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All About Bitters (Part 1)


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#571 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 16 December 2009 - 04:40 AM

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..


If I may be so presumptuous as to answer for Mr. Amirault, I think what he is meaning to say is that what unfortunately passes for a Manhattan in many parts includes vermouth of questionable provenance while simultaneously excluding the bitters. While bitters could theoretically lose some of their zing over a very long time span, this would normally occur in a time period longer than most bars exist in.
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#572 Chris Amirault

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Posted 16 December 2009 - 04:40 AM

I wouldn't say that they go "bad," but they definitely get old. In particular, the flavors dull and the nose becomes muted. Someone more enlightened than I am can explain why, but you can easily test the what yourself.

The next time that you buy a new bottle of Angostura bitters, on the way home stop by a hotel, a dive bar, or any other place where their bottle is likely to be old enough to drink. If you crack open the new bottle and put it side-to-side with the old one, you'll immediately notice that the new one is pumping out aromatics while the old one is pretty flat. The same is true on your tongue: that new bottle will be extremely complex, long, and spicy, whereas the old one will have lost much of its nuance and power.
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#573 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 16 December 2009 - 02:56 PM

I wouldn't say that they go "bad," but they definitely get old. In particular, the flavors dull and the nose becomes muted. Someone more enlightened than I am can explain why, but you can easily test the what yourself.

The next time that you buy a new bottle of Angostura bitters, on the way home stop by a hotel, a dive bar, or any other place where their bottle is likely to be old enough to drink. If you crack open the new bottle and put it side-to-side with the old one, you'll immediately notice that the new one is pumping out aromatics while the old one is pretty flat. The same is true on your tongue: that new bottle will be extremely complex, long, and spicy, whereas the old one will have lost much of its nuance and power.


I guess I go through bitters fast enough that I haven't really noticed that kind of thing before--very interesting. I'd imagine it is a side effect of the volatile compounds evaporating over time, and/or oxidation.
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#574 Chris Amirault

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Posted 16 December 2009 - 03:16 PM

Maybe they just get depressed from being dumped into too many watery Manhattans.
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#575 slkinsey

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Posted 16 December 2009 - 03:21 PM

One would expect there to be some effect on a half-full bottle of bitters that had sat mostly open or insufficently closed on a dusty shelf for 10 years. But a tightly closed bottle kept out of the sunlight should stay pretty lively for quite some time.
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#576 Kohai

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 05:06 PM

Um, is anyone else suffering from a sudden chronic shortage of Angostura? My rep tells me the problem is on the producer side; there won't be any in Minneapolis until February at the earliest. Horrors!

While I'm here, what thoughts about the Angostura Orange? On its own it seems more interesting than Fee's to me, but I haven't mixed with it extensively so I don't know how well it plays with others.

Edited by Kohai, 30 December 2009 - 05:07 PM.

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#577 evo-lution

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 06:10 PM

Um, is anyone else suffering from a sudden chronic shortage of Angostura?


Financial issues with their owner CPL Financial mean that Angostura Aromatic hasn't been made for the best part of a year (from what I've learnt) and isn't due to be available again until next February.

A friend of mine kindly snapped up a number of bottles from a liquor store in northern Scotland the other day...

I've also been working on a few small batches of Aromatic Bitters on the request of a couple of bars with some very promising results so far.
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#578 KD1191

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 07:30 PM

While I'm here, what thoughts about the Angostura Orange? On its own it seems more interesting than Fee's to me, but I haven't mixed with it extensively so I don't know how well it plays with others.


I like the Ango Orange, use them somewhat frequently, but never think of reaching them in the capacity of "Orange Bitters". They're just not really very Orangey at all. "Indian Food Bitters" might not have sounded so appealing to the buying public, perhaps. But, seriously, they work well with many tequila and mezcal applications, also applejack. It almost seems like there needs to be some other fruit element in the drink before the Angostura Orange will even begin to present an orange note, but maybe that's just me. If a drink calls for Orange Bitters, I'm using Regan's almost exclusively. The Angostura Orange gets used when I'm working on new things, or if I taste something and think it would help bridge the gap.

ETA: Alchemist has an interesting "summer" Negroni with the Campari dialed way back and using Cinzano Bianco vermouth...one of the best application of Angostura Orange I've had.

Edited by KD1191, 30 December 2009 - 07:38 PM.

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#579 Kent Wang

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Posted 06 January 2010 - 05:25 AM

I'm going to place an order at CocktailKingdom.com, which has quite a comprehensive selection of "advanced" bitters (not just Angostura, Fee Bros.). I'm thinking of getting the following:

Bitter Truth Celery - for making the Loop Tonic
Bittermens Mole - can't remember any drinks that call for it specifically, but I do recall seeing it on the menu at Death & Co. a few times
Boker's Bitters by Adam Elmegirab - lots of praise on these forums

I already have Regan's Orange.

Which others are worth getting? What cocktails call for these bitters?

#580 Chris Amirault

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Posted 06 January 2010 - 05:52 AM

I think that the Boker's go best with gin drinks, not as well with rye or bourbon.

The Bittermens mole and grapefruit are excellent. I also really like the Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters, which I'm still experimenting with but find are remarkable in Improveds and basic Old Fashioneds.
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#581 slkinsey

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Posted 06 January 2010 - 06:29 AM

In general, I find the Bitter Truth bitters to be a bit faint. They're good, but you have to use quite a bit more of them than you would other brands to make an impact. The Bittermen's Grapefruit and Mole bitters are well worth buying. Even a short dash of the mole bitters can bring forward chocolate notes in a drink.

The Bitter Truth celery bitters are good... my issue with them is that they don't particularly taste of celery or celery seed. When CocktailKingdom gets in another batch of Scrappy's celery bitters, I would recommend acquiring those. The JT "decanter bitters" are also good and interesting although perhaps even more retiring than the other BT formulations.
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#582 Chris Amirault

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Posted 06 January 2010 - 07:59 AM

Agreed that the decanter bitters require more volume (about double, in fact) than, say, Angostura. Also true for the Boker's reformulation. Don't know if that's about authenticity or something a bit more banal (like lucre).
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#583 slkinsey

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Posted 06 January 2010 - 09:26 AM

Agreed that the decanter bitters require more volume (about double, in fact) than, say, Angostura. Also true for the Boker's reformulation. Don't know if that's about authenticity or something a bit more banal (like lucre).

I doubt very much that it's a strategy to make more money by going through more product. Similarly, I don't think it's necessarily an authenticity question either. I am not one lucky enough to have tasted actual historical 100+ year old bitters, but most of the best-researched recreations I have tasted (including some informed by the results of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of historical samples) have been quite intense in flavor.

As for the Bitter Truth "Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters" -- this isn't a historically faithful recreation so much as it appears to be an attempt to evoke "Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters." The reason it was called "decanter bitters" is because it was meant to be poured out of a decanter and consumed by the pony glass, not dispensed into cocktails by the dash. The bitters are quite easy to make, although somewhat dangerous to consume in quantity due to the snake-root. The recipe simply states that you take a quarter-pound of raisins, 2 ounces of cinnamon, 1 ounce of snake-root, 1 ounce of clove, 1 ounce of allspice, and one each of cut-up lemon and orange. Then you stuff that all into a decanter and fill with Santa Cruz rum to infuse, replenishing with rum as it is consumed (presumably until the infusion loses strength, at which point you make a new batch).


I don't quite understand the reason why, in particular, the Bitter Truth bitters seem to be so much less intense than other brands (I also think, FWIW, that their bottles give a smaller dash, which I am sure contributes). I recently bought some Scrappy's bitters (celery, cardamom and lavender varieties) and even a few drops of the celery bitters makes a difference and imparts a distinct celery note.
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#584 Kent Wang

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Posted 06 January 2010 - 04:01 PM

Thanks for the tips so far.

FWIW, the Loop Tonic recipe calls for the Bitter Truth celery. I'll ask when they're going to get the Scrappy's.

For grapefruit bitters, Bittermens or Scrappy's?

#585 slkinsey

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 08:56 AM

I haven't tried the Scrappy's grapefruit bitters, but I do have the Bittermens grapefruit bitters and like them quite a bit. Although, again, I must say that the Bittermens grapefruit bitters aren't exactly bursting with grapefruit flavor. I have around 3 or 4 different grapefruit bitters, and I can't say I find myself reaching for them all that often. Sometimes it's fun to put a short dash of grapefruit bitters into something like a Blinker.


There's a fine line, it would appear, between making bitters that are one-note and making bitters that are so multi-note that the claimed primary flavor is obscured. Take the BT celery bitters, for example... they are good bitters, no doubt. But if a bitters is going to be called celery bitters, I expect to be able to dash some into a glass of seltzer, taste the seltzer and say: "celery!" This you can do with Scrappy's celery bitters. On the other hand, some people might say it is not as "complex" (whatever that means, and whether or not it is actually always desirable) compared to the Bitter Truth celery bitters.

Another good example is to consider Angostura orange (too one-note) and Bitter Truth orange (not focused enough) bitters. Neither of these provides a particularly compelling reason to move away from the standard "NY mix" of 50-50 Regan's and Fee Brothers orange bitters, which preparation has depth, complexity and bitterness but also a forthright and focused orange component right out front. When I use up my current bottles of Angostura and BT orange bitters (which will take forever, as I rarely use them) they will probably not be replaced.

It's interesting and noteworthy that, in this vast proliferation of bitters we have seen coming into the community in the past few years, not too many of them have been interesting, versatile and good enough to become "must have" bar staples. I have around 30 different bitters at home, but still go through far more Angostura, Peychaud's and Regan's/Fee's orange than all the other bitters combined. A lot of the other bitters are nice things to have in your repertoire, but they're a bit like specialty salt in that once you have fine salt, kosher salt and coarse salt everything else falls in the category of "extra touches." Will a cocktail made with Fee Brothers whiskey barrel aged bitters or Bittermens Mole bitters be different from one made with Angostura? Sure. But not so hugely different that these other brands are essentials.

This is why it's hard to recommend "just a few" of these specialty bitters. None of them is something you "must have" in your repertoire the way you "must have" orange bitters. So the best thing to do is figure out what cocktails you have been curious about and by the bitters accordingly. If you are really wanting to make the Loop Tonic, then by all means that's a great reason to buy the BT celery bitters. Whether you'll use them in many other things? Harder to say.
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#586 evo-lution

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 12:23 PM

I think that the Boker's go best with gin drinks, not as well with rye or bourbon.


Agree with the comment re: gin, I've found they work exceptionally well with all styles of gin, particularly genever, and have also had a lot of joy with tequila, brandy (Crusta for sure) and rum.

However, I'm not sure I agree that they don't work as well with rye or bourbon as I've had some fantastic results with a variety of drinks calling for these and I've also had dozens of positive comments from a wide variety of people as well as some really good recipes forwarded that include rye or bourbon.

In saying that it is worth considering that the botanicals in the Boker's may not pair so well with something as spicy as rye whiskey which would probably benefit from something like Angostura Aromatic, TBT Aromatic, Regan's Orange #6 or the Bittermen's Mole.

The Bittermens mole and grapefruit are excellent.


Agree with these recommendations as I mentioned to Kent the other day, I also highly recommend the TBT celery.

Ultimately my advice would be to think about the drinks/spirits you regularly enjoy and make your choice based on that, unless you have unlimited funds in which case snap them all up. :wink:

Going back to my earlier point re: pairing rye with a spiced bitters, this is part of the fun and luxury we have now with the many bitters around. Just a few; my Boker's with Genever, TBT Celery with London Dry Gin, Bittermen's Mole with Campari, Regan's Orange #6 with aged rum... :laugh:

I'd also like to add to that that my new Dandelion & Burdock bitters with tequila are heavenly!

Agreed that the decanter bitters require more volume (about double, in fact) than, say, Angostura. Also true for the Boker's reformulation. Don't know if that's about authenticity or something a bit more banal (like lucre).


Have to say that I'm a bit annoyed at that comment regarding lucre :sad: as it's never been about money for me. I've never hidden any details regarding the Boker's which I'll cover in further depth later in this post.

It's more likely to be that you're comparing dashes from different bottles and that's where the problem lies;

A dash of Angostura Aromatic/Orange will typically give you around 1ml (my testing gave me 20ml of Angostura with just 18-22 dashes)

The bottle I use for my Boker's took around 50 dashes to get to 20ml. I like the control this gives however I am looking for another bottle at the moment.

The Bitter Truth bottle took around 40 dashes to get to 20ml.

The Regan's Orange/Peychaud's took less than the Angostura Aromatic, around 16-18 dashes.

You also have to bare in mind the various production techniques that are used in compounding these bitters as I already touched on in the 'All About Bitters' thread.

Take from that what you will.

There's a fine line, it would appear, between making bitters that are one-note and making bitters that are so multi-note that the claimed primary flavor is obscured. Take the BT celery bitters, for example... they are good bitters, no doubt. But if a bitters is going to be called celery bitters, I expect to be able to dash some into a glass of seltzer, taste the seltzer and say: "celery!" This you can do with Scrappy's celery bitters. On the other hand, some people might say it is not as "complex" (whatever that means, and whether or not it is actually always desirable) compared to the Bitter Truth celery bitters.


From both a bartender viewpoint and someone who compounds bitters, in my opinion there has to be a distinct difference between what I'd quantify as a tincture (a one flavour bottling) versus a true bitters (layers of flavour). When I buy bitters I don't expect a singular flavour, I expect complexity and bitterness.

Another good example is to consider Angostura orange (too one-note) and Bitter Truth orange (not focused enough) bitters. Neither of these provides a particularly compelling reason to move away from the standard "NY mix" of 50-50 Regan's and Fee Brothers orange bitters, which preparation has depth, complexity and bitterness but also a forthright and focused orange component right out front. When I use up my current bottles of Angostura and BT orange bitters (which will take forever, as I rarely use them) they will probably not be replaced.


I can see what you're saying here but I have to go back to my original point and suggest finding a pairing of spirit and/or drink to go with those particular bitters. For example I tend to use Regan's Orange #6 with darker/aged spirits and the Angostura Orange with white/lighter spirits.

It's interesting and noteworthy that, in this vast proliferation of bitters we have seen coming into the community in the past few years, not too many of them have been interesting, versatile and good enough to become "must have" bar staples. I have around 30 different bitters at home, but still go through far more Angostura, Peychaud's and Regan's/Fee's orange than all the other bitters combined. A lot of the other bitters are nice things to have in your repertoire, but they're a bit like specialty salt in that once you have fine salt, kosher salt and coarse salt everything else falls in the category of "extra touches." Will a cocktail made with Fee Brothers whiskey barrel aged bitters or Bittermens Mole bitters be different from one made with Angostura? Sure. But not so hugely different that these other brands are essentials.


I'd say the reason they are not 'must-haves' is because they haven't been around as long as Angostura Aromatic or Peychaud's, and aren't as sought after as orange bitters have been the last 10-20 years and the multitude of drinks calling for them isn't as vast as those calling for those mentioned.

However, things are slowly changing and the new bitters are becoming a staple for many bartenders, on many cocktail lists, all around the globe.

As you're aware the Boker's I originally made was for my own needs (JT Project) but due to demand and enquiries I began producing for the wider bartending community. This production has since continued and is entirely for bartender's based on their demands, and judging by these last few weeks it's not going to let up any time soon. Many cocktail lists are now listing drinks with Boker's and I've been contacted by a number of people looking to ensure that they'll be able to order more bottlings in the next few weeks and/or to purchase a number of bottles so that they don't run out. The fact that I now haev suppliers in every corner of the globe also shows that there's something there. It may not be a staple for you but it is for others.

I'd like to add that I've never proclaimed to do anything other than give bartenders the option to construct drinks the way that Jerry Thomas did in the 1800s. Over the last few years we've been limited in our bitters offering, and when it comes to authentic reproductions of drinks we've had little choice but to use Angostura Aromatic. That doesn't sit with me.

Now though, thanks to the work of the likes of Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck, Avery and Janet Glasser, Gary Regan and Ted Haigh, the guys at Fee and Scrappy's, and Robert (Bob's Bitters) we have a selection of bottlings to choose from which gives us the possibility of recreating vintage drinks but also create our own original libations. That's phenomenal, and to think that I'm playing a small part in it just blows my mind. The doors that my Boker's has opened has enabled to me spend some time on a project I'd always wanted to undertake, which is where my new Dandelion & Burdock bitters come in.

To back up what I've done I've conducted more research into Boker's and its history than anyone that I'm aware of and hope to release a treatise in the near future (it's been a lengthy process and it's still not finalised).

The other consideration is that surely you wish to use the best bitters possible for a particular drink? Limiting yourself to just Angostura, Peychaud's and an orange bitters isn't a bad thing, but for me it'd make more sense to have more bottles to choose from.

I think this quote separates the home bartender from the working bartender to be honest. Although, I've had many home bartenders re-order bottlings in the last 6 months since I started producing Boker's.

This is why it's hard to recommend "just a few" of these specialty bitters. None of them is something you "must have" in your repertoire the way you "must have" orange bitters. So the best thing to do is figure out what cocktails you have been curious about and by the bitters accordingly. If you are really wanting to make the Loop Tonic, then by all means that's a great reason to buy the BT celery bitters. Whether you'll use them in many other things? Harder to say.


This I wholeheartedly agree with. :biggrin:

Edited by evo-lution, 07 January 2010 - 12:26 PM.

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#587 slkinsey

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 01:28 PM

In general, I find the Bitter Truth bitters to be a bit faint. They're good, but you have to use quite a bit more of them than you would other brands to make an impact.

. . . It's more likely to be that you're comparing dashes from different bottles and that's where the problem lies;

A dash of Angostura Aromatic/Orange will typically give you around 1ml (my testing gave me 20ml of Angostura with just 18-22 dashes)

The bottle I use for my Boker's took around 50 dashes to get to 20ml. I like the control this gives however I am looking for another bottle at the moment.

The Bitter Truth bottle took around 40 dashes to get to 20ml.

I absolutely get that not all bitters bottle dashes are the same. What I'm saying is that two dashes of Bitter Truth aromatic bitters still do not carry the same amount of flavor as one dash of Angostura bitters.

There's a fine line, it would appear, between making bitters that are one-note and making bitters that are so multi-note that the claimed primary flavor is obscured. Take the BT celery bitters, for example... they are good bitters, no doubt. But if a bitters is going to be called celery bitters, I expect to be able to dash some into a glass of seltzer, taste the seltzer and say: "celery!" This you can do with Scrappy's celery bitters. On the other hand, some people might say it is not as "complex" (whatever that means, and whether or not it is actually always desirable) compared to the Bitter Truth celery bitters.

From both a bartender viewpoint and someone who compounds bitters, in my opinion there has to be a distinct difference between what I'd quantify as a tincture (a one flavour bottling) versus a true bitters (layers of flavour). When I buy bitters I don't expect a singular flavour, I expect complexity and bitterness.

I expect that as well. All I'm saying is that if you're going to call it orange bitters, it needs to impart a meaningfully detectable orange note to the cocktail. Otherwise, it's like eating a piece of chocolate cake where you have to strain to detect the presence of chocolate. Now, obviously there is a range here. If it's too focused on the primary flavor, it has no complexity and might as well be a tincture. If it's too complicated, then it loses a meaningful connection to the claimed primary flavoring. Now, it strikes me that there is a nice, fat middleground in between these conditions. But nevertheless, there are examples of both extremes in the market.

It's interesting and noteworthy that, in this vast proliferation of bitters we have seen coming into the community in the past few years, not too many of them have been interesting, versatile and good enough to become "must have" bar staples. I have around 30 different bitters at home, but still go through far more Angostura, Peychaud's and Regan's/Fee's orange than all the other bitters combined. A lot of the other bitters are nice things to have in your repertoire, but they're a bit like specialty salt in that once you have fine salt, kosher salt and coarse salt everything else falls in the category of "extra touches." Will a cocktail made with Fee Brothers whiskey barrel aged bitters or Bittermens Mole bitters be different from one made with Angostura? Sure. But not so hugely different that these other brands are essentials.

I'd say the reason they are not 'must-haves' is because they haven't been around as long as Angostura Aromatic or Peychaud's, and aren't as sought after as orange bitters have been the last 10-20 years and the multitude of drinks calling for them isn't as vast as those calling for those mentioned.

However, things are slowly changing and the new bitters are becoming a staple for many bartenders, on many cocktail lists, all around the globe.

If you're a bartender serving lots of specialty cocktails, or a home bartender with an interest in this side of mixology, then there's no reason not to have as many different bitters as you can find. As I said, I own around 30 different bitters.

And sure, you can decide that you like a certain cocktail best with Angostura orange bitters. That's what I do and that's what you do. But that's a far cry from making the possession of 6 different brands of orange bitters a "must have" for even most specialty cocktail bars. Similarly, I do think it's a meaningful question as to whether different brands of aromatic bitters are all so terribly different rather than being variations around a central theme. It's nice to be able to have some subtle differences in a cocktail depending on whether the aromatic bitters I use is Angostura or Fee's whiskey barrel or Bitter Truth or your Boker's repro or Bitter Truth JT or Hess House or Fee's regular or John Deragon's Abbott's repro or Amargo Chuncho or Hermes. I have and use all of these. But it's a bit like having ten different kinds of black pepper. Which is cool, don't get me wrong! But, while it's nice to have ten different kinds of pepper, it's unclear that one needs ten different kinds of pepper. Or perhaps a better example (albeit perhaps one lost on non-Americans) would be ketchup. There are a zillion kinds of ketchup, and I suppose there might be hamburger fans who felt that it was essential to have ten different kinds of ketchup. But there are few compelling reasons not to have Heinz.

For some people it may be different, of course. And time will tell whether some of these other brands of aromatic bitters come to be seen as cocktail essentials on the same level as Angostura. But my strong suspicion is that the vast majority of people would still choose Angostura if they only could have one kind of aromatic bitters. It's the most versatile, the most intenss, the highest in quality and still the standard by which all other bitters are measured. That's a pretty high bar to clear.

What I imagine we will see is that some bottlings of some brands will increasingly be seen as "second tier" standards, with the first tier being Angostura and Peychaud's. I'd say that there is still some room for a truly balanced orange bitters to take the lead, since it seems a bit odd that most everyone's standard orange bitters is a blend of two. None of the currently available orange bitters seems entirely satisfactory on its own. So, it's possible, for example, that everyone will decide that a bottle of chocolate bitters is a necessity and that the Bittermens bottling will become the preferred brand. Time will tell. There will also probably also be a market for reproduction bitters for use by cocktailians with an interest in those areas. This, of course, is made a bit difficult by the fact that different reproductions can be quite different and that anyone can make them. Your Boker's repro is very good and having some success, but it is of course possible for someone else to come along and make a different Boker's repro. Not to mention that reproduction bitters can be made by bars and enthusiasts, so a bar might decide to make their own Boker's repro.

This is why it's hard to recommend "just a few" of these specialty bitters. None of them is something you "must have" in your repertoire the way you "must have" orange bitters. So the best thing to do is figure out what cocktails you have been curious about and by the bitters accordingly. If you are really wanting to make the Loop Tonic, then by all means that's a great reason to buy the BT celery bitters. Whether you'll use them in many other things? Harder to say.

This I wholeheartedly agree with. :biggrin:

That's more or less the substance of my point. If you're putting together your cocktail cabinet, you need Angostura, Peychaud's and an orange bitters. Even as justifiably proud as you are of your efforts, I can't think you would recommend to someone that they would be better off with your Boker's reproduction instead of Angostura as an aromatic bitters if it were a choice between the two. So everything else becomes some kind of "extra" rather than an "essential." Do you want to make the Loop Tonic? Get the BT celery bitters. Do you want to dip your toes into Jerry Thomas-era cocktails? Get your Boker's reproduction. Do you really like Angostura but want some variation? Try the Fee's whiskey barrel aged aromatic bitters. Looking for bitters that work well with tequila? The BT grapefruit bitters are a good choice. And so on. But it does make it difficult to answer in any definitive kind of way that such-and-such are the brands of new-generation bitters that are "must haves."
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#588 brinza

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 01:54 PM

This is an interesting discussion. The only thing I could suggest to Kent would be, at this point, just get what appeals to you and have fun with them. For a party I had in December, I came up with something I called, "Old Fashioned" Christmas, which is an Old Fashioned using apple brandy instead of whiskey. The key to the drink, however, is that I used two very specific bitters: Fee's Aromatic and TBT Aromatic. The TBT I find to be very clove-y and the Fee's Aromatic has a more rounded Christmas-spice profile. Together with the apple brandy and a bit of sugar . . . :smile:
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#589 evo-lution

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 03:50 PM

I absolutely get that not all bitters bottle dashes are the same. What I'm saying is that two dashes of Bitter Truth aromatic bitters still do not carry the same amount of flavor as one dash of Angostura bitters.


Hence why I said this;

"You also have to bare in mind the various production techniques that are used in compounding these bitters as I already touched on in the 'All About Bitters' thread."

As far as I'm aware TBT do not distil their bitters, do not add glycerine, and are not trying to replicate the flavour of Angostura Aromatic so I can't really see the point in the comparison?

And what if your desire is to have the flavour of the TBT bitters and not Angostura? Two pinches of salt won't have the same amount of flavour as a pinch of black pepper but each have their place.

I expect that as well. All I'm saying is that if you're going to call it orange bitters, it needs to impart a meaningfully detectable orange note to the cocktail. Otherwise, it's like eating a piece of chocolate cake where you have to strain to detect the presence of chocolate. Now, obviously there is a range here. If it's too focused on the primary flavor, it has no complexity and might as well be a tincture. If it's too complicated, then it loses a meaningful connection to the claimed primary flavoring. Now, it strikes me that there is a nice, fat middleground in between these conditions. But nevertheless, there are examples of both extremes in the market.


I agree with this but still disagree with your point re: the TBT Celery bitters as I think there's a predominant celery flavour mixed in with the added spice/citrus element. Of course we all have different tastes though.

As far as I'm aware they are an approximation of an old-school celery bitters which goes some way to explain the flavour profile they've captured.

And sure, you can decide that you like a certain cocktail best with Angostura orange bitters. That's what I do and that's what you do. But that's a far cry from making the possession of 6 different brands of orange bitters a "must have" for even most specialty cocktail bars. Similarly, I do think it's a meaningful question as to whether different brands of aromatic bitters are all so terribly different rather than being variations around a central theme. It's nice to be able to have some subtle differences in a cocktail depending on whether the aromatic bitters I use is Angostura or Fee's whiskey barrel or Bitter Truth or your Boker's repro or Bitter Truth JT or Hess House or Fee's regular or John Deragon's Abbott's repro or Amargo Chuncho or Hermes. I have and use all of these. But it's a bit like having ten different kinds of black pepper. Which is cool, don't get me wrong! But, while it's nice to have ten different kinds of pepper, it's unclear that one needs ten different kinds of pepper. Or perhaps a better example (albeit perhaps one lost on non-Americans) would be ketchup. There are a zillion kinds of ketchup, and I suppose there might be hamburger fans who felt that it was essential to have ten different kinds of ketchup. But there are few compelling reasons not to have Heinz.


I'm not sure where this whole 'must-have' thing cropped up? I haven't seen or heard of any bars closing down in the last few months when they've been out of Angostura Aromatic so maybe it's not the must-have we all think it is? If anything their financial problems have enabled bartenders (talking about my own personal experiences here) to talk to guests about the various bitters on offer and open their eyes to what's available.

The point is that bartenders/enthusiasts now have a variety to choose from other Angostura Aromatic which is all we can ask for. Informed choices can be made based on personal preferences and we're not left with one option. Current bar trends dictate that the choice of Angostura Aromatic, Peychaud's and an orange bitters isn't enough.

Pepper was a bad analogy from your standpoint, as various peppers serve various purposes. It backs up the point I'm trying to put across. No chef of any standing would just use one type of pepper. I hazard to guess that most homes only have black pepper though. And that most hate the little black specks they get in their Macaroni Cheese. If only they knew the use for white pepper... :wink:

As for the ketchup analogy, I see what your trying to say but it's easy to pick holes in that. Ultimately the reason that most go with Heinz is that it's a safe choice, a consistent product always available at a decent price that's not going to let you down. But the brutal truth is that it's probably the only ketchup most have had the opportunity to try, bar the cheap vinegary stuff you get in many roadside cafes and the like. However there are those out there that have had the opportunity to try various ketchups and have found their own particular favourite, for example Stokes Real Tomato Ketchup. They still buy Heinz though as it has its place.

For some people it may be different, of course. And time will tell whether some of these other brands of aromatic bitters come to be seen as cocktail essentials on the same level as Angostura. But my strong suspicion is that the vast majority of people would still choose Angostura if they only could have one kind of aromatic bitters. It's the most versatile, the most intenss, the highest in quality and still the standard by which all other bitters are measured. That's a pretty high bar to clear.


I don't understand the point your raising here. What relevance does this have?

You're probably right in assuming that if people only had one choice they'd go with Angostura Aromatic but the fact is they don't have one choice, they've got dozens, and there's a number that are becoming essential all over the globe. As mentioned earlier, I know of a number of bars that have taken Angostura Aromatic out of some of their cocktails (Martinez, Manhattan, Crusta, Japanese, etc.) and replaced it with my Boker's repro. These same bars have snapped up dozens of bottlings to ensure they don't run out. I'd say that's an essential. And I can give you a list of names of people who have reordered bottlings as they can't get enough of the stuff.

Do you have this same view when it comes to other categories? Gin? Rum? Genever? Whisky? Rye? Beer? :blink: There may be one stand out but that's not to say there's no place for the rest.

What I imagine we will see is that some bottlings of some brands will increasingly be seen as "second tier" standards, with the first tier being Angostura and Peychaud's. I'd say that there is still some room for a truly balanced orange bitters to take the lead, since it seems a bit odd that most everyone's standard orange bitters is a blend of two. None of the currently available orange bitters seems entirely satisfactory on its own. So, it's possible, for example, that everyone will decide that a bottle of chocolate bitters is a necessity and that the Bittermens bottling will become the preferred brand. Time will tell. There will also probably also be a market for reproduction bitters for use by cocktailians with an interest in those areas. This, of course, is made a bit difficult by the fact that different reproductions can be quite different and that anyone can make them. Your Boker's repro is very good and having some success, but it is of course possible for someone else to come along and make a different Boker's repro. Not to mention that reproduction bitters can be made by bars and enthusiasts, so a bar might decide to make their own Boker's repro.


I'm not so sure this is entirely correct, as I have an inkling that the first tier (as you call them) may become less and less a necessity on menus as bars strive for that point of difference and cocktail culture continues to develop. As I touched on already, the Angostura shortage has not been bad for the industry, if anything it's been a good thing. They'll always be there, don't get me wrong, but their dependency may wane a little.

Regarding your point in bold, I have in front of me a bottle of replicated Angostura Bitters. Based on a recipe that was dug up from the 1800s. Made by my own fair hands. It's not quite exactly the same as Angostura Aromatic, but it's not far off. What I'm saying is that there's no reason why anyone can't replicate an Angostura Aromatic should they wish. The advantage being you can tailor it to pair with your spirit offering.

However, many bars don't have the time/resources/money to try and replicate various bitters hence why there is demand for people to supply various bottlings to them. On the opposite hand many enthusiasts do have the time/money/resources to make their own formulation but there's not enough of these to put a serious dent in the market. For every person making bitters, there's ten thousand buying bottles. In the same vein that for every home-chef that makes their own pesto, there's ten thousand buying Sacla's pesto...

That's more or less the substance of my point. If you're putting together your cocktail cabinet, you need Angostura, Peychaud's and an orange bitters. Even as justifiably proud as you are of your efforts, I can't think you would recommend to someone that they would be better off with your Boker's reproduction instead of Angostura as an aromatic bitters if it were a choice between the two. So everything else becomes some kind of "extra" rather than an "essential." Do you want to make the Loop Tonic? Get the BT celery bitters. Do you want to dip your toes into Jerry Thomas-era cocktails? Get your Boker's reproduction. Do you really like Angostura but want some variation? Try the Fee's whiskey barrel aged aromatic bitters. Looking for bitters that work well with tequila? The BT grapefruit bitters are a good choice. And so on. But it does make it difficult to answer in any definitive kind of way that such-and-such are the brands of new-generation bitters that are "must haves."


I don't think that anyone mentioned being a must-have in this topic other than you. Kent is looking for recommendations away from the obvious.

Again I don't see your point regarding whether you'd choose between my Boker's or Angostura, as they're both very different, with differing purposes, with their own historical standing. They each work better in different drinks and are not comparative in any way bar the fact they are both cocktail bitters.

For some my bitters are already an essential, in the same way that Angostura has been for the last few decades. Likewise the TBT Celery is a necessity in some bars. As is Regan's Orange #6. And so on. Some bitters may not be a necessity to you, but they are for others.

Lest we forget that Angostura only became an essential over other brands because of the farcical, nonsensical, s***e that was prohibition. Maybe the tides are turning...
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#590 Chris Amirault

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 06:13 PM


I think that the Boker's go best with gin drinks, not as well with rye or bourbon.


Agree with the comment re: gin[.] However, I'm not sure I agree that they don't work as well with rye or bourbon[.]


De gustibus etc. etc.


Agreed that the decanter bitters require more volume (about double, in fact) than, say, Angostura. Also true for the Boker's reformulation. Don't know if that's about authenticity or something a bit more banal (like lucre).


Have to say that I'm a bit annoyed at that comment regarding lucre :sad: as it's never been about money for me.


Given my record here as an early adopter and fan, I'm not sure what why raising production costs and retail pricing as an issue is annoying. It seems entirely reasonable for those business fundamentals to have an effect on the way that anyone designs a product -- entirely necessary, even.
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#591 Shamanjoe

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 07:05 PM

Another good example is to consider Angostura orange (too one-note) and Bitter Truth orange (not focused enough) bitters. Neither of these provides a particularly compelling reason to move away from the standard "NY mix" of 50-50 Regan's and Fee Brothers orange bitters, which preparation has depth, complexity and bitterness but also a forthright and focused orange component right out front.


What's this NY Mix? do you take them out of the bottle, mix them and put them back in, or just add equal dashes when making a cocktail that calls for orange bitters? I have both, but I'm sad to say that I haven't even cracked them open yet.
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#592 Chris Amirault

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 07:25 PM

I've never heard of a NY Mix either, but I've been doing just that -- measuring out an equal amount of both Fee's and Regan's and putting them in its own bottle -- for a while now. I also keep separate bottles of both, as there are applications where the bass notes of the Regan's work on their own. (Fewer situations where the top-note of the Fee's is needed, though I wonder about a Fee's/orange flower water aromatic....)
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#593 Shamanjoe

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 09:16 PM

I'll have to try that. I've had a bottle of club soda in the fridge for a while now, to make the occasional Tom Collins, etc. But I've been thinking about pouring a glass and adding a few drops of orange bitters to make a light soda. I'll do the NY mix and give it a try..
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- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

#594 KD1191

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Posted 10 January 2010 - 12:17 PM

Outside of NY, I've heard the 1/2 Regan's + 1/2 Fee's bottled in a new container referred to as "50-50" Orange Bitters. I recently tried the Bittercube line and found their Orange Bitters quite nice. They seemed similar to the 50-50 mix on first examination, but didn't have a chance to do a side-by-side comparison or any experimentation.

 

 

 

[Moderator note: This topic continues here, All About Bitters (Part 2]


Edited by Mjx, 07 December 2013 - 04:17 AM.
Moderator note added.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

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