About Cocktail Bitters and Elixirs

Cocktail bitters are combinations of bitter herbs, barks, and other botanicals in a neutral alcohol base designed to be added in minute quantities to give final layers of aromatic and flavor complexity to cocktails.

The most common type of cocktail bitters, aromatic bitters have their origins in the digestive and therapeutic tonics of the late 19th Century and were perfected during the golden age of cocktails in the early 20th Century. In recent years, the craft cocktail movement has inspired myriad faithful recreations, reinterpretations, and exotic experimentation using almost every conceivable edible or botanical ingredient.

Cocktail bitters are not to be confused with bitter liqueurs such as Italian amaros or fernets which have a higher sugar content and are designed to be consumed on their own or in cocktails. Due to their pungent bitterness, one would not drink cocktails bitters on their own, unless you are a bartender of course.

Top Picks for Cocktail Bitters and Elixirs

Old Forester Salt and Pepper Tincture
94 points
Golden amber color. Savory, smoky aromas and flavors of smoky bbq rubbed meat, smoked paprika and gouda, cigar and pipe tobacco, and barnyard with a round, vibrant, bittersweet medium body and a tingling, subtle, long finish. A wonderfully smoky and savory tincture that will add a great smoked paprika note to classic and innovative cocktails.
Awards: 2018 Best Tincture
The Bitter Truth Drops & Dashes Roots Bitters
94 points
$18
Best Buy
Tasted as a Old Fashioned cocktail. Golden amber color. Aromas and flavors of toffee, orange-peach chutney, and fig bread with a round, tangy, fruity sweet medium-to-full body and a warming, complex, long creme brulee, brown spices, and leather finish. In an Old Fashioned these bitters dovetail completely and add dried fig, licorice and spice notes to compliment the cocktail.
94 points $18 Best Buy
Weatherby’s Orange Saffron Bitters
94 points
$18
Best Buy
Tasted as a Gin Martini cocktail. Slivery straw color. Aromas and flavors of juniper, orange fruit cake, pine sap, and saffron with a satiny, bright, dry medium body and a tingling, interesting, medium-long orange peel, pine, cardamom, and chamomile and pollen finish. In a gin martini these bitters add delicious orange spice cake and fruit cake bass notes that offset the herbal juniper forward gin and then an ethereal saffron high note that lingers.
94 points $18 Best Buy
The Bitter Ex Bitters Co. Drunk Texting Citrus Bitters
93 points
$12
Tasted in a Gin Martini cocktail. Light gold color. Aromas and flavors of frosted lemon cake and herbed yams with a supple, bright, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a smooth, crisp lemon and nut oil and dried ginger and lime finish. These bitters add a hint of lemon and ginger to the mix for a serious cocktail.
The Bitter Ex Bitters Co. Stalking Ex Spicy Celery Bitters
93 points
$12
Tasted in a Gin Martini cocktail. Golden straw color. Aromas and flavors of celery root and stalk, hints of dried peach, barbecue rub, and suede shoe with a supple, lively, dryish medium-full body and an even, layered, very long lemon cream, frosted herb scone, and cucumber-thyme and watermelon finish. Vibrant earthy celery notes mesh seamlessly with the botanicals of gin in a martini cocktail and elevate the experience; a must for brunch cocktails or try with Chartreuse.
Old Forester Oleo-Saccharum Syrup
93 points
Pale straw color. Attractive, citrusy aromas and flavors of freshly shaved yuzu and Buddha’s hand, crystallized ginger, lady grey tea, and rosemary with a supple, vibrant, fruity medium body and a smooth, interesting, medium-long lemon meringue pie, spiced melon, and lemon heads finish. A rich syrup that will add attractive layers of complexity to any cocktail.
Awards: 2018 Best Bar Syrup
Riemerschmid Angobitters Bitter
92 points
$14.99
Best Buy
Tasted as an Old Fashioned cocktail. Opaque sedimentary mahogany color. Lively, woody aromas and flavors of spice barks, sandalwood, exotic peppercorns, and rhubarb and green tomato with a supple, bright, dry body and an interesting, medium-length dried citrus and earth finish. This a vivacious and well-balanced bitters that adds a lot of warm, woody spice tones to cocktails, in particular whisky-based cocktails like the old fashioned.
92 points $14.99 Best Buy
Basement Bitters Bitter Frost
92 points
$20
Best Buy
Tasted as a Pisco Sour cocktail. Brilliant golden amber color. Spicy aromas of fresh gingerbread and oatmeal, fruitcake, brown spices, and malted cocoa with a supple, lively, spritzy, dry-yet-fruity light-to-medium body and a seamless, captivating, medium-length anise seed, clove, cardamom, and saffron finish. A very attractive and confectionary-like spice bitters that will add a wonderful pie-like quality to cocktails; in the case of the pisco sour it made it like a liquid key lime pie.
92 points $20 Best Buy
Old Forester Smoked Cinnamon Bitters
91 points
Tasted in an Old Fashioned cocktail. Amber color. Aromas and flavors of fine cherry pipe tobacco, sandalwood, carrot cake and zucchini bread toast, and singed cinnamon with a satiny, vibrant, fruity medium-to-full body and a tingling, interesting, medium-long orange cake with cherries and spiced honey finish. Lightly smoky spice, wood and tobacco notes add a lot of complexity to an Old Fashioned cocktail and smooth out any rough edges in bourbon.
Old Forester Bohemian Bitters
89 points
Tasted in an Old Fashioned cocktail. Golden amber color. Aromas of pipe tobacco, cedar and incense, grilled fennel, and marzipan with a supple, bright, fruity medium body and a tingling, medium-length licorice candy, orange spice muffin, and molasses finish. A solid, lightly licorice-like bitters adds a fun layer to a Old Fashioned cocktail.