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All About Bitters (Part 1)


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#541 db_campbell

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Posted 05 August 2009 - 08:48 PM

As for Fee's Aromatic bitters not being too concentrated, while they don't seem quite as intense as, say Angostura, the flavor is rather pronounced and certainly makes itself known if overdashed.  I think the issue with them is that they're not very bitter.

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I've found lately that the Fee's Aromatic really begins to take over a drink quite dramatically, even after just 1 dash, if not tempered by other bitters. It's fairly disappointing, given its enticing Christmas spice aroma, but I've ruined many-a whiskey-based drink by heavy-handing the Fee's and tasting nothing much more than a glass full of cinnamon.

#542 slkinsey

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 11:41 AM

I just returned from Kalustyan's in NYC, which has radically increased its bitters selection. There were on hand the following:L

Angostura
Angostura Orange
Bitter Truth Aromatic
Bitter Truth Celery
Bitter Truth/Bittermens Grapefruit
Bitter Truth/Bittermens Xocolatl Mole
Fee Bros. Cherry
Fee Bros. Grapefruit
Fee Bros. Lemon
Fee Bros. Mexican Chocolate
Fee Bros. Orange
Fee Bros. Old Fashioned
Fee Bros. Peach
Fee Bros. Rhubarb
Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged 2009
Peychaud's
Regan's Orange


I hadn't tried (or known about!) Fee's Mexican Chocolate Bitters. Interested to try them.
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#543 MikeHartnett

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 01:33 PM

I hadn't tried (or known about!) Fee's Mexican Chocolate Bitters.  Interested to try them.

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I just saw those the other day. Thinking about picking them up tonight and trying them in a Fernet Flip.

#544 brinza

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 11:17 AM

Does anyone else have the problem of the labels on their Fee Brothers bitters bottles becoming damp and not drying? Fee Brothers bitters have a high glycerin content, particularly the fruit-flavored ones which apparently have no alcohol. It seems that if some of the bitters drip down onto the bottle's paper label, the glycerin remains in the paper and continues to absorb moisture from the air, resulting in a damp spot that continues to grow rather than dry up. And it's not just Fee's. I have also noticed that the sticker on the neck of my bottle of Angostura Orange is perpetually damp. Angostura Orange also contains glycerin and is lower in alcohol than standard Angostura. Is there a recommended way to get these labels to dry out?
Mike

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#545 Chris Amirault

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 11:28 AM

I have the same problem with the same bottles and would appreciate ideas, too.
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#546 slkinsey

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 12:16 PM

You're SOL once the glycerin gets on there. Potentially you could try getting it off by putting the bottle in a jar of alcohol.
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#547 BittermensAG

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 12:34 PM

Ah - it's very cool that Kalustyan's has the Xocolatl Mole and Grapefruit... we're starting to get into retail worldwide!
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Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs
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#548 BittermensAG

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 12:37 PM

You're SOL once the glycerin gets on there. Potentially you could try getting it off by putting the bottle in a jar of alcohol.


I know this is going to sound horribly petty - but the best way to avoid this situation is just not to purchase bitters that contain glycerin (or artificial flavors).
Avery Glasser
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#549 RoyalSwagger

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 12:39 AM

Not meant as negative but, I'm laughing right now. Right on Avery.

#550 brinza

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 10:39 AM


You're SOL once the glycerin gets on there. Potentially you could try getting it off by putting the bottle in a jar of alcohol.


I know this is going to sound horribly petty - but the best way to avoid this situation is just not to purchase bitters that contain glycerin (or artificial flavors).

Yes, it does sound horribly petty, in a "Get a MAC" sort of way that is an inevitable response when any PC/Windows question is asked anywhere on the internet, which, of course, offers no help to the problem being discussed (sad to see that type of thing occur on a forum like this). It wasn't all that long ago that, in the U.S. at least, the only bitters that were widely and readily available were Angostura. When people starting finding out about Fee's they bought them sight unseen, not knowing what they were made of. A lot of people are still learning what is good and bad about different kinds of bitters and that they have more choices than they might have first thought.

Please enlighten us as to why some bitters manufacturers would use glycerin in the first place and why it is undesirable. Is it just a cheaper neutral base than alcohol?
Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

#551 BittermensAG

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 12:12 PM

Glycerin isn't a replacement or supplement for the Alcohol. The Neutral Grain Spirits (or other alcohol used by bitters makers) act as a solvent, liberating essential oils from the herbs/peels/spices. Glycerin doesn't have any real solvent qualities for it, so it's not useful for pulling flavors out.

Glycerin in itself is just a texturizing agent, it's a little sweet, but not enough that you would use it as a primary sweetener. What it does do very well is trap oils and other volatile compounds. It also prevents louching, which is a big problem when you add alot of oil into an alcohol/water solution.

The problem is this - Glycerin isn't food. It's a chemical additive - typically a byproduct of soap making used as a humectant (keeps things moist/wet) and a partial preservative. It makes things feel artificially smooth, rich and syrupy.

If you're looking to make a very inexpensive bitter, very quickly, you can simply purchase essential oils, tinctures and artificial flavors, add some pure alcohol to bring the volatile aromatics out more into the solution, then add water to stretch the small amount of oils to reduce the cost, and then add in glycerin to stabilize and trap the flavors. The end result is that you can use significantly smaller amounts of the expensive essential oils/tinctures and still have something that resembles a classically-made bitter. Using this method, you don't need to do any aging. Just mix it up and it'll stay together. - but it tends to result in products that are thin in flavor and lack the complexity that comes with using whole herbs, spices, peels and essential oils and letting them mature together over the period of weeks.

So, you can come to your own conclusions. For me, I try to avoid liquors, liqueurs and bitters that use glycerin. It just isn't necessary. With that said, I do have a few different Fee's in the house. I quite like the NY standard of Fee's Orange/Regans Orange done 50/50 - and the barrel aged works well in many drinks.

Just on one other small note - I was cracking a little joke at Joe's (Fee) expense. Karmically, he owes us a couple after copying paying tribute with his "Aztec Chocolate" :) Get to know people a little before naturally assuming they're just snarky a-holes (though in my case, I'm not sure that would be far off)! That and a couple of good tiki drinks will keep you from getting high blood pressure over things like bitters conversations on eGullet :biggrin:

Edited by BittermensAG, 17 September 2009 - 12:15 PM.

Avery Glasser
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Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs
Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

#552 slkinsey

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 12:56 PM

The problem is this - Glycerin isn't food. It's a chemical additive - typically a byproduct of soap making used as a humectant (keeps things moist/wet) and a partial preservative. It makes things feel artificially smooth, rich and syrupy.

Thanks for the otherwise useful information, but I have to take exception to the above.

Yes, glycerol can be described as a "hygroscopic trihydroxy alcohol usually obtained by the saponification of fats." But, so could high proof alcohol be described as a "simple aliphatic alcohol formally derived from ethane, usually obtained by the digestion of sugars by fungi and volatility-mediated purification." The point being that glycerol can hardly be considered any more "artificial" and "not a food" than alcohol itself. Both are obtained from naturally-occurring substances, both are purified by various technological means, both are digestible, and both have caloric value.
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#553 David Santucci

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 01:14 PM

I'm with Sam. Alcohol is definitely a food!

#554 BittermensAG

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 01:25 PM

Samuel - I bow to your significantly more comprehensive knowledge of food chemistry! I'd edit my post to correct the mis-statement, but damn - that's a great response you have there and wouldn't want it to be out of context!

Still, food or not, I really prefer not to consume glycerin if I don't have to...
Avery Glasser
Bittermens, Inc. - Producers of Bittermens Bitters & Extracts

Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs
Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

#555 BittermensAG

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 01:35 PM

Oh, and just to clarify - I wasn't at all trying to insinuate that the process I was describing was the process that Fee Brothers uses. I was just describing a worst case scenario of how glycerin can be used by an unscrupulous producer of bitters or liqueurs to make a cheap product.

Edited by BittermensAG, 17 September 2009 - 01:49 PM.

Avery Glasser
Bittermens, Inc. - Producers of Bittermens Bitters & Extracts

Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs
Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

#556 Chris Amirault

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 06:49 PM

I'm seeing a lot of buzz about Scrappy's bitters, which I understand wowed those who tried 'em at Tales. Adam at Boston Shaker will be carrying them soon, and I'm curious. Any reports?
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#557 evo-lution

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Posted 23 October 2009 - 09:47 AM

I agree. The more I fiddle around with these at home, the more I am convinced I'll never touch the level of the Angostura bitters.


It has to be remembered that cold compounding won't give you the same depth of flavour as is gained from distillation (or specifically rectification which I believe is the production method behind Angostura Aromatic).

I am toying with the idea of setting up a still but due to financial restrictions it's just not feasible to be honest, even more-so when you throw in the extra taxation (Angostura is not classed as alcohol in the UK) and it's a logistical nightmare.
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#558 jmfangio

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 06:01 PM

I've been busy playing around in the lab (well, OK, my kitchen), and came up with two new flavors: Bacon Bitters and Chocolate/Chili Bitters. For each, I used the Hess House Bitters recipe as a base, divided the infused rye into two parts, and the same with the water after simmering and infusing the solids.

For the Bacon Bitters I fat washed the alcohol with some good smokey bacon drippings, and used maple syrup to sweeten. The result? Really lovely aromatic bitters, but not a hint of the bacony flavor I was hoping for. I may try another fat wash, or just enjoy them as is.

For the chocolate/chili bitters I infused strained mixture with roasted cacao nibs, and ancho, cayenne, and chipotle powders, then caramelized some demerara sugar and added that and the reserved water to the alcohol. These absolutely blew my mind. I haven't tried the Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters yet, so I can't compare, but I think they're far more flavorful and complex than the Fee Brothers' Aztec Bitters. I've only just started experimenting with them, mostly by adding a dash to various spirits and liqueurs to see how well they play together. So far, they're great with tequila and rum, and mind bogglingly good with St. Germain, Canton Ginger, and Santa Teresa Rhum Orange. I already have another batch in the works.

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#559 Dan Perrigan

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 07:43 AM

Hi All.

Santa brought me a mixed grab-bag of bitters yesterday: Angostura Orange, Regan's Orange #6, Peychaud's, Fee's Lemon, and Fee's Peach (to go along with the Angostura Aromatic and Fee's Old Fashioned that I already have).

I've searched this board for the following question but couldn't find anything related (but please forgive me if this has already been discussed over and over). So here goes:

Does anyone know of a good drink (or drinks) that highlight the differences in the different bitters? I'm thinking of making one drink in several tiny portions and then trying different combinations of bitters. I'm pretty sure I'll have to test the Lemon and Peach in a separate drink, since they're so different than the aromatic and orange bitters.

A related question would be.. For each bottle of bitters, what is the best drink to show off its best qualities?

Thanks,
Dan

#560 mkayahara

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 09:16 AM

Dan, in terms of exploring the differences between different bitters, you could do a lot worse than an Old Fashioned. One of the benefits is that you can change the base spirit to suit the bitters: you might try the Regan's orange and Peychaud's with rye, but the Fee's lemon with tequila or genever, for instance.

Also, Ted Haigh's column in a recent Imbibe magazine point to the Allegheny as a good cocktail for experimenting with different bitters. Give it a try.
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#561 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 09:45 AM

The Old Fashioned works well of course but if you want to try them all with a clean palate, just try dashing a tsp or so into a glass of soda water. Also, taste them straight! you learn a lot about bitters by doing that, and while it will be something of a surprise the first time, eventually your palate will become accustomed to the intensity.
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#562 evo-lution

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 10:33 AM

Should've really posted this in here; :unsure:

Bottled the first batch of my new bitters this week (just waiting on a run of labels);

Posted Image

20 bottles are already going to the US and 20 bottles will be staying on this side of the pond (UK), with a larger batch soon to follow.

If you've ever tried Dandelion & Burdock (Fentiman's have a great bottling) you'll get the idea of the intense/complex flavour profile I've been trying to capture in bitter formula (without the sweetness): floral, earthy, woody, aniseed, citrus, spice, muscovado, liquorice, malt, honey...

Very, very happy with the final product although I'll be looking for any/all feedback to improve them where possible.
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#563 Chris Amirault

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 11:31 AM

Santa brought me a mixed grab-bag of bitters yesterday: Angostura Orange, Regan's Orange #6, Peychaud's, Fee's Lemon, and Fee's Peach (to go along with the Angostura Aromatic and Fee's Old Fashioned that I already have).
...
Does anyone know of a good drink (or drinks) that highlight the differences in the different bitters?


Given that selection, I'd do a 1:1 or 2:1 Martini with an earthy gin like Plymouth and avoiding big vermouths like Vya. No twist: better to pick up the aromatic qualities.
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#564 ronnie_suburban

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 03:27 PM

I think the best way to assess bitters for the first time is to splash a few drops into some club soda and sip it. You'll get a fairly clear sense of the flavor, aroma and aftertaste that way. Of course, making a cocktail doesn't usually have steep barriers to entry, either. :smile:

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#565 Chris Amirault

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 03:39 PM

I thought that, too, but learned when I was trying to find uses for bitters that tasting things while they're in a possible application was often far more instructive. For example, Adam's Boker's bitters really work wonders in most gin drinks, but are less successful with rye and bourbon drinks. It's hard to pick that up in a fairly neutral medium like soda. Both, maybe, is the way to go...
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#566 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 05:34 PM

I thought that, too, but learned when I was trying to find uses for bitters that tasting things while they're in a possible application was often far more instructive. For example, Adam's Boker's bitters really work wonders in most gin drinks, but are less successful with rye and bourbon drinks. It's hard to pick that up in a fairly neutral medium like soda. Both, maybe, is the way to go...


Off-topic to the point at hand, but this gave me a thought on the Bokers. I haven't tasted them but assuming they are an accurate facsimile of Bokers, I wonder if that could be a clue as to their decline in popularity while Angostura was on the rise: Whiskey became more and more popular as a cocktail ingredient after the Civil War, and Angostura works just dandy with gin as well as Bourbon or Rye. Pure speculation of course but I'd be curious to know how they work with Cognac, the other popular spirit of the antebellum cocktail scene. From the recipes that have been suggested, seems like it would work quite well.
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#567 evo-lution

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 09:37 PM

Off-topic to the point at hand, but this gave me a thought on the Bokers. I haven't tasted them but assuming they are an accurate facsimile of Bokers, I wonder if that could be a clue as to their decline in popularity while Angostura was on the rise:


Prohibition. :sad:
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#568 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 10:01 PM

Off-topic to the point at hand, but this gave me a thought on the Bokers. I haven't tasted them but assuming they are an accurate facsimile of Bokers, I wonder if that could be a clue as to their decline in popularity while Angostura was on the rise:


Prohibition. :sad:


I remember reading all that very interesting info you dug up on Bokers some time back but I guess I had forgotten that. I guess I was basing my speculation on the fewer times it was called for by name as time went on, but it seems probably that then as now more bitters became available as cocktails increased in popularity, offering more options.

Edit for clarity.

Edited by thirtyoneknots, 10 December 2009 - 10:01 PM.

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#569 Dan Perrigan

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Posted 11 December 2009 - 07:45 AM

Thanks for all the suggestions. Yesterday I mixed up a bunch of one-quarter-sized Old Fashioneds to test the various bitters combinations. (1/2 oz Eagle Rare 10 yr, 1/4 tsp simple, 1/2 dash bitters, orange peel). While I was able to learn the effects that different combinations and ratios of the various bitters have on that drink, end the end I (re)discovered that the best combination for an Old Fashioned is simply 2 dashes (in a normal-sized drink) of Angostura.

Chris: Good idea. I think I'll try the Martini test next. Sampling them with Gin sounds like it will reveal a whole different side.

Also -- The day I received them, I did try a few drops of each of the bitters straight up. Also very informative.

Thanks again. If you have any more suggestions, I'll try them too.

Dan

#570 Shamanjoe

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Posted 15 December 2009 - 11:15 PM

Chris,

Do vermouth and bitters go bad? I can see the vermouth, since it's a fortified wine, but what about the bitters? I thought they basically lasted forever..
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