Also known as potable bitters, digestive bitters are predominantly European beverages that are traditionally enjoyed neat. However, like their non-potable counterparts, they have endured waning interest thanks to the dynamic cocktail culture.
In this guide, we will present you with the top 10 best digestive bitters brands:
- Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
- Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
- Dr. Nielsen’s Original Bitter
- Cocchi Barolo Chinato
- Becherovka Liqueur
- The Bitter Truth EXR Bitter Liqueur
Scroll down to see them all or jump ahead using the links above. We will also cover where to buy digestive bitters.
What Are The Best Digestive Bitters Brands?
See The Best Cocktail Bitters
Celebrated grappa producer Nonino has been in operation since 1897 and continues to operate today as a family business. It’s particularly famous for its grappa as well as its innovative artisanal production techniques.
For instance, this digestive bitter is produced by using the Nonino family’s grape distillate ÙE, a patented technique whereby the skin, pulp, and juice are distilled in a single operation. Created in 1984, it’s the same technique applied for their production of grappa.
Quintessentia is inspired by Antonio Nonino’s ancient recipe, which has been improved thanks to the family’s vast distillation experience. The bottle and label pay homage to its remedial heritage and the vegan-friendly ingredients offer a balanced profile with distinctively herbal flavours.
"An exceptional amaro-style digestive bitter that can be enjoyed neat or goes wonderfully well in a spritz."
A celebrated quinquina wine, Byrrh was created by brothers Pallade et Simon Viollet in 1866. It followed the trend set by Dubonnet of blending fortified wine with blended cinchona bark, which was originally made for colonial officers to combat malaria.
Originally sold by chemists, Byrrh quickly became popular in cafés, too. Aged in large oak barrels, the wine is fruit-forward and its flavour expresses botanicals such as bitter orange and coca.
Easy to enjoy neat, Byrrh is fortified wine so it isn’t as strong as most Italian amaro. Therefore, it’s a great alternative in cocktails as it’s light in alcohol without sacrificing flavour.
Carpano is one of the oldest vermouth recipes that was first created in 1786. Today, it is produced by the Branca brothers in Milan who continue to preserve its cultural heritage.
Featuring Italian grapes from Romagna, Puglia and Sicily, it’s rich, unctuous and delivers an overall sweet flavour profile. This high-quality vermouth is easy to enjoy neat as an apéritif. However, it is one of the best vermouths to use for cocktails like a Manhattan or a Negroni.
Dr Nielsen was a chemist at the Hobro Apotek pharmacy who had created and retailed his own digestive bitters. He passed away in 1937 and it wasn’t until 1988 that his digestive bitter was revived and made commercially available.
It features eight different botanicals, which include bitter orange and star anise. The result is a potent and invigorating bitter that’s arguably a midway point between German Kräuterlikör and non-potable bitters.
Indeed, features the same herbal properties but with a thicker burnt sugar texture that’s reminiscent of Angostura bitters.
Campari arguably needs no introduction as it’s probably the most famous digestive bitter in the world. It’s recognisable thanks to its distinctive red colour, which used to be derived from cochineal insects!
It was created in 1860 by Gaspare Campari and is the flagship product of what is now a pivotal group in the industry that represents just under half of all global liquor sales. Gaspare, a bartender at the time, created bottled cocktails for his café and when he first made the one that would eventually bear his name, it was called “Bitter all’Uso d’Holanda”.
Campari is the quintessential Italian amaro and is best known as the fundamental ingredient for the Negroni cocktail. However, it can also be enjoyed as part of a Spritz or with soda water, too.
Coincidentally, Suze is currently produced at Byrrh’s facilities, which is also owned by the Pernod Ricard group. Like Byrrh, Suze had fallen out of favour and was regarded as an old person’s drink until relatively recently. However, it’s now making a major comeback!
Although made in France and generally recognised as a French beverage, Suze actually has Swiss origins. It was invented by herbalist Hans Kappeler who sold the recipe to Parisian distiller Fernand Moureaux in 1885.
Suze has since developed several different beverages, including a more intense version of the original called “Saveur d’Autrefois”. Both this version and the original are dominated by bitter gentian root as well as other botanicals.
It has a remarkably oily texture and is often enjoyed either neat or on the rocks. Occasionally, it is diluted with water like absinthe or pastis. However, due to its rarity and unique flavour, it has become a highly sought-after commodity by American bartenders.
Founded in 1891 by Giulio Cocchi, Cocchi specialises in fortified and sparkling wines in the Asti region. Today, it’s owned by the Bava family who endeavours to preserve its heritage and traditions.
A premium Quinquina fortified wine, Cocchi’s Barolo Chinato is remarkably complex thanks to its use of additional botanicals like cardamon and rhubarb root. As the name suggests, it’s produced with prestigious DOCG Barolo wine.
This quinquina bitter is often consumed neat but it was traditionally heated like mulled wine. However, it’s a great alternative for cocktails thanks to its rich and flavoursome experience.
First created by chemist Josef Becher in 1807, Becherovka was originally a medicinal tonic. When Josef’s son, Johann’ took over the company in 1841, it evolved as a beverage by the name of Karlsbader Becherbitter. It wasn’t until after the First World War that it acquired its modern-day name when the region was acquired by Czechoslovakia.
Despite being one of the Czech Republic’s most renowned beverages, Becherovka experienced many hardships. The family’s patriarch and male heirs were lost to the Second World War and the members that remained left in exile to Germany due to the Beneš decrees.
The company left behind was nationalised by the Communist Party while the family founded another in Köln, Germany. As trade grew, the two companies argued over rights and even a Slovak version briefly emerged in 1998. However, Pernod Ricard eventually stepped in and settled the disputes by acquiring both in 2001!
Featuring over twenty botanicals, Becherovka is unique thanks to its distinctively ginger and cinnamon flavour. It can be enjoyed neat but goes well with mixers such as a Becherovka and Tonic. This cocktail is known as a “BeTon”, which means “concrete”.
The Bitter Truth’s EXR (which is short for “Elixir”) is unique in that it’s a contemporary creation by Munich bartenders Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck who founded The Bitter Truth. Rather than being a historical beverage, it draws inspiration from different bitters across Europe.
This approach isn’t surprising given that The Bitter Truth is known for creating its own vintage-style bitters. Although conceived in Germany, it’s produced in France and is mostly influenced by both Italian vermouth and German Kräuterlikör. After all, vermouth was arguably a German invention that began as “Wermut Wein”!
With rich notes of lemon balm, mint, and pine, EXR is invigorating while dark chocolate, coffee, and gentian provide an overall bitter structure. It’s an excellent example of how digestive bitters still have lots of potential for experimentation despite their long history.
Consider enjoying it neat or even as an alternative to vermouth or Fernet-Branca for a number of cocktails.
Initially created as a working-class drink, Jägermeister’s contemporary reputation is a little different, to say the least. Indeed, many of us can probably admit to having overindulged in a few Jägerbombs during our youth!
Although infamous for this reason, Jägermeister is also one of the most prominent German Kräuterlikör bitters on the market. Made with 56 different botanicals, it’s a distinctively herbaceous beverage that some people may regard as an acquired taste.
Best consumed chilled, it’s perhaps not quite as versatile as the other bitters above. In fact, most Jägermeister cocktails tend to focus on efficiency rather than enjoyment. Nevertheless, as an iconic and influential bitter, it has more than earned a place in this list.
Where To Buy Cocktail Bitters In The USA
While digestive bitters may feel somewhat obscure compared to their non-potable cocktail counterparts, you’ve probably realised that they’re actually pretty common. After all, Italian amaro and aperitivo can often be classed as digestive bitters while Jägermeister, a Kräuterlikör, can be found anywhere.
Indeed, most liquor stores will likely have some variety of digestive bitter. At the very least, you’ll easily find Campari and Aperol or even Fernet-Branca. However, if you’re looking for a little more variety, you might struggle.
Exploring the elusive yet fascinating world of bitters is both fun and rewarding. It’s a diverse family of drinks that spans across Europe. Furthermore, every variety has its own unique identity, which has been usually defined by its history and culture over centuries.
Otherwise, digestive bitters have a whole palette of flavours and they’re great for experimenting when making new cocktails.
Therefore, if you’re looking to try different bitters, your best option will likely be the internet. Reserve Bar, one of our favourite online retailers, has a decent selection, but they tend to be the most popular choices mentioned earlier.
Meanwhile, Wine.com has a surprisingly diverse range with lots of digestive bitters from different countries thanks to its focus on more artisanal products.
Finally, Drizly is always a good port of call as it works in partnership with local liquor stores. What you’ll see will be sold nearby, which means that you could discover a new liquor shop. However, if you live in a relatively isolated area, you might be out of luck. If that’s the case, we’d suggest the other options above.
Now that you have read about the best cocktail bitters brands, why don’t you check out more of our resources?