Enliven almost any cocktail with a modern twist on an ancient recipe.
by Wayne Curtis
Bitters are back, and it’s about time. Originally used as a stomach tonic, bitters made the leap to recreational beverages a couple of centuries ago when tipplers realized that just a few drops made a merely potable liquor far more interesting. Then came Prohibition, and bitters all but disappeared.
With the advent of the cocktail revival, though, small-batch producers started ginning up an array of bitters. (They’re made by infusing sharp-tasting roots and barks, along with spices, citrus peels, and other exotica, in alcohol.) Doubt their effectiveness? Mix up two Manhattans; add bitters to one, taste, and you’ll never go back. Below are the best examples we’ve found — but first, a few drinks that allow this elixir to shine. -
THE ANGOSTURA SOUR Kirk Estopinal of Cure in New Orleans pops off the shaker top on his bottle of Angostura for this surprisingly refreshing bitters-based concoction.
1-1/2 oz Angostura bitters 3/4 oz fresh lime juice 1 oz simple syrup 1 egg white
Shake in cocktail shaker (without ice) until frothy, then add ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into cocktail glass. Serve up.
THE WALDORF Cocktail guru Jonathan Pogash pours this vintage drink for the Empire Room at New York’s Empire State Building.
1 tsp absinthe 1-1/4 oz rye whiskey 1-1/4 oz sweet vermouth Dash of Boker’s Bitters Dash of Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters
Rinse glass with teaspoon of absinthe. Stir remaining ingredients with cracked ice in a stirring glass, then strain into absinthe-rinsed glass. Garnish with long lemon peel.
THE LOOP TONIC Celery bitters and tequila know how to work together, as Phil Ward of Mayahuel in New York proves in this complex cocktail.
2 oz white tequila 1 oz dry vermouth 3/4 oz freshly squeezed lime juice 1/2 oz simple syrup 1/2 oz green Chartreuse Dash of celery bitters
Shake and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with a celery stick.
Photo by Michael Pirrocco
- Best Bitters: The Short List
From blueberry to the classic dried orange peel, there’s a flavor for everyone.
Sweetgrass Bitter Blueberry Made from blueberry wine, these bitters are intense yet round and supple. Use for a more tart taste ($8;sweetgrasswinery.com).
Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters Fee’s richly aromatic bitters are aged in used bourbon casks. Perfect for an old-fashioned ($15; feebrothers.com).
- - The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters Of any celery-based bitters, these have the biggest flavor. Try in place of celery salt in a Bloody Mary ($16; the-bitter-truth.com).
Boker’s Bitters These cardamom-based bitters appeared in 1828 but vanished with Prohibition. In 2009 an entrepreneur reverse-engineered them to bring them back ($20; bokersbitters.co.uk).
Angostura Orange Bitters A few drops of orange bitters can make a shy drink stand up and croon. This makes for a fine Angostura sour (see above) ($11; angostura.com).