail as well as ​an Old Fashioned, Angostura Aromatic Bitters have a pronounced tamarind and cinnamon flavor. If you come across any cocktail recipe that simply says "bitters," it's very likely that it was written with this bottle in mind.

Size: 4 ounces | ABV: 44.7% | Ingredients: Alcohol, water, sugar, gentian, natural flavors, and caramel color

Price at time of publish: $28.48

What Our Experts Say

“Bitters is the seasoning for cocktails—it’s our salt and pepper. When working with whiskeys, I find Angostura bitters work particularly well. It has wonderful notes of herbs and spices that complement whiskeys nicely.” — Heidi Turzyn, Mixologist at Contento in New York City

Best Orange: Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6

Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6

Liquor.com

What We Like
  • Adds beautiful flavors to any spirit

  • A classic cocktail component

What We Don't Like
  • Bold flavors if heavy-handed

  • Shines particularly with brown spirits

Created by cocktail guru and author Gary 'Gaz' Regan, these orange bitters have a pronounced cardamom undertone. While there are many orange bitters available on the market today, Regans' Orange Bitters are among the favorites for professionals.

These bitters work well in just about any cocktail and are especially effective when accenting great whiskey drinks. Add a dash or two to beverages like the Liberal Cocktail or Fancy Whiskey, and taste the magic for yourself.

Size: 5 ounces | ABV: 45% | Ingredients: Water, alcohol, bitter orange extract, herbs, caramel

Price at time of publish: $16.73

Best Spiced: Peychaud's Aromatic Cocktail Bitters

Peychaud's Aromatic Cocktail Bitters

Amazon

What We Like
  • Another classic bitters brand

  • Lighter and fruitier than most bitters

  • Excellent in a Sazerac

What We Don't Like
  • Cuts through sweetness

  • Star anise flavors can get pretty potent

  • Contains food coloring

Essential for making a Sazerac cocktail, Peychaud's Bitters offers up light Christmas spice notes, including clove and nutmeg. The 18th-century recipe even includes a hint of cherry. As with most bitters formulas, the secret recipe is one that is well-guarded.

Not only is Peychaud's a fantastic addition to classic drinks, but you'll also want to use them to spice up modern creations. A perfect example is the American whiskey and sake recipe known as the Manhattan Love Story. Here, the bitters play well against the spice of a ginger liqueur and the result is phenomenal.

Size: 5 ounces | ABV: 35% | Ingredients: Water, alcohol, herbs and spices, caramel, certified food color

Price at time of publish: $10.98

What Our Experts Say

“Bitters are a quintessential ingredient when making a classic cocktail. Remember that the classic definition of a cocktail is spirit, water, sugar and bitters.” — Lynn House, Portfolio Mixologist at Heaven Hill Brands

Best Grapefruit: The Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters

The Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters

Amazon

What We Like
  • Unique flavor profile

  • Excellent paired with rye

What We Don't Like
  • Not for fans of white spirits

  • Very hoppy

The Bitter Truth is one of the newer bitters producers. The company has quickly made a splash (or is it a dash?) on the bar scene. While The Bitter Truth offers many great flavored bitters, its grapefruit is one of the most notable.

Grapefruit and hops combine to make this heady, complex bitters. Try using it in drinks containing rye whiskey. A dash or two can add new life to the Algonquin, a classic rye and pineapple recipe. It also does wonders in the slightly fruity Millionaire Cocktail.

As a general rule, if a whiskey cocktail has a hint of bright fruits, try The Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters. You'll be surprised at the results.

Size: 200 milliliters/6.76 ounces | ABV: 44% | Ingredients: Water, alcohol, sugar, natural herbs and spices

Price at time of publish: $19.99

Best Chocolate: Scrappy's Bitters Chocolate Bitters

Scrappy's Bitters Chocolate Bitters

Amazon

What We Like
  • Adds dimension to a Manhattan or Aperol

  • Plays well in desserts

  • Balances sweetness in coffee drinks

What We Don't Like
  • Flavors take some work to perfect

Made with organic cacao nibs, Scrappy's Chocolate Bitters can add a complex dimension to many cocktails.

A Manhattan cocktail takes on a completely different flavor profile with these bitters. You will also find that an old-fashioned cocktail made with a nice sweet bourbon like Four Roses is heavenly with a dash of Scrappy's signature chocolate elixir. If you want to get adventurous, seek out cocktails containing whiskey and Green Chartreuse to try with these bitters as well.

Size: 5 ounces | ABV: 47.6% | Ingredients: Alcohol, distilled water, organic cacao, organic herbs, and spices

Price at time of publish: $18.00

Expert Tip

“I love using chocolate bitters with whiskey,” says Turzyn. “I find the chocolate bitters complement whiskey and offer notes of cherry, walnut, cardamom, and vanilla bean, which play off the oak beautifully."

Best Cherry: Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters

Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters

Amazon

What We Like
  • Not too sweet

  • Adds layers of spice

  • Complements dark spirits of all kinds

What We Don't Like
  • Works best with dark spirits

Not only does Woodford Reserve make great bourbon, but it also makes incredible bitters. In particular, the spiced cherry flavor is quite the hit. Inspired by the Woodford Reserve distillery and aged in real bourbon oak barrels, this premium bitters bottle complements dark spirits of all sorts. Add a couple of drops to your Manhattan, Rob Roy, or any other essential whiskey cocktail for first-rate spiced cherry flavor.

Size: 2 ounces | ABV: 45% | Ingredients: Alcohol, water, natural flavors (gentian root, cherry, spices)

Price at time of publish: $13.20

What Our Experts Say

“Bitters aren't usually the most prominent flavor, but when they're missing, you'll notice that something is wrong." — Harry Jamison, General Manager of a.kitchen+bar in Philadelphia

Best for the Holidays: Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters

Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters

courtesy of kegworks.com

What We Like
  • Rich flavor

  • Easy to sub in to classic cocktails

  • Family-owned, century-old company

What We Don't Like
  • Flavor can be overpowering if not careful

  • Contains walnut, so not safe for those with nut allergies

The family-owned Fee Brothers has been producing their line of cocktail mixers and bitters in Rochester, N.Y. since 1864. Their black walnut bitters are one of the many iconic entries in their diverse line of bitters, and it's a favorite of home mixologists worldwide—especially when the weather starts to get a little colder. With its toasty, nutty, clovey flavors, it represents a foolproof way to put a cozy holiday-friendly spin on classic cocktails.

Sub it for Angostura in an Old Fashioned, stir up a nutty take on a Boulevardier or Rob Roy, or shake some into a Bourbon Eggnog for the ultimate wintertime treat. Your holiday party guests might just make you finish off the bottle—so you'd better ask for another one in the gift exchange.

Size: 5 ounces | ABV: 6.4% | Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Natural Black Walnut Flavor

Price at time of publish: $11.58

Best Gift Set: The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Travel Set

The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Travel Set

Amazon

What We Like
  • Includes a full selection of bitters

  • Travel-size

  • Includes carrying case

What We Don't Like
  • Bottles are tiny

This travel set from The Bitter Truth gives globetrotters the option to experiment with a variety of drinks no matter where life takes them. The pack includes five different-flavored 20-milliliter bottles including aromatic, orange, celery, creole, and Jerry Thomas, inspired by the late New York City bartender and "father of American mixology."

For ultimate protection and portability—and a dash of style—all five mini bitters bottles arrive in a charming tin box suitable for carry-on bags (and, ultimately, a final destination on the home bar of the cocktail connoisseur on your gifting list).

Size: 100 milliliters per bottle | ABV: 38% ABV  | Ingredients: Water, alcohol, herbs, spices, beat sugar

Price at time of publish: $19.99

Good to Know

“The essential bitters to keep around would be an aromatic bitters (Angostura is the most popular), an orange bitters, and maybe some Peychaud's bitters if you're a big fan of Sazeracs or Vieux Carrés,” says Jamison. “Those will cover the bases for almost any cocktail you'll be making at home.”

Final Verdict

For a tried-and-true option that won't let you down, a bottle of Angostura Aromatic Bitters (view at Amazon) is a no-brainer. For the perfect Sazerac cocktail, we very much recommend Peychaud's Aromatic Cocktail Bitters (view at Amazon).

What to Look for in Bitters

Flavor

While the classic bitters flavors are Angostura, Orange, and Peychaud’s, there’s a world of whiskey bitters beyond them. If you’re first experimenting with the flavors of bitters, Angostura is a great bottle to start with. After you master that, try experimenting with more unusual flavors, like chocolate, grapefruit, black walnut, and whiskey barrel-aged. 

Ingredients

While most bitters brands are small-batch, a good rule of thumb is to look for bitters that use local or thoughtfully sourced herbs.

FAQs

What are bitters and what do they do to whiskey?

“Cocktail bitters are an alcohol-based flavoring preparation often containing roots, bark, herbs and various spices,” explains Ektoras Binikos, the co-owner and mixologist of Sugar Monk in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. “Bitters add dimension to any cocktail while balancing the chemical reaction between the sweet and sour components, providing a bridge between the flavors.”

“Bitters work very well with lots of whiskey-based cocktails,” he continues. “They supply additional earthy notes, pairing well with the aromatic components of any whiskey aged in wood barrels. They add volume as they lengthen the finish on your palate the same way tannins do for wine”

How much bitters should you add to whiskey?

Megan McClinton, the general manager at Blackland Distillery in Fort Worth, Texas, notes that you should “treat bitters similar to seasoning food with salt and pepper. A dash or two will add a depth of flavor—a base note to your cocktails.”

What are some drinks that contain whiskey bitters?

The standard whiskey cocktails that require bitters are Old Fashioneds, Sours, Manhattans (and their variants), and Sazeracs. Beyond those, the possibilities are endless; bitters will add layers of flavors.

“In a classic whiskey sour, the bitters engage your palate with their bitter taste, balancing the sugar and citrus notes and adding complexity to the cocktail, hence creating a more interesting flavor,” says Binikos.

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

Lance J. Mayhew, the author of this piece, was a bartender and bar manager for over 16 years. During his time behind the bar, Lance received numerous accolades for his creative and seasonal cocktail creations.

Kate Dingwall updated this piece. She is an experienced spirits and drinks writer. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for six years and has concocted several of her own bitters batches out of her home. For this article, she interviewed master mixologist Ektoras Binikos, distilling expert Megan McClinton, general manager of a.kitchen+bar Harry Jamison, national spirits specialist and portfolio mixologist for Heaven Hill Brands Lynn House, and mixologist at Contento Heidi Turzyn.

This piece was also updated by Jesse Porter, a former bartender who doesn't feel all that nostalgic about most aspects of the job, but really does miss the feeling of seeing a customer's reaction when he would create some halfway decent "bitters art" atop their whiskey sour.

Additional reporting by
Kate Dingwall
Kate Dingwall
Kate Dingwall is a freelance writer whose work focuses on food, drinks, and travel. She is based in Toronto and holds a Wine & Spirits Education Trust Level III qualification.
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