Yes, bitters is having a moment—and here are the city’s best places to explore the many flavors of the mysterious cocktail ingredient.
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“It’s the equivalent of herbs or spices in the cocktail world,” says Avery Glasser. “Adding bitters brings flavors together, highlights nuances in other ingredients, and essentially completes the cocktail.” He would know. As co-founder of Bittermens (a DUMBO-based artisanal bitters producer) and the bar manager at Amor y Amargo, a newly opened bitters-focused bar, Glasser has emerged as one of the city’s premier experts on the subject.
Now that serious mixology has infiltrated even your corner bar, maybe it’s time to bring the artistry home, too. David Phillips, cocktail specialist at Astor Wines & Spirits, advises that you begin your journey by stocking your cabinet with orange and aromatic bitters, the “salt and pepper of the cocktail world.” After that, you can get into more exotic types, which is like stocking your spice cabinet. “They will make everything more interesting,” Phillips says.
Here are the city’s best places to get started.
Amor y Amargo serves cocktails that showcase bitters from around the world, holds bimonthly classes to teach patrons about the tinctures, and operates a small retail shop that stocks Bittermens bitters. The cocktail menu features mostly drinks made with Bittermens, like the surprisingly complex Bittermens Gin & Tonic, made with Hopped Grapefruit Bitters, London Dry Gin, Maraschino liqueur, and Bittermens Commonwealth Tonic Liqueur. The Hopped Grapefruit Bitters, made from hops (that basic beer ingredient) and grapefruit peel, lends a citrus punch and vegetal tang to the jazzed-up G&T. 443 East 6th Street, 212.614.6817
The Meadow, a gourmet specialty shop in the West Village, sells more than 200 varieties of bitters from 24 producers, including locally made brands like Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters, Hella Bitter, and Bittermens. Pick up a bottle of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters—made from organic cacao nibs from Taza Chocolate, cinnamon, and chile pepper, among a dozen additional herbs, spices, and citrus peels—to use in cocktails made with aged dark spirits such as bourbon, rye, reposado tequila, añejo tequila, and dark rum. 523 Hudson Street, 212.645.4633
Whisk, a kitchen supply store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, stocks full lines from 10 artisanal bitters producers, including Fee Brothers, Bittermens, Bittercube, Angostura, Brooklyn Hemispherical, Hella Bitter, and Scrappy's. Don’t be shy—feel free to taste any of them so you’ll know just what you’re getting before you make your purchase. Manager Kari Johnson recommends Bittercube’s blackstrap bitters, which she describes as “full-bodied, with aroma and flavors including molasses, clove, sassafras, and sarsaparilla.” Johnson notes that the blackstrap bitters “sit perfectly atop egg-white cocktails—particularly those made with rum and whiskey—providing intense aroma and visual appeal.” Whisk is opening a Manhattan location in May, conveniently located in the Flatiron District, at 933 Broadway. 231 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, 718.218.7230