The 7 Best Bitters for Whiskey Cocktails in 2021

Accent your favorite whiskey drinks with bitters

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Our Top Picks
Great for a Manhattan or an old-fashioned cocktail.
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Among the favorites for the pros thanks to its pronounced cardamom undertone.
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Essential for making a Sazerac cocktail, Peychaud's offers up light Christmas spice notes, including clove and nutmeg.
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Grapefruit and hops combine to make this a heady, complex bitters.
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Made with organic cacao nibs, these bitters add dimension to many cocktails.
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This premium bitters bottle complements dark spirits of all sorts.
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Give globetrotters the option to experiment with a variety of drinks no matter where life takes them.
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Cocktail bitters can make the difference between an average cocktail and a great one. When it comes to whiskey, bitters are essential for the modern bar because they're a key ingredient in many of the best drinks. From the old-fashioned to the Manhattan, bitters play a vital role. Approximately a decade ago, Angostura Aromatic Bitters was king of the bitters scene, but now we have a great variety to choose from.

These bitters are best for your favorite whiskey cocktails.

Best Overall: Angostura Bitters Set

Angostura Aromatic Bitters and Orange Bitters
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 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

Best Orange: Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6

Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 for Cocktails
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

Best Spiced: PEYCHAUD'S Aromatic Cocktail Bitters

Peychaud's Aromatic Cocktail Bitters
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-kept.

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

Best Grapefruit: The Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters

The Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters
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.

Essentially, 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

Best Chocolate: Scrappy's Bitters Chocolate Bitters

Scrappy's Bitters Chocolate
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 is made with a nice sweet bourbon like Four Roses is heavenly. Look for cocktails containing whiskey and Green Chartreuse to feature this in as well.

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

Best Cherry: Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters

woodford reserve cherry bitters
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 spice 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, old-fashioned, 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)

Best Gift Set: The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Travel Set

the bitter truth travelers set
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

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 and grapefruit. 

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, 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 and distilling expert Megan McClinton.

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