During these most idle of summer days, we need a damn good reason to abandon our towels and mindless reading. A nicely mixed drink is one acceptable excuse. To ensure that our August libations are of the low-effort, high-reward variety, we turned to Brad Thomas Parsons—author of the JBF Award–winning Bitters: A Spirited History Of A Classic Cure-All With Cocktails, Recipes, And Formulas—for suggestions for unconventional bitters that will add instant pizazz to whatever we're sipping poolside. - The Editors
Bartenders love to describe bitters as the salt and pepper of the bar, but I like to think of them as an entire spice cabinet of liquid seasonings. They play a pivotal role in bringing balance to well-made cocktails, and every serious home bar should have three essential bitters on hand: Angostura, Peychaud’s, and an orange bitters. While this trio will allow you to craft a multitude of classic and contemporary drinks, here are some more off-the-beaten–path bitters to consider this summer.
Spicy Charred Pineapple Bitters, Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters (Brooklyn, NY)
Though you’ll have to wait until late summer to get your hands on this year’s batch of strawberry and blueberry bitters, the arrival of spicy charred pineapple bitters—a bespoke product commissioned for a private account that’s now available to discerning drinkers—is to be celebrated. Your margaritas and mai tais will never be the same.
Sour Cherry Bitters, Miracle Mile Bitters Co. (Los Angeles)
This blend of cherry bark and dried sour cherries packs the essence of cherry flavor without any of the medicinal aftertaste you might expect with such a bitters. Its sweet-and-sour bitterness wouldn’t be out of place in a Manhattan, but try doctoring up a lime rickey with a few healthy dashes.
Burlesque Bitters, Bittermens Bitters (Brooklyn, NY)
The award-winning lineup from Bittermens continues to be among the most reached-for bitters in my collection, and sweet-tart Burlesque Bitters is one to add to your rotation in the summer months. Made with hibiscus, açai berry, and long pepper, it will bring a bitter blush to your next negroni.
Great in ’28 Bitters, Bitters, Old Men (NYC)
One of the breakout favorites in Zachary Feldman’s inventive bitters catalog, Great in ’28 comes at you with a healthy dose of juniper and grapefruit and plays well with gin and whiskey alike.
Chesapeake Bay Bitters, The Bitter End (Santa Fe)
With bay leaf, black pepper, and cayenne, this spicy bitters evokes summer at the shore. It’ll bring a savory note to a seaside martini, but don’t be afraid to add a few drops to spice up a back-porch michelada.
The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Traveler’s Set, The Bitter Truth (Munich, Germany)
This variety pack of five sample-size bitters—including orange and celery flavors—is TSA-friendly and the perfect traveling companion for spicing up your next in-flight cocktail. (Trust me, airline bar carts don’t typically stock bitters.) And it makes for a spirited bread-and-butter gift when you’re crashing at your friend’s summer house.
Join Parsons and chef Marc Forgione for a celebration of bitters at the Beard House on September 10. For more information, please call 212.627.2308.