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We are in a bitters boom. Everywhere you look there’s a new shiny, tiny bottle of distilled Sriracha bitters or plum blossom bitters or leather jacket bitters. How do you know what to leave on the shelf and what to bring back to your home bar? Brad Thomas Parsons, bitters expert and author of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, explains which bottles you really need to buy.
Start with what Parsons calls the holy trinity of bitters: Angostura (or another aromatic bitters), Peychaud’s (or another anise-heavy bitters) and orange. “Angostura has that Christmas baking spice—like your grandmother’s wardrobe,” he says. It’s used in a multitude of cocktails including Manhattans and Champagne cocktails. “Peychaud’s is more limited but it has persevered, thanks to the Sazerac. And orange bitters are necessary for old-fashioneds and classic martini recipes,” Parsons says.
Now you can move on to the slightly less essentials. Selections will differ from person to person depending on what you like to drink. “If you are a gin and tonic household, start with lime bitters and celery bitters,” Parsons says. “If you like Manhattans, try cherry bitters. If you like tequila, opt for mole bitters.”
Your third priority is to buy for the season. In the spring, use floral bitters like lavender to make any light, spritzy cocktail bright and springy. In the summer, try vibrant citrusy bitters like grapefruit and yuzu. In the fall, seek out pear bitters or black fig bitters. And in the winter, spike hot cocktails and dark spirits with spiced bitters like whiskey barrel bitters or molasses bitters.