A good Old Fashioned cocktail can be hard to beat. The sophisticated blend of bourbon, bitters, sugar, and soda produce a one-of-a-kind cocktail typically served in an Old Fashioned glass.
This famous cocktail gets its name from the actions of people asking for their drink to be made the “Old Fashioned way”. The Old Fashioned is actually the first cocktail ever made, originating in the 1900s.
Whether you enjoy cocktail evenings with your friends or consider yourself a top bartender, being able to produce a good Old Fashioned cocktail is the sign of a great cocktail maker. It shows a great approach in regards to attention to detail and the way you can create beauty and taste with simplicity.
Though an Old Fashioned is simple to make, there is little room to enhance the flavors. You could change the spirit but other than that, the only way to improve it is through your choice of bitters.
When the right bitters are used your Old Fashioned can be taken to new heights. However with so many bitters to choose from, finding the best one can be tough.
Luckily for you, we’re here to help. We have put together a list of the best bitters around, looking at how they taste and what they can do for your Old Fashioned cocktail.
Without any further ado, let’s get started.
What Are Bitters?
Before we get stuck into the list, let’s take a look at what exactly bitters are and why they are important. Bitters are small bottles of spirits that are infused with botanicals.
Bitters are in some aspects are what salt is to food. They develop, improve and align the flavors in a cocktail just like salt does when we add it to food. They are useful for accentuating flavors while also bringing their own flavors to the forefront.
It is their ability to bring flavors to a cocktail that makes them so important. You need bitters to make some of the best-known cocktails. Without them, drinks wouldn’t be the same. Using the best bitter in your cocktail will make drinks taste extremely complex with little effort.
How To Make The Perfect Old Fashioned
An Old Fashioned is a super simple cocktail to make, it contains just a few ingredients and takes little time to prepare. Before you find the best bitters, it is important to know how to make the drink. Here is a fantastic Old Fashioned recipe for you to try.
- Bourbon of choice – 2-4 ounces.
- Bitters of choice – 3 dashes.
- 1 teaspoon of water.
- ½ teaspoon of sugar.
- Garnish – Orange peel.
- Add the sugar and bitters into a rocks glass before adding the water. Stir the mixture until the sugar has almost completely dissolved.
- Fill the glass with large ice cubes, then add the bourbon, and gently stir to combine.
- Express the oil of the orange peel on the side of the glass. Finally, drop the orange peel in the glass and enjoy your cocktail.
The first bitters on our list are Regan’s Orange Bitters No.6. These bitters are a great choice if you are looking for a versatile set of flavors that go well in a range of cocktails. The creator himself actually states that the additive goes perfectly well with other drinks, not just whiskey cocktails.
We thought we would give this a go and we must admit we were pleasantly surprised. These bitters taste great with a martini, sloe gin cocktail, and all manner of delicious whiskey cocktails.
With strong notes of spicy cinnamon and clovers, you can expect this brand of bitters to elevate your Old Fashioned to the next level. Bartenders and party hosts will appreciate the delicate, yet complex orange flavor that is infused with the spices.
We highly recommend Regan’s Orange Bitters No.6 to anyone wanting to experiment with new flavors when making their Old Fashioned.
- Versatile – These bitters are versatile, allowing you to enhance not only your Old Fashioned but other cocktails as well.
- Great price – Regan’s bitters are affordable.
- Flavorful – This brand of bitters is packed with flavor.
- Small bottles – Though you don’t need much in your Old Fashioned cocktail, this bottle of bitters is only 10 ounces.
This next brand of bitters is a must-try when experimenting in your home bar.
Angostura Aromatic Bitters never disappoint. Considered to be the gold standard for cocktail bitters around the globe, they will enhance the whiskey’s wood quality and enrich the general sweetness of your cocktail.
We found that the Angostura Bitters provide a delightful combination of fruits and spices that compliment the Old Fashioned perfectly.
On the brand’s official website they recommend making the Old Fashioned with sugar and syrup when using these bitters as it brings a lovely sweetness to the drink. After trying this we can vouch for this idea. By adding your favorite bourbon to the recipe you will have easily made and tasted one of the best bitters for a maple bourbon Old Fashioned.
- World-Renowned – These bitters are the go-to as far as most bartenders are concerned.
- Great flavor – The spiced bitters provide your Old Fashioned with a unique flavor.
- Bigger bottle – You can purchase Angostura Aromatic Bitters in a bigger bottle than Regan’s Bitters.
- Acquired taste – Some people have noted that the taste is something they couldn’t get used to.
The Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters will bring a more earthy taste to your Old Fashioned cocktail. Alongside the earthy taste, you can expect to experience a slight creaminess.
The walnut bitter is packed with flavor just waiting to be added to your cocktail.
We experienced a naturally nutty flavor, with notes of cocoa and surprisingly cola. The sweet taste of these bitters offsets the bitterness to create a well-rounded, balanced bitter that can be used in most whiskey cocktails.
We don’t recommend you use it in other cocktails as the flavors just wouldn’t go.
If you want bitters that add uniqueness and complexity to your Old Fashioned or other whiskey cocktails, you should definitely consider taking a good look at the Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters, you won’t regret it.
- Unique – The earthy flavor these bitters provide is unlike any other we have seen.
- Great for whiskey cocktails – These bitters work well in a variety of whiskey cocktails, not just an Old Fashioned.
- Simple, yet complex – The Fee Brothers bitters add complex sophistication to Old Fashioned cocktails in a simple way.
- Contains nuts – The recipe for these bitters contains nuts so if you have a nut allergy steer clear.
Adding a bit of spice to your favorite cocktail may be questioned by some but it isn’t that uncommon, and besides variety is the spice of life. If chili’s work in a Chili Martini, then why can’t they work in your Old Fashioned. Hella produces a variety of one-of-a-kind chili bitters, but their smoked chili bitters have to be the best.
Made in the Hella factory in Brooklyn where they also make bitters with notes of cinnamon, clove, and Jamaican allspice this bitter will give a completely new flavor to your cocktail. The aromatic bitter with delicate smoked chili flavors is well-balanced ensuring it won’t overpower your cocktail. The subtle taste of spice adds sophistication and elegance to an Old Fashioned cocktail (see also: Smoked Old Fashioned: A Rich Twist on a Classic Cocktail)that your friends and family will love.
We were impressed with the versatility of these bitters. Despite spiced bitters still being a widely debated topic, the Hella Smoked Chili Bitters are used in an array of wonderful cocktails. No matter what your spirit or cocktail of choice is the smoked bitters rich, spicy flavors will shine through to give you that extra bit of something special.
- Goes well with a variety of drinks – This bitter goes nicely with most spirits and a variety of cocktails.
- 100% natural – Hella Smoked Chili Bitters contain no fake ingredients. They are also suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
- Great design – Though it’s not taste-related, this bottle of bitters will look great on your shelf or behind your bar.
- Acquired taste – You will either love or hate these bitters.
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Considered to be the secret ingredient for making the best cocktails, the final bitter on our list is Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters. Made using cinnamon, ginger, allspice, citrus peel, and cardamom, these bitters contain everything you need to give your Old Fashioned cocktail that extra cutting edge. The best part? You only need a few drops.
If you have a love for everything Hawaiian then this brand of bitters is the one for you.
This bitter has been designed with the tropical island in mind aiming to give you a unique taste of the islands. Originally inspired by Tiki legend Brian Miller this cocktail bitter works wonderfully in most cocktails.
With tropical cocktails from Polynesia and the Caribean being at the heart of this brand as you can imagine these bitters work wonders with your whiskey cocktails.
When added to your Old Fashioned cocktail you will experience a warmly spiced, tropical fruity flavor with a hint of ginger and mild bitterness. When we tasted these bitters we loved how all the ingredients complement each other brilliantly to create a tasty, smooth concoction that provides pleasure throughout, just like Hawaii does.
- Tropical – Who doesn’t love everything tropical.
- Well-balanced – The flavors in these bitters complement each other nicely.
- Perfect for parties – This brand of bitters can be used in a variety of cocktails making it perfect for a big cocktail party.
- Small bottle – You can only purchase 5-ounce bottles of this bitter.
This buyer’s guide consists of some of the key things to think about when buying bitters. By considering these points you will be able to make a decision you won’t regret.
Unless you’re experimenting, wanting to try new flavors you may not like, you should always have in mind the taste you are looking for.
Bitters have many different flavors and notes so having in mind what flavor you want to experience will speed up the buying process and also give you a better chance of finding the right bitter for you.
Flavors depend on the ingredients in the bitter so always look at the ingredients first. An example of this would be when you buy Angostura bitters. These bitters have a spicy flavor with hints of clove and cinnamon.
If you look at the ingredients you will see this. If a spicy flavor isn’t what you are looking for you can disregard the brand immediately. Alternatively, if you want something different that you haven’t tried this might be the best choice.
You don’t need to buy a huge bottle of bitters, in fact, you will struggle to find one bigger than 20 ounces. The reason for this is that the quantity you put in each cocktail is so small. Generally, you will only put at most 3 dashes of bitter in your cocktail. Therefore you don’t need to buy a large quantity.
This comes in handy when trying new bitters. By being able to buy in such a small quantity, you can easily try bitters to see if you like them. At least then if you don’t like it you aren’t left with a huge bottle that you can’t shift.
Bitters are needed to improve or even make a wide range of cocktails, not just an Old Fashioned cocktail, therefore if you’re a big cocktail lover or bartender it is a good idea to stock a variety of different bitters.
By doing so you can make a range of different cocktails whenever necessary, bringing different flavors to your drinks all the time. You could purchase a few different styles of bitters from this list as some have earthy, nutty flavors while others are fruity and spicy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is There Alcohol In Bitters?
Bitters do contain alcohol, which is worth knowing if you avoid drinking anything alcoholic. In some bitters, the percentage of alcohol can be as high as 45%. This high percentage of alcohol is nothing to worry about though.
You only ever use very small amounts of the bitters per drink so the amount of alcohol you are actually adding doesn’t really have an effect on the overall alcohol level of the drink.
Do Bitters Have Health Benefits?
Despite containing alcohol studies have shown that bitters do have some pretty good health benefits. The main one of these benefits is the promotion of healthy digestion which is increased by digestive secretions.
This improves the absorption of nutrients, natural detoxification, and liver performance. Bitters have also been known to have a positive impact on stress levels and the body’s ability to control sugar cravings.
We don’t know about you but we think these health benefits definitely merit a cocktail a day to keep the doctor away.
How Should I Store My Bitters?
Bitters are super easy to store because they can be kept like any other spirit. Some people believe they need to be kept in a refrigerator but that simply isn’t true. You can keep your bitters alongside your other spirits or in a kitchen cupboard.
If you’re a bartender it could be a good idea to store the bitters somewhere you can easily access them when your bar gets busy.
This could simply be on the shelf with your other spirits or underneath the bar. Either way, you can rest assured that no matter where you choose to store them, they should be fine.
Bitters can make or break your Old Fashioned cocktail. By choosing the wrong bitter you will be left with a cocktail that lacks flavor or contains a combination of flavors that just don’t go together at all. Luckily, there are plenty of excellent bitters to choose from that go well with a variety of cocktails including Old Fashioned.
Some bitters provide an Old Fashioned cocktail (see also: Old Fashioned: Our Recipe and Guide To This Classic Cocktail)with earthy, natural flavors whilst others give us strong flavors of fruit and spice. Picking the best one comes down to personal preference.
Some people might hate the spicy flavor in their cocktail while others love it. Having said that using bitters gives you the opportunity to experiment with flavors and use a combination of ingredients you might never have tried before.
With our list at your fingertips why not do some research of your own to see what you can do with your Old Fashioned Cocktail.
Experimenting with a few different bitters on this list will improve your knowledge about what bitters can offer and also make you the cocktail star at your next party. Besides experimenting with different bitters and their flavors gives you the perfect reason to host a cocktail party right?