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Chris Amirault

All About Bitters (Part 2)

355 posts in this topic

My choice of bitters are Angostura and Peychaud's. For a while now, orange bitters have been gnawing at me -- would they have been a better choice than Peychaud's? For the average Joe, which would provide the simplest, broadest, and most-accessible repertoire? If I switch, what do I lose (like the Sazerac) and what do I gain without disrupting the rest of the bottles?

I covered this earlier in the thread, the simple answer is the necessity for any bitters is based entirely on the drinks you consume and how experimental you are when it comes to home-bartending.

Contrary to popular belief, Angostura Aromatic and Peychaud's don't necessarily work in every drink and aren't always the best option, they're just the easiest option. There's a very lazy attitude when it comes to bitters but from what I've seen things are changing as the category is becoming better understood.

My earlier thoughts;

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As you're aware the Boker's I originally made was for my own needs (JT Project) but due to demand and enquiries I began producing for the wider bartending community.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 and many people who regard both my Boker's and Dandelion & Burdock as staples in their liquor cabinets.

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.

It may be worth having a look at page 20 of this thread as the thoughts of others are available there.


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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Responding within the constraints you mentioned, I'd suggest that you search cocktaildb for both orange and Peychaud's bitters. You'll quickly see a roughly representative list of the options on both sides.

Much as I love my Sazeracs, I'd choose Regan's orange bitters over Peychaud's if I had to choose. Thankfully, I do not have to do so. :wink:


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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If accesability to a broad audience is the criteria, then it would seem best to go with whatever is more widely available to purchase in a store without resorting to online ordering and the attendant hassles that can entail. How you would determine which is more available I'm not quite sure, they are roughly equally so for me but that may not be the case everywhere.

I should note that the only widely available orange bitters at retail for me are Fees, and if I had to choose between Fees OB or Peychauds, I'd probably go with Peychauds. If Regans or some other more interesting choice in OB were the alternative the choice would be more difficult. Oddly, Regans seems to be a mail order only proposition in TX. TBT are to be had for those who care to search, but wow are they pricey, which would be another obstacle to accessibility.

edit: spelling


Edited by thirtyoneknots (log)

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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If accesability to a broad audience is the criteria, then it would seem best to go with whatever id more widely available to purchase in a store without resorting to online ordering and the attendant hassles that can entail. ... I should note that the only widely available orange bitters at retail for me are Fees, and if I had to choose between Fees OB or Peychauds, I'd probably go with Peychauds.

Good point. Ditto for Angostura orange.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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[...]

My choice of bitters are Angostura and Peychaud's. For a while now, orange bitters have been gnawing at me -- would they have been a better choice than Peychaud's? For the average Joe, which would provide the simplest, broadest, and most-accessible repertoire? If I switch, what do I lose (like the Sazerac) and what do I gain without disrupting the rest of the bottles?

I'd really appreciate the thoughts of the group.

Well, my perspective is as someone who makes a lot of classic cocktails from the late 19th and early 20th Century.

While Peychaud's is necessary for the Sazerac and Vieux Carre cocktails, there are so many more classic drinks that call for Orange Bitters, it would be hard for me to justify a bar without them. I mean you can't even make a proper Gin Martini, and life without proper Martinis would be, well... Words fail me.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Thanks for all the quick feedback! Chris, I did do that search a few days ago, 30+ for Peychaud's versus 300+ for orange bitters.

It's always gnawed at me, but I think admitting hindsight or greater awakening, as the case may be, makes for a more honest and interesting blog. As I (like all bloggers) have readers scattered around the globe, I do have to keep online availability as an option.

Adam, very anxious to try your Dandelion and Burdock -- not sure I've ever experienced the combination.

Regan's over Angostura and Fee's, then -- it that the general consensus? Yes, I'm going back to page #1 to catch-up. :)

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...Though life without Sazeracs sounds pretty grim, too.

My favorite Orange Bitters Solution is from the NY School of Bartending, half Fee's and Half Regan's.

I like Angostura Orange Bitters, but you do have to be careful, they are far more pungent than either Fee's or Regan's. Too much can easily unbalance a cocktail.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Finally (mostly) caught up with all the previous posts. It's interesting to see the points of view here, where many espouse a plethora of bitters on the shelf, and the forums at Modern Drunkard, where I was called a fancy lad for having two bitters on my list. :)

I'm a fan of both Regan's and Fee's for very different reasons -- the former sharing so much density (for good reason) with Peychaud's, and the latter having an almost soda pop (maybe misplaced in a bitter?) top note. The 50/50 mix is really spot-on for me, and I think an interesting take, as I really like to push readers into getting to know their ingredients. A little home tinkering isn't such a bad thing.

Still curious to hear other opinions on the matter.

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On another front, has anyone (Adam maybe?) tried Dr. Harris's Original Pick-me-up in a cocktail? Would it be classified as a bitter? I have an empty bottle and never tried mixing it outside of the recommended water/ginger ale version -- I vaguely remember it having a very violet-ammonia profile.

I did a search, which returned no results.

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If accesability to a broad audience is the criteria, then it would seem best to go with whatever is more widely available to purchase in a store without resorting to online ordering and the attendant hassles that can entail.

Is accessibility really an issue in this day and age? And surely online ordering is the most accessible way of purchasing practically anything nowadays, particularly when speaking about a global audience?


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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If accesability to a broad audience is the criteria, then it would seem best to go with whatever is more widely available to purchase in a store without resorting to online ordering and the attendant hassles that can entail.

Is accessibility really an issue in this day and age? And surely online ordering is the most accessible way of purchasing practically anything nowadays, particularly when speaking about a global audience?

For an enthusiast? No, in fact the internet is an aid to accessibility. To someone with only a very casual interest in cocktails, however, if they can't buy it at the liquor store then they probably won't buy it at all. It's just an extra (if minor) level of hassle, which is more than enough to deter most people. If I'm understanding correctly that the target audience here is people who aren't already reading forums like this, then making things easy to obtain is key.

For my own part I've got something like 15-20 different bitters around, not counting ones I've made for myself. My dad, who has only a minor interest in making someonthing for himself more complicated than a Tom Collins, has only the bitters I've taken to him.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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For an enthusiast? No, in fact the internet is an aid to accessibility. To someone with only a very casual interest in cocktails, however, if they can't buy it at the liquor store then they probably won't buy it at all. It's just an extra (if minor) level of hassle, which is more than enough to deter most people. If I'm understanding correctly that the target audience here is people who aren't already reading forums like this, then making things easy to obtain is key.

For my own part I've got something like 15-20 different bitters around, not counting ones I've made for myself. My dad, who has only a minor interest in making someonthing for himself more complicated than a Tom Collins, has only the bitters I've taken to him.

Point taken and understood, but if the blog's about drinks and the people reading are sat at their computer, to me there's no more accessible and easier way to order a product than by clicking a sales link or similar on that page.

I don't see how going to a liquor store is easier?!?


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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For my site, accessibility is a consideration but never a roadblock. I've got an Amazon store for whatever I help people find, but yes, I do know that my core audience is the "run down to the liquor store (or even supermarket)" group. If possible, I try to make things easy for them.

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I do know that my core audience is the "run down to the liquor store (or even supermarket)" group.

Do people really prefer stepping away from their computer to run down to the liquor store to buy a bottle of booze? I thought people across the World were getting lazier by the day, and that internet shopping was the future. :biggrin:


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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I do know that my core audience is the "run down to the liquor store (or even supermarket)" group.

Do people really prefer stepping away from their computer to run down to the liquor store to buy a bottle of booze? I thought people across the World were getting lazier by the day, and that internet shopping was the future. :biggrin:

Lazier, maybe, but also far less patient. Delayed gratification is not a concept with a particularly large audience these days. It's far easier/quicker to drop into the shop than to register at another online retailer of questionable repute, pay for shipping (assuming the retailer can ship to your state, the laws are varied and ridiculous), wait a week and hope that the shipment doesn't get snatched off the stoop...or even worse, have to arrange for someone to be home or make a special trip to the shipper's warehouse, because someone 21+ has to physically sign for the package containing alcohol.


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.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Do people really prefer stepping away from their computer to run down to the liquor store to buy a bottle of booze? I thought people across the World were getting lazier by the day, and that internet shopping was the future. :biggrin:

Perhaps what you are not understanding is that in the U.S. there are fifty different sets of liquor laws dictating who can buy what, where you can buy it, when you can buy it, and where you can get it from. For most people, that means that, other than things like bitters, potable alcoholic beverages cannot be purchased online. That's not to say, that people don't do it; I might have even done so myself . . . . So, yes, anyone can buy bitters from Amazon or Kegworks, but as far as liquor, the liquor store really is easier.


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

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Aside from avoiding the extra expense of shopping on-line, I shop at my local liquor store because I can schmooze with those who are procuring the spirits. They have several dozen bottles open for samples, and will crack almost anything else I show an interest in buying. The only reason I'd order on-line is if I really wanted something that was not sold in Minnesota.

It's not cheaper to buy online? The second part of your post I agree with.

Perhaps what you are not understanding is that in the U.S. there are fifty different sets of liquor laws dictating who can buy what, where you can buy it, when you can buy it, and where you can get it from.

I may not live in there but I am more than aware of that considering a lot of my business comes from the US. :wink:

Lazier, maybe, but also far less patient. Delayed gratification is not a concept with a particularly large audience these days.

This may be a cultural difference between the US and the UK, where I find many people on this side of the pond have a "live for the weekend" mentality and everything is geared towards that. Ordering or picking up a bottle isn't necessarily for instant gratification, more often than not a bottle is ordered or picked up with the weekend in mind.

I guess the size of the countries is another factor, in the UK most booze ordered online is at your door in about 2-3 days maximum. The size of the US makes that logistically impossible in many cases I'd assume.

Regardless, the question posted by 12BottleBar is to recommend bitters to a global audience who have an interest in mixed drinks but not necessarily to the level of many that post here. The vast majority of true bitters are available across the globe so that's the info I'd provide to my readers. The bitters you need in your cupboard depends solely on the style of drinks you like.

Lest we forget that informed opinions are made based on the information given. To say you only need, or can make do, with an orange bitters and Angostura is wholly wrong in my opinion.


Edited by evo-lution (log)

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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I'd like to get this discussion back on bitters. I've started to infusing my own, but am taken aback by the huge number of bittering agents. As an experiment I infused about a dozen separately, to try to get an idea of their flavor profile, but still it's hard to get an idea what I should put together and in what proportions, to create a unique and well balanced bitter. As a recovering home brewer, I know that hops added at the end of the boil will impart a nonbitter flavor and flowery nose, from volatile oils, I'm assuming steeping times might be different depending what one is after. Maybe I should have a greater proportion of leafy things in my herbaceous catnip bitters, and rooty things to go with something like dandelion & burdock. Aside from endless experimentation, can anyone offer me a bit of advice?

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I'd like to get this discussion back on bitters. I've started to infusing my own, but am taken aback by the huge number of bittering agents.

I could give you a long answer to this but I'm going to try and give you a shorter one;

The bittering agent is one of the most important aspects of a good bitters (such a shame that it's often left out or not used in larger quantities*) :wink: .

Which bittering agent you decide to go for is entirely dependent on the other botanicals present in your recipe and the steeping time you intend on using. For example, my Dandelion & Burdock bitters both call for Dandelion & Burdock (as you'd expect). In their own right they are bitter botanicals but I would not put them into the bittering agent category as they have other qualities that supercede their bitterness. Another bittering agent is required to lift them to the required bitterness I'm after, but it doesn't need to be an overtly bitter botanical to get to it where I want to.

To understand the effect of macerating/compounding different botanicals I would recommend starting out with separate infusions, however when you're making your batch I would highly recommend infusing the botanicals together. If this means you have to infuse botanicals before/after the rest so be it.

*The problem stems from a misunderstanding of the category and people making their decision/opinion of a bitters by trying them on their own as opposed to in a mixed drink.


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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To say you only need, or can make do, with an orange bitters and Angostura is wholly wrong in my opinion.

Adam - I was going to just message you directly, but I do think that this discussion is germane to the topic, so I'll response here.

In no way am I or my site claiming the above. All I provide is an entry point for someone who is, maybe, uneducated on the subject of cocktails or a bit intimidated by it. My goal is to get readers excited enough about one or two drinks that they then move on to bigger and more interesting things. So, am I saying "only these"? No. But unless people start their journey somewhere, they'll never wander down the dark alleyways of discovery. Just like the starter Lego sets only make us want the bigger, more complicated ones.

This is how my personal experience has been -- I started off with a bottle of Angostura which I never used because no one taught me what it was for or why it was good. I learned the basics, became more excited, and ultimately found my way here -- chatting bitters with you and the group here. I think the process has worked out beautifully.

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I've not made bitters yet myself, but my assumption is that they are all made by combining the botanicals and letting the "cure" together. In gin making, some manufacturers like Leopold's distill the botanicals separately and then combine/blend them after the fact. Has this approach been applied to bitters making? Would it work?

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