For 95% of bar goers, “bitters” are an unknown substance. And of that 5% who have discovered the secret treasure, probably less than 1% actually know bitters as anything beyond that mis-wrapped bottle with a yellow cap crusted to the top with sticky brown goo.
Then again, those few people probably have a blog and are writing for this edition of Mixology Monday, being quaintly hosted by A Dash of Bitters. It is for you that I delve into a topic I have avoided for some time now. Not for want of writing, but due to the great spell that the grand tiki gods had on me all summer. By some amazing feat, I have not imbibed from the tiki mug for nearly a week, and I feel ready to approach the chilly months ahead with the dark allure that first birthed Kaiser Penguin.
Angostura Bitters vs. Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters
Before I would determine which bitters fit best with the flavors of the Manhattan and the Fancy Gin Cocktail, I needed to see what tastes and aromas they would bring to the table on their own. I have employed my fine lady, Gretchen, to assist me with the tests. Gretchen is a phenomenal cook and baker of magic. She is known among friends as a genius cookie baker and has turned ingredients such as rosemary, baked beans, and even mustard, into succulent chewy cookies that effectively taste like the ingredient, yet are delicious.
On the other hand, she has no taste for cocktails. Although I’ve found a few that please her, like the Corpse Reviver #2 and the Mojito, she falls pretty nearly directly in line with Charles H. Baker Jr’s view of the female imbiber. She describes cocktails that I craft in terms that would be more fitting in a men’s locker room (e.g. “This tastes a bit like sweaty gym socks soaked in pinesol, then burned.”). For that very reason, I always have her taste my creations for the amusing descriptions. But when tasked with employing her critical nose and taste buds, she is a scientific marvel. I won’t denote which comments are mine and which are Gretchen’s; you’ll know.
Ingredients: An aromatic preparation of water, alcohol, gentian and vegetable flavoring extractives and vegetable coloring matter.
Aroma: Orange peels, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg
Flavor: The goop that’s left in the bottom of a pot of mulled cider
Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters
Ingredients: Angostura bark and spice flavors, citrus oil and gentian in a solution of water, alcohol and glycerine, and caramel color.
Aroma: Red hots, fireballs, the inside of a box of hot tamales.
Flavor: At first, redhots, then like you bit into a Tylenol.
On to the drinks!
- 2oz Bourbon (I used Buffalo Trace)
- 1oz Sweet Vermouth (I used Martini and Rossi)
- 1 dash Angostura or Fee’s Aromatic Bitters
- orange peel and maraschino cherry, for garnish
Stir with crushed ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish.
The aroma is almost completely masked by the orange peel, and all the flavors meld together forming… well, nothing special. It’s good – I would drink it if served it, but I was left wishing for the kick of cloves.
Fee’s Aromatic Bitters
“It tastes like Christmas.” Clovey, orangey, dark. This was a completely different drink, and the only difference was the bitters. They brought out the hidden notes of the bourbon so fashionably.
Fancy Gin Cocktail
- 2 dashes simple syrup
- 1 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 dashes orange curacao (I used Bols – I know… I know… Marie Brizard is having production issues)
- 2oz gin (I used Bombay regular)
- lemon twist
Stir (or shake) with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish.
From: The Craft of the Cocktail, Dale Degroff
The bitters helped to craft a sweet orange extract aroma, yet the flavor was simple. It was like fresh water, really cutting the gin taste, yet leaving just the right amount. It was glorious.
Fee’s Aromatic Bitters
Cinnamon and cloves flourished in taste and aroma resulting in a rounded sweet and soft cocktail. Neither of these was the clear winner, but both are well worth trying.
Fee Brother’s West Indian Orange Bitters vs. Regans’ Orange Bitters No 6
As usual, I got a bit ambitious in this comparison and decided to explore the mysteries of orange bitters. Fee Brothers and Regan were up against each other in a fight for the Old Fashioned. But first, the facts.
Fee Brother’s West Indian Orange Bitters
Ingredients: Prepared from water, glycerine, alcohol, oil of bitter orange terpeneless, and other natural flavors.
Aroma: 1 million orange hard candies, pleasantly medicinal.
Flavor: “Good until you swallow.” A burst of sweet orange then bitter pith
Regans’ Orange Bitters No 6
Ingredients: water, alcohol, bitter orange extract, herbs & caramel
Aroma: Very complex. Like the Iron Chef ingredient was oranges.
Flavor: “It burned my tongue – It’s burning! My taste buds melted.” Surprisingly not very orangey.
- 1 3/4oz bourbon
- 1/4oz dark brown sugar syrup
- 2 dashes Fee Brother’s or Regans’ Orange bitters
- lemon peel and maraschino cherry for garnish
Just go watch Brilliant Cocktail’s joyous description of the method.
Source: Brilliant Cocktails
Regans’ Orange Bitters
Sweet but with an acid orangeyness and a bit of a chemical aftertaste. Not bad, but not what I’m looking for in an Old Fashioned.
Fee’s Orange Bitters
Fee’s was made for this drink. The orange flavors were well-rounded, sweet, and creamy. This is quite a smooth cocktail.
Now the most important part. What are your favorite brands? Did our kitchen of science get something wrong?
And finally, I vowed I would never touch on topics other than cocktails on my blog, but Paul over at Cocktail Chronicles has motivated me. If you’re a gamer, buy a Nintendo Wii this Christmas. If you’re not a gamer, at least go to the store and sword fight with some of the employees. You’ll know what I mean if you check it out.