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All About Bitters (Part 1)


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#31 drcocktail

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 09:43 AM

Oh, g'wan. You need a bottle of mint bitters just to say you have them! You may be the first to make a palatable cocktail with them!

:laugh: --Doc.

#32 balmagowry

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 02:52 PM

I was the brain behind Fee's peach bitters. It was a history thing. There were about 30 cocktails calling for peach bitters not made since the 1930s, and Jack Fee and I were talking about it. It had always been his dream, too, to reintroduce them, but he had no formula. I just happened to have a vintage bottle of peach bitters which I unhesitatingly sent right to him. Analyze it! I said. He did, and now we again have peach bitters. Some folks don't like 'em, but I think they're the Bee's Knees.

That is so cool! What a great story.

So where does one buy same? Remember, at the time of my original heartrending bitters quest (would have been just over 10 years ago, I think), there was nothing to be found ANYWHERE in these parts - except Angostura, of course, which you can get at any supermarket.

Peach Bitters! I can hardly wait.

EDIT to add: and thanks, JAZ, for breaking out the thread - very wise and efficient. I was concerned about getting so far OT, but just couldn't quite drop the subject.... :rolleyes:

Edited by balmagowry, 30 March 2004 - 02:53 PM.


#33 drcocktail

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 03:03 PM

Well, safest is to order it from them - unless you live in Los Angeles - in which case I can advise you, or NYC in which case I bet someone else can. Otherwise try Fee Bros. 1-800-961-3337 Rochester, N.Y. http://www.feebrothers.com/ In the interests of full disclosure, MY only problem with the peach bitters is lack of bitterness. I've heard from others that they seem more almondy than peachy... but I think they're PERFECTLY peachy! :biggrin:

Good Luck! --Doc.

#34 balmagowry

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 05:54 PM

Well, safest is to order it from them - unless you live in Los Angeles - in which case I can advise you, or NYC in which case I bet someone else can. Otherwise try Fee Bros. 1-800-961-3337 Rochester, N.Y. http://www.feebrothers.com/ In the interests of full disclosure, MY only problem with the peach bitters is lack of bitterness. I've heard from others that they seem more almondy than peachy... but I think they're PERFECTLY peachy! :biggrin:

And besides, peach and almond are pretty much the same thing, as discussed in - oh no, that was via PM, wasn't it - anyway, as you probably already know, they and plums and apricots and cherries are all part of the prunus branch of the rose family. One big happy... yes, well, anyway. Actually, I am within easy reach of NYC - and so far as I know their site doesn't support on-line ordering. And what really got me going was when JAZ referred to happening to spot it at her local store....

So... anyone know where?

#35 winesonoma

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 06:16 PM

Well, safest is to order it from them - unless you live in Los Angeles - in which case I can advise you, or NYC in which case I bet someone else can. Otherwise try Fee Bros. 1-800-961-3337 Rochester, N.Y. http://www.feebrothers.com/ In the interests of full disclosure, MY only problem with the peach bitters is lack of bitterness. I've heard from others that they seem more almondy than peachy... but I think they're PERFECTLY peachy! :biggrin:

And besides, peach and almond are pretty much the same thing, as discussed in - oh no, that was via PM, wasn't it - anyway, as you probably already know, they and plums and apricots and cherries are all part of the prunus branch of the rose family. One big happy... yes, well, anyway. Actually, I am within easy reach of NYC - and so far as I know their site doesn't support on-line ordering. And what really got me going was when JAZ referred to happening to spot it at her local store....

So... anyone know where?

If you call them they will tell you or do what I did and order by the case of small bottles and sell to friends. I'm known as the orange bitters guy because you could not get it in Calif. Now the local market has it so I guess I'm no longer in demand. We used it for Martinis.
Bruce Frigard
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#36 markovitch

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 06:37 PM

I just got a box of yellow, thick skinned pnk grapefruit from my parents in Arizona. the skins are really thick; i was thinking about tossing a bunch of pith and zest in a bottle of vodka before this thread popped up. Could i make Grapefruit bitters? Should i make grapefruit bitters? These fruit are really good but their pith is incredibly bitter (probably from way too much sun)

mark
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#37 winesonoma

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 06:48 PM

Zest but never the pith. Let us know how it turns out. Try a lemoncello recipe.
http://italianfood.a...rec/blr0321.htm

Edited by winesonoma, 30 March 2004 - 06:53 PM.

Bruce Frigard
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"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"
111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

#38 drcocktail

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 06:59 PM

I dunno...seems to me that a bit of the pith would, if anything increase the bitterness, and since bitters are what we are discussing...

Trick is to make the FLAVOR of an equal footing with the bitterness - and something you can see benefiting, in dashes, an aperitif or a cocktail. I'd think about some small additions of bolstering ingredients to fill out the flavor. Still grapefruity, but perhaps a bit richer.

Mint, anis, coriander, orange oil, lemon balm, ginger all have been used as background flavors in bitters. Lemon balm sounds pretty good, and to control the bitterness, perhaps burnt sugar, molasses or invert sugar? You could even do the infusion in rum or brandy for a rounder flavor.

Mmmm. Sounding better all the time!

--Doc.

Edit for spelllink

Edited by drcocktail, 30 March 2004 - 07:00 PM.


#39 markovitch

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 08:52 PM

okay... zest, little or no pith. got it.
i don't know how big limoncellos are, but 15? how much peel do i need to do 1/2 batch? i was planning to do my favorite cheap vodka- monopolowa, will that do? (remember i'm still in college, tho i just turned 21, so i can do this all legally, at last, but not expensively)

my roommate has some fine homemade tennessee sorghum molasses...

this sounds like a great idea.

i can't wait to try my new manhattans:
Pappy van winkle 12yr lot B
homemade grapefruit bitters
preserved Rainier cherries in syrup (homemade too, but not my home)
sweet vermouth....

holy jeezus... this is gonna be fun.

mark
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#40 drcocktail

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 09:03 PM

I am laughing! No, limoncello is something that guy wanted you to MAKE. He wasn't paying attention to the title of the thread. (Unlike ME who always...er, nevermind).

Anyway, USE some pith. You WANT bitter!

Sure, use that raw and wonderful potato vodka! The molasses you mention will probably have a few members here knocking upon your door too. :rolleyes: But do this: go to the grocery store and buy some of at least one of the booster ingredients because, you may get bitter, but you may wonder why you messed with it unless you civilize it with some balancing flavor!

--Doc.

#41 Libationgoddess

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 09:24 PM

Not to worry! The pith-only maceration really works!

I had the same thought, and currently have lemon pith
soaking in vodka in my fridge; no rind, only pith.

It's been macerating now for about a month, and
I've got to say that it tastes absolutely delicious!

Go for it!

Audrey

#42 balmagowry

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 09:36 PM

I dunno...seems to me that a bit of the pith would, if anything increase the bitterness, and since bitters are what we are discussing...

Funny, I was thinking much the same, a propos of the relative lack of bitterness in the Baker recipe. Course orange pith is a lot less bitter than grapefruit pith, and there's proportionally less of it, so I'm not sure how much difference it would make with orange (in fact, as it is, I'm already using most of the pith - I always figured that was what made it as bitter as it is). Unless one had Seville oranges, where the fruit itself is bitter. Maybe a little artemisia? Rue, perhaps? That's bitter as all hell, and I have all too much of it growing.

With rue my yard is laden....

Mint, anis, coriander, orange oil, lemon balm, ginger all have been used as background flavors in bitters. Lemon balm sounds pretty good, and to control the bitterness, perhaps burnt sugar, molasses or invert sugar? You could even do the infusion in rum or brandy for a rounder flavor.

Hang on a sec there, Doc. Burnt sugar? burnt sugar to affect flavor? Last I looked, burnt sugar doesn't taste of anything, to speak of. I use it for color - for darkening gravy - and orange bitters too, of course.

#43 drcocktail

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 10:03 PM

It's a big lie. NOTHING doesn't affect flavor. Taste the burnt sugar by itself. Pretty wonderful, eh? Great to tame bitters. "They" add caramel coloring to Cognac. No one will tell ME no flavor shift results! (Hey, maybe a GOOD one!)

That said, the section about the burnt sugar was not about flavor -- it was about controling the bitterness, get it? But it all works part-in-parcel!

I'm a fan of pith AND skin maceration because I'd add the oils in later even if I WAS only using pith! I'm a MAJOR sucker for using orange oils in almost everything. If you can taste it, I added too much, if not it's like heavily restrained vanilla -- it has a fleshing out action that tends to render 2d flavors in 3d.


--Doc.

Edited by drcocktail, 30 March 2004 - 10:07 PM.


#44 balmagowry

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Posted 30 March 2004 - 11:02 PM

It's a big lie. NOTHING doesn't affect flavor. Taste the burnt sugar by itself. Pretty wonderful, eh? Great to tame bitters. "They" add caramel coloring to Cognac. No one will tell ME no flavor shift results! (Hey, maybe a GOOD one!)

I guess it depends on the degree of burntness. (First-degree burn?) Caramel is one thing, burnt sugar quite another. When I said it didn't taste of anything, it wasn't because I'd read something to that effect; it was because, having read something to that effect and not believed it, I tasted my burnt sugar once I'd made it, and sure enough it didn't taste of anything much. Didn't taste anything like caramel, that's for sure. If anything, it has a hint of bitterness in itself, which is one reason I couldn't quite grasp the idea of it controlling bitterness. :huh:

#45 drcocktail

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 07:34 AM

Drinkboy, I see you lurking! YOU are the king of burnt sugar in bitters in MY book. Why and how do they work for you?

--Doc.

#46 DrinkBoy

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 09:58 AM

Doc, I wasn't lurking, just felt that you had the conversation well in hand, and didn't see that there was anything specific to add :->

If you fully -burn- the sugars you don't end up with anything even remotely useable. However when we refer to burnt sugar culinarily, we are actually talking about carmelized sugar, similar to the "burnt sugar" topping of a creme brule.

I use carmelized sugar as the final stage in making bitters. Actually, once I carmelize the sugar, I turn this into a simple syrup by dissolving it in water (thats a lot of fun when the sugar is still hot :-) and then mix that with the tincture of herbs, spices, and flavorings that is the base for my bitters.

You could just use simple syrup, but the carmelization allows the sweetenting to be a rounder flavor with more depth then just simple syrup by itself. In fact I usually keep some straight carmelized simple syrup also on hand for adding just a little more interesting flavor to some drinks that I might otherwise use simple syrup, or sometimes even drinks that don't normally call for it. The sidecar for instance has nice flavor profile when just slightly enhanced with carmelized simple syrup.

-Robert

#47 drcocktail

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 10:03 AM

That's what I meant! (See? It just takes an articulate sorta guy to say what I mean!)

Thanks Robert!

--Doc.

#48 slkinsey

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 10:04 AM

Hmmmm... full dark caramelized simple syrup might be interesting to use in place of regular simple syrup for some drinks. Thanks for the idea.
Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

#49 DrinkBoy

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 10:10 AM

Speaking of peach bitters...

As Doc said, there are a limited number of classic recipes that use this. But that doesn't mean you have to limit yourself to that.

I like using them as a "garnish" on a Bellini. Once the drink is fully made, just add a dash to the top, and they provide a nice ofactory note that enhances the drink. (I'll assume of course you are making a "real" bellini, with just champagne and peach puree).

I've also come up with a few recipes of my own that were specifically designed to make use of peach bitters which I happen to be quite proud of.

Trident
Gotham
Renaissance

All of which you can get to from this page on my site:

http://www.drinkboy....achBitters.html

The "Trident" is in itself an interesting cocktail since all of the ingredients it uses are ones that are often hard to find in a bar. Dry Sherry is probably it's most common ingredient, but Aquavit can be a little scarce, and Cynar is extremely rare to fine, rarer to find it actually being "used". And peach bitters of course is so rare that I have to bring some along with me if I have any hope of getting a drink with it.

At the Zig Zag Cafe here in Seattle, they have the Trident on their cocktail menu, and serve so many of them that the manager of one of the liquor stores dropped in one day just to find out what the heck they were doing with Cynar that would make the Zig Zag go through more Cynar then all of the other bars in Washington State combined :->

-Robert

#50 drcocktail

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 10:13 AM

Oh man, we cocktail nuts are DEEP into the sweetening choices. Besides white sugar and simple syrup I also have on hand turbinado sugar, gum syrup (with gum arabic as an emulsifier) Lyle's Golden Syrup (an invert sugar) Black Treacle, Honey, a BIG ole tub of molasses. Robert, anyone - in 'cooking' sugar, have you experimented between white and brown? Just curious.

--Doc.

#51 balmagowry

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 12:09 PM

If you fully -burn- the sugars you don't end up with anything even remotely useable. However when we refer to burnt sugar culinarily, we are actually talking about carmelized sugar, similar to the "burnt sugar" topping of a creme brule.

Well, go know - it's a new one on me. I have always heard "burnt sugar" used to refer to... burnt sugar, and have used it that way too; it is useful only for coloring, and its virtue is that it doesn't affect flavor in cases where one doesn't want it to. Deeply caramelized is a whole nother kettle of fish, and in my book it's always specified. But I think I need to go look in some of my other books....! :unsure:

#52 balmagowry

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 12:16 PM

The "Trident" is in itself an interesting cocktail since all of the ingredients it uses are ones that are often hard to find in a bar. Dry Sherry is probably it's most common ingredient, but Aquavit can be a little scarce, and Cynar is extremely rare to fine, rarer to find it actually being "used".

Oh, I'm glad you mentioned that - I was just thinking about Cynar and its relationship to the bitters category. I have a thing about artichokes (working on a monograph sort of thing about them, tentatively titled "Blessed Thistle") and am fascinated by their influence on taste-buds and how Cynar makes use of that. Any comments or reflections on that, all you pros? This amateur's enquiring mind certainly wants to know. :cool:

#53 Libationgoddess

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 12:35 PM

fyi---I agree to also add zest to a pith infusion, but you'd be
absolutely amazed at just how much real flavor using the pith
alone gives off! I just checked it this morning, and it's actually
2 months old (how time flies!). And I purposely left the pith
intact, which shows very little signs of decomposistion.

I have a mini bottle of Pimento Dram manufactured by Myers's;
the label looks very old (circa 30's - 40's). It lists burnt sugar on
the label for coloring as well, which definitely has added
something to the flavor.

Audrey

#54 Libationgoddess

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 12:41 PM

Forgot to add to your Cynar comment--it is delightful in iced coffee!

...and don't forget the following for syrups:

-light brown sugar
-dark brown sugar
-maple syrup


Audrey

#55 DrinkBoy

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 01:49 PM

Forgot to add to your Cynar comment--it is delightful in iced coffee!

Cynar in iced coffee? Never even thought of trying that!

#56 trillium

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 01:49 PM

Oh, I'm glad you mentioned that - I was just thinking about Cynar and its relationship to the bitters category. I have a thing about artichokes (working on a monograph sort of thing about them, tentatively titled "Blessed Thistle") and am fascinated by their influence on taste-buds and how Cynar makes use of that. Any comments or reflections on that, all you pros? This amateur's enquiring mind certainly wants to know.

If you've ever been preparing artichokes and then licked your fingers, Cynar tastes something like that, but with sugar.

I had a lot of fun tasting different bitters (the digestivo sort, not the dropper bottles) in Sicily, nearly every town has their own blend. At least a year ago I claimed I was going to try my hand at making my own, but I never got around to it. I did get some good advice about looking for hard to find ingredients in Chinese medicine shops, so I really have no excuse.

If you can find them, the pith of Seville oranges is wonderfully bitter and astringent, and so is the bergamot orange. I highly recommend them for infusing purposes. Worlds of complexity in the oils too...

Corti Bros. in Sacramento does a brisk mail order business and had Fee Bros. bitters the last time I was there. I've run accross the orange bitters in many liquor stores, even here in Oregon, so I'll bet you can find it locally.

regards,
trillium

#57 JennotJenn

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Posted 01 April 2004 - 06:42 PM

I ordered one large bottle each of regular, orange, and peach bitters from Fee the other day. They were very, very nice and helpful with my order. I don't know the total cost yet (they invoice and my order isn't here yet), but it's probably not going to be over $20, which is fab considering a small bottle of Angostura bitters (which I love, too) goes for $4.99 or so around here. You don't have to buy by the case, btw.

Husband was totally grossed out by the idea of the peach bitters, but I sorta like peach. I thought a dash or so would be lovely in a fresh peach sorbet this summer. Besides, if we don't like them, I can pawn them off on my dad. He likes fruity mixed drinks, especially anything peach based, most especially Fuzzy Navels, and I'm guessing a dash or two would be good in that.

Anyway, Southeast Indian vegetarian buffet's got me down, and this thread's got me inspired, so I'm off to make a club soda and bitters. Seriously stomach settling.
Gourmet Anarchy

#58 Heikki

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 02:26 PM

Greetings from a new member!

The orange bitters discussion has been very interesting, so I thought about joining in with my own experience on making orange bitters.

Last year I made orange betters using the recipe I found from Paul Harrington's column on Hotwired. The original recipe is attributed to Charles H. Baker. The recipe calls for finely chopped dried orange peel and Seville oranges (Citrus aurantium or pomeranssi in Finnish) in particular.

When I was done following the recipe, I had in my bottle very bitter, non-potable liquid that starts with a fairly easy taste and then becomes very bitter in the end lasting for a long time. The aftertaste is about the same as what I get if I chew a little of the dried peel by itself. When comparing it to Angostura, my version of orange bitters lacks the strong taste Angostura initially has but wins with the longer aftertaste.

I have not had a possibility to taste any other orange bitters so I would be interested in hearing if my description sounds even remotely orange bitterish. When using the bitters with drinks, I have noticed that the addition of my orange bitters mostly affects the aftertaste, not surprising based on the above description, and I am wondering how other versions of orange bitters blend in. Or in other words, should I go for another batch and try to achieve a more evely distributed taste?

Heikki Vatiainen

#59 balmagowry

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 04:15 PM

Greetings from a new member!

Welcome to eGullet, Heikki!

Last year I made orange betters using the recipe I found from Paul Harrington's column on Hotwired. The original recipe is attributed to Charles H. Baker. The recipe calls for finely chopped dried orange peel and Seville oranges (Citrus aurantium or pomeranssi in Finnish) in particular.

When I was done following the recipe, I had in my bottle very bitter, non-potable liquid that starts with a fairly easy taste and then becomes very bitter in the end lasting for a long time. The aftertaste is about the same as what I get if I chew a little of the dried peel by itself. When comparing it to Angostura, my version of orange bitters lacks the strong taste Angostura initially has but wins with the longer aftertaste.

The recipe you cite is a slightly modernized version of the one from The Gentleman's Companion - the same one discussed up-thread. I use it; I know Doc Cocktail has used it at least once. He and drinkboy seem to be the real experts around here - but here's my take FWIW.

When I first tried this recipe (about 10 years ago) I didn't have access to Seville oranges, so I simply used the navel oranges which I eat all winter in any case. The result was so good that I haven't changed the formula since! :rolleyes: Actually, though, I do want to get a few Seville peels to mix in with the next batch; my orange bitters is perhaps a little on the mild side, and could stand a little extra bitterness - as it is I'd say it's almost potable. More importantly, it's highly aromatic, with a powerful and distinctively orange perfume. It's certainly OK that it isn't like Angostura - it shouldn't be. But it should taste just about as strong, I think.

From an orange flavoring standpoint, I suspect the ideal is probably a combination of Seville and sweet oranges. But I also think you may want to vary the spice proportions. I don't know how you're measuring your "pinch"; the official measurement would be about 0.62 ml. But Baker's original recipe calls for 1/2 drachm of each of the spices; this equates to about 3.7 ml. (It's not a strictly correct conversion, perhaps, because it seems to mix dry and liquid measures. But at least it's proportionately accurate!) So the 1/2 drachm comes out to about 1.85 ml, which is three times the amount given in the recipe you worked from. Now this is where you really want Doc explaining which element hits the palate how; I can't address that technically, but I have a feeling that one reason the first taste of your bitters is perhaps less assertive than you want it to be is that it's too narrowly focused - i.e., it isn't carrying enough of those additional flavoring notes.

Does this make sense?

I have not had a possibility to taste any other orange bitters so I would be interested in hearing if my description sounds even remotely orange bitterish. When using the bitters with drinks, I have noticed that the addition of my orange bitters mostly affects the aftertaste, not surprising based on the above description, and I am wondering how other versions of orange bitters blend in. Or in other words, should I go for another batch and try to achieve a more evely distributed taste?

I have to admit that I have only tasted one orange bitters other than my own, so I don't know much about how it compares. I can say, however, that it is dinstinctive and powerfully orange-y (more orange-y, in fact, than the other bitters I've tried) right up front - if my hand slips and I pour it a tiny bit too generously (say, three drops instead of two), it will take over the whole drink with its pervasive perfume. So, er, though mine may err a bit on the side of Too Much of a Good Thing, at any rate I do think you should be getting more from yours than just aftertaste.

If I were in your place, though, I certainly would not discard this batch. I'd make the next one with all sweet orange peels and go a little overboard with the spices. Then experiment with blending the two batches. The trouble with that approach is that inevitably you will achieve perfection and then be unable to reproduce it. But you'll have fun trying! :laugh:

#60 drcocktail

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 04:58 PM

My greetings too!

I think there have been enough opinions of ingredient combos upthread for me to need to spout any more of my own. What MIGHT have value to all of us would be to list the ingredients in a really GOOD commercial brand of the past. I'm a huge fan of Scheiffelin's Old House Orange Bitters, last made in the late 60s or early 70s. No proportions are given, of course, but it's a launching pad. Some of you cooks may have commentary on some of these:

Caffeine, oil (of) orange, tincture (of) orange peel & the extracts of cusparia, cascarilla, lemon peel, chiretta & ginger. Alcohol 30% (60 proof).

Comments?

Here's mine: Mmmmm, nummy num zippy! Caffeine right up front. What's THAT all about?! :unsure:

--Doc.

Edited by drcocktail, 02 April 2004 - 04:59 PM.