One of the things my partner and I used to argue about was who should take out the recycling. His case was that because I blew through cans of seltzer like a grumpy sponge, the onus should fall on me to drag our bin downstairs whenever it was full. I mean, sure, totally fair. Except he still ended up being the one to do it (mea culpa, honey). His solution: surprising me with a water carbonator and a gift certificate to our local cocktail supply shop, which boasts a selection of more than 100 different bitters.
We picked an afternoon to go together and, since this was pre-COVID, we got to taste as many different bitters as we liked. Although it was a little overwhelming at first, we quickly narrowed in on a few companies that, no matter the flavor, outshined the rest with their thoughtful and meticulous craftsmanship. Whether you’re looking to spruce up your own bar, or looking for gifts for that cocktail aficionado in your life, these are our favorite small-batch bitters producers.
Based in Los Angeles and a literal one-man operation, two of my must-have bitters come from this small company. Owner and operator Louis Anderman is pretty fussy when it comes to choosing quality ingredients, which he sources from local farms. That means some of his flavors, like peach and ume, are strictly seasonal and, depending on crop yields, could be limited to as few as 30 to 100 bottles.
The two flavors I keep on hand are yuzu, which I use almost exclusively for iced seltzer, and toasted pecan, which I use in a bourbon old fashioned, hot and iced coffee drinks, hot cocoa, and even as an ingredient in chocolate pudding. I’m also a big fan of their bay rum bitters, which is made using leaves from the West India bay tree Anderman keeps on the premises.
2. El Guapo
Founded in 2017 by Christa Cotton, this New Orleans-based bitters producer has some of the most unique, exciting flavor combinations I’ve ever seen. Their crawfish boil bitters (yes, really!) are exactly what Bloody Marys have been missing, and I dare you not to smile when you try a dash on your next oyster. One of their seasonal flavors, summer berry bitters, quickly went from something I splashed into Champagne and gin cocktails to a pantry staple. It’s lovely as an accent for lemonade, mixed with balsamic and drizzled on a fruit salad, and really shines when stirred into homemade berry jam or compote.
Holiday pie bitters is a symphony of my favorite fall flavors, pumpkin, pecans, apples, and sweet potato, and it’s my go-to for warm cocktails, like hot toddies and mulled cider or wine. A brand-new flavor is barrel-aged vanilla, a collaboration with the spice masters at Burlap & Barrel, and it’s wonderful in an Old Fashioned and, like the holiday pie bitters, warm winter cocktails.
Founded in 2013 in Portland, OR, this producer makes my absolute favorite chocolate bitters. Their Pitch Dark Cacao Bitters pairs well with just about any dark liquor, particularly rum and bourbon. While their bottle design is minimal and chic, the flavor profiles are anything but simple. Even their very specifically named bitters, like orange and lavender, are more complex than their names would lead you to believe. The lavender is complemented with vanilla and coriander, turning what could be a one-note bottle to something more than just floral: it’s vaguely sweet with those dried fruit notes from vanilla, and a hint of fragrant citrus from the coriander.
Their aptly named woodland bitters, a combination of Douglas fir, peppermint, and orange, elevates my gin and tonics to something really special.
How do you like to use bitters? Any small producers you recommend? Let us know in the comments.
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