DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Cherry Bitters

Liam Boylan

Asking me to pick my favorite cocktail is sort of like asking parents which of their kids is the best. It's a hard question to answer, but deep in my heart, I know. Sorry, Sazerac and Martini, even though I love you so, the Manhattan is easily my favorite drink. So I was surprised that a simple change to this classic drink made me love it even more.

Swapping in cherry bitters for Angostura bitters gives a Manhattan a subtle yet delightful boost, adding a hint of fruit while still delivering the bitterness that the recipe needs. You, too, can harness the power of cherry bitters to improve your favorite cocktail—or even coax a so-so drink into realizing its full potential.

What's Available to Buy?

Cherry bitters aren't as ubiquitous as Angostura, Peychaud's, or orange bitters. Fee Brothers Cherry Bitters are the ones I usually see at places like BevMo, but other than that it's either a specialty store or special order situation. Woodford Reserve now makes a spiced cherry bitters that I've heard is (not surprisingly) perfect in Manhattans. I haven't gotten my hands on any yet, but I've heard good things about it. Lots of small-batch producers offer cherry bitters—Miracle Mile Sour Cherry bitters and AB Smeby's Cherry Vanilla bitters are two of my favorites. But not every corner store has those, and they're not cheap.

Why DIY?

Since you only use a dash or two of bitters at a time, a little bottle lasts forever. So if you make a small effort to steep some herbs, bark, and fruit, you'll get a homemade, tailored-to-your-taste ingredient that could grace your home bar for years.

Handmade bitters are often worth the hefty price tag, but you can make quality bitters at home and have fun doing it. Also, even the most artisanal of artisans doesn't know what you like as much as you do. Maybe you love a hint of cinnamon or a touch of chamomile in your cocktail. I can't get enough anise, but you could be more of a clove person. With a little experimentation, you can create cherry bitters as unique as your palate.

Use It!

Homemade cherry bitters really liven up a Manhattan, but that's not the only cocktail you can use them in. Try them anywhere you'd use Angostura: in well-known drinks like a Brooklyn, Old Fashioned, Champagne Cocktail, or Rob Roy.

You can also try them in unique recipes like Milk & Honey's Dutchess or Beloved's The Henry. Or you can try a cherry twist on a drink many bartenders swear by: Soda water with a few dashes of bitters.