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All About Bitters (Part 1)

594 posts in this topic

Well, I'm dying to hear what you think. (I've also sent a sample to someone out in Society-land and hope he'll weigh in soon.) I really think that the burnt toast bitters has interesting potential, especially in whisk(e)y-based cocktails....

I keep adjusting things back and forth because I didn't actually measure anything at the start, and it's mostly about wanting to get the balance of spice right relative to the amount of bitterness, but these are great bitters. I'm still really weirded out by how clearly the toast comes through -- I don't know, I guess having made so many fruit infusions and how little flavor you get from an apple compared to an orange, I'd become focused on oily things as sources of flavor.

Speaking of which, I got fifteen pounds of Seville oranges yesterday, so although they will see many uses -- the first thing I did was juice one and add sugar, rhum agricole, and a little cinnamon/spice -- I'm definitely going to make some orange bitters.

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I agree about the toasty quality: it can overwhelm. I ended up mixing it about 1/2-and-1/2 with my latest batch of Hess house bitters, and I'm very happy with the results.


Chris Amirault

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Oh, it's not a bad thing! It might make them a more specific bitters, less universally compatible, but that's true for grapefruit bitters too, in my experience.

I've been using them more or less the way I'd use Angostura, or Fee's barrel-aged. Definitely good with rum, which may partly be because I use rum in my pain perdu.

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I just got my hands on a bottle of Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitter. My bottle "achieved oaken maturity" in 2008, whatever that means.

I'm not sure what to make of these or what to do with them.

I tasted the Fee Brothers side by side with Angostura. First, I tasted a few drops of each in a spoon. The Angostura is really assertive and truly, utterly bitter. I've never known how to identify the taste of Angostura bitters. I just think of it as the way that Angostura bitters taste (you know what I mean--earthy, root-like). The finish causes my whole mouth to react physically. They're also dark (and stain horribly--don't tell my wife, but that's why our dining room chairs are ruined). The Fee Brothers are light in color and taste. The taste of cinnamon seems to predominate. They're also sweet, no true bitterness, and no physical reaction from the mouth. I could down a bottle of these, no problem. Are they lighter because they have no alcohol? I wonder if they'll stand up to liquor.

Next, I taste them in soda water. Pretty much what I expected. The Fee Brothers gets lost.

Finally, I try an old fashioned, but just with the Fee Brothers. I'm pretty familiar with how one tastes with Angostura. I make the old fashioned with Jim Bean (it's my house Bourbon, because I can pick up a handle for $20). Personally, I like my old fashioneds on the dry side, so I mix them 8:1 with simple syrup (2 ounces bourbon and 1/4 ounce simple syrup). No fruit salad, and a twist of orange. I go with four dashes of the Fees.

Honestly, I'm pretty disappointed in the drink. It tastes sweet. Too sweet for my taste. The Angostura taste is really central to what I think of as an old fashioned.

So what are these Fee Brothers bitters good for? Are they ever a good substitute for Angostura? And why does something aged in a bourbon barrel need extra color added?


Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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I'm surprised. I'll go home and check again, but my memory suggests that the 2007 bottling was very clovey and rich but still bitter. Maybe they changed the formula?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Mine's the 2007. I just tried them both straight, and although the Angostura is more bitter, Fee Bros is still pronounced. And yeah, definitely clovey, some good spice in there.

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They're also dark (and stain horribly--don't tell my wife, but that's why our dining room chairs are ruined).

My god man, maybe it's time to start mixing your cocktails in the kitchen, and over a tarp :laugh:


 

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I just got my hands on a bottle of Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitter. My bottle  "achieved oaken maturity" in 2008, whatever that means.

[snip]

So what are these Fee Brothers bitters good for? Are they ever a good substitute for Angostura? And why does something aged in a bourbon barrel need extra color added?

I love the Fee Brothers barrel aged in whiskey sours and I've also found they're quite good in a Manhattan although for that application I go with 2 dashes Angostura and one dash of the Fee's.

I really like the warm spiciness of them from the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, etc. Seems to complement the flavors of bourbon.

As for your comment on the Old Fashioned, maybe dial down the amount of sugar you're using to account for the perceived sweetness of the Fee's?

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I agree that the flavor of Angostura is irreplaceable in an Old Fashioned -- so much so that using something else probably requires a name change.

But the Whiskey Barrel Bitters do have their uses. One of my favorites is Dave Wondrich's Improved Whiskey Cocktail:

2 oz. Bulleit bourbon

2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel bitters

1 tsp. simple syrup

1/2 tsp. Luxardo Maraschino

1 dash Pernod absinthe

lemon twist

-- except that I make it with Rittenhouse BIB or Wild Turkey Rye. It can be on the sweet side, but that's easily controlled.

I'm also wondering how the WBB might do as an alternative in Robert Hess's Voyager:

2 ounces rum

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce Benedictine

1/2 ounce falernum

2 dashes Angostura bitters


Dave Scantland
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Just discovered this in Imbibe online (http://www.imbibemagazine.com/recipes_cocktails.html) - this is one where WBB definitely has merit:

Compass Rose

1 1/2 oz. cognac

3/4 oz. Campari

1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur

1 dash Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Stir well for 30 seconds and strain into a chilled glass.

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Thought it would be of interest to Bay Area folks. I just picked up a bottle of St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, produced in Austria? at BevMo. Looks like a regular item. Also in Berkeley at Ledger's Liquors on University there are all the Fee bitters and the Angostura Orange bitters and the Forest floor Orange Bitters. The Allspice Dram is very tasty in a bunch of drinks. I put some in a dash bottle and have been using with Fee Whiskey or Angostura bitters for a full spice impact. mmmm on a cold night.

Cheers

SK


Edited by Scott Koue (log)

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As I look at my bitters collection I see four different orange bitters, but no other citrus bitters. I have seen references in this topic to grapefruit, but what about lemon or lime? We use the fruit in cocktails all the time, but why aren't there bitters out there based on them? Or are there and I am missing them.

Part of the reason I ask is that in the process of making a homemade lime cordial I wound up with a large number of leftover lime rinds. I didn't really have any use for them, but loath to throw them away I covered them in Everclear and shoved them in the closet. They've been there for a while and I was wondering if a lime bitters would be a reasonable route to take it.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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2. Citrus bitters such as grapefruit, lemon, etc.  Fee's makes orange, grapefruit and lemon bitters; Bitter Truth makes lemon and orange bitters.

Missed this on my first review: so, there are definitely lemon bitters out there. Presumably there is no reason not to attempt lime?


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Dude, I made toast bitters. Anything's possible.

I'd go for a standard bitters procedure and aim for lighter, falernum flavors: ginger, white cardamom, white pepper, clove. Worst that happens is that you waste some Everclear.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Chris (and anyone else), I'd love to hear your step by step to making the toast bitters. I've been making bitters for a few months, and I've had mixed results. I started out by loosely following Jamie Boudreau's recipe for Cherry Bitters. His idea is to make several different infusions, and add them together to get the desired flavor profile, so one flavor doesn't overpower the whole batch. To that end, I started out with:

1 bottle 100* rye

+ 1 tbsp. wormwood

+ 1 tbsp. calmus root

+ 1 tbsp. black walnut leaf

+ 1 gentian root

1 bottle 151* everclear

+ 4 oz. dried seville orange peel

1 bottle 100* bourbon

+ 6 oz. espresso beans

1 bottle 100* bourbon

+ 1 vanilla bean

+ 1 cinnamon stick

+ 1 nutmeg

+ 1 tbsp clove

+ 4 star anise

Now if you're thinking to yourself, sweet jesus, that seems like a lot of bittering agent, you are right. The rye, after about two weeks, was insanely bitter, but also had a really unpleasant earthy flavor (by which I mean it tasted like dirt). Not having done this before, my unwillingness to scrap that bottle pretty much ruined the first batch. I ended up making another bottle of rye with 1/2 tbsp. of wormwood, calmus and gentian, and dropped black walnut leaf (which was only there for flavor). Once this bottle was done, I mixed them up in a ratio of about

1 part bitter blend

1 part orange blend

4 parts flavor (coffee) blend

2 parts spice blend

The resulting bitters are good, if maybe a little timid. They lack the complexity of an Angostura, but maybe that's the point when doing a single flavor bitter. At this point, I've got plenty of the bitter, orange and spice blends left over and am working on a few more flavoring blends (walnut, peanut butter) that I will mix up. If anyone has any thoughts or comments I'd love to hear them. Thanks!


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Dave Kaye

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Chris (and anyone else), I'd love to hear your step by step to making the toast bitters. 

Here it is, such as it is. It was all a result of a flukey mishap but, using a rudimentary two-stage steep, it turned out pretty well. I never went back to recalibrate for anything more precise.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Following a tip from the irrepressible Dan Shoemaker at the Teardrop Lounge in Portland, I took a bus Friday night out to Limbo, an organic grocer next to Trader Joe's with a massive "Wall of Herbs." I spent two hours there opening jars and sniffing stuff. There was no quinine or cinchona, sadly, but I did find wild cherry bark, wormwood, and a few other things I had been looking for. I also found stuff that was impossible to describe and just had to buy, like cubeb, pau d'arco, costus root, red sage root.... It was dizzying.

Here's the full list of what's in my suitcase. Feel free to tell me what to do (or not) with any of it:

agrimony

angelica

bee pollen

bilberry

birch bark

black haw

blessed thistle

burdock

calamus

cascara sagrada

chaste tree

costus root

cubeb

grains of paradise

guarana

hawthorne

hops

licorice stick

lovage

myrrh

pau d'arco

prickly ash

red sage root

sarsparilla

sassafrass

wild cherry bark

wormwood

yohimbe


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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nice buys! careful with that wormwood, a little bit goes a very, very long way.


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Dave Kaye

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I haven't gone quite as crazy as Chris A., but I've got some Cinchona bark, gentian root, and wormwood. I'm thinking that the easiest way to play with these would be to make extracts/tinctures (what's the difference?) of them. Any advice on that front? Are the essential oils/etc. more soluble in ethanol or water?


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Bottomless Bitters

Jamie Boudreau has an excellent post I’ve used to develop the following outline for a bottomless bottle of bitters. The general idea is to make a few different infusions and mix them together for the desired flavor.

1. Bitter Mixture: The bitter mixture is going to give the final product it’s bitter taste (duh). It should consist of a high proof liquor (I’ve used 100* rye and 151* rum) along with the bittering agent. I have found ½ tbsp each of gentian, calmus and wormwood is sufficient to achieve an extremely bitter mixture (There also doesn’t seem to be too much difference between the bittering agents in terms of flavor - if you’ve only got wormwood, don’t sweat it – but only use 1 tbsp. per 750 ml bottle, as wormwood is the most bitter). Also, if you use too much bittering agent or let it sit for too long, it starts to get a dirty taste that becomes tough to mask. (This happened to my first batch, and I was able to make my Bird’s Eye bitters with it, but not much else). A week of macerating should do the trick – after that strain out the bitters and keep the mixture in a sealed bottle.

2. Primary Flavoring Mixture: This mixture is going to be where the main flavor of the final product comes from. I’ve found it best to get as overwhelmingly powerful of a flavor as possible in this mixture so the bitters don’t get lost in the drink. My lemongrass bitters consisted of ¼ lb. of ground lemongrass and black pepper which was macerated in 350 ml of 151* rum for about ten days, while the butter bitters achieved it’s flavor by fat washing two sticks in 350 ml of 107* bourbon for a day and a half. (It seems that just about any ingredient with fats or oils can be used in a fat wash which his nice and quick, but if you’re using something drier it’s gonna take some patience. For me the hardest part is NOT drinking the infused liquor before it’s ready.)

3. Secondary Flavoring Mixture (optional): This mixture will be the supporting player in the end product. (If you’re going for a two flavored bitter such as pistachio-vanilla, you’ll want this to be just as powerful as the primary flavoring mixture and mix them in equal ratios.) My secondary is a “spice mixture” which contains a vanilla bean, a few cracked cinnamon sticks, a whole nutmeg, a teaspoon of clove and a half a dozen whole star anise, all of which is macerated in a bottle of 100* bourbon. This mixture adds an extra bit of spice and excitement to most of the bitters I make. Since the final product only uses a bit of this (usually 10% – 20%), I just fill the original jar with bourbon as I use it and throw in a bit more spice if it’s needed. It’s pretty good on it’s own too.

4. Citric Flavoring Mixture (optional): This mixture will brighten up the end product quite a bit, but it’s not for every mixture. Much like the spice mixture, I keep about ¼ lb. of Seville orange peel macerating in Everclear 151* and add a bit to my bitters when they’re needed. This flavor works especially well in some of the lighter more fragrant bitters.

The ratio of each component will depend on it's final flavor. I find it’s usually at least 50% primary flavoring and no more than 25% bitters, but your palette is going to be the final judge. Once the mixture is ready, I usually add a bit of simple syrup to sweeten the deal. Some recipes call for water, but I’ve never needed to add any. As I said, I like my bitters strong.

The moral of the story is if you make a 750 ml bottle of bitter mix and a 750 ml bottle of the secondary mix, you’ll essentially have an unlimited source of bitters, and all you’ll need to do is make the primary flavoring compound. Your primary flavoring can be made by the cup if you want, and you’ll still have more than enough for personal use.

sorry if this repeats previso posts, this is for a post i'm working on for my blog. all the bitters i've made have been in liqour so i can't comment on alcohol free bitters. and i have no idea what the difference between a maceration, a tincture and an infusion is - but they all sound pretty nifty.

I haven't gone quite as crazy as Chris A., but I've got some Cinchona bark, gentian root, and wormwood. I'm thinking that the easiest way to play with these would be to make extracts/tinctures (what's the difference?) of them. Any advice on that front? Are the essential oils/etc. more soluble in ethanol or water?


Edited by davicus (log)

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Dave Kaye

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Since Chris Hennes asked (and I got all that stuff above), I have been trying to figure out what the hell a tincture is exactly. As far as I can tell, it's a higher-intensity infusion that is used as a flavoring element and not as a potable on its own. (If I'm wrong, feel free to correct me here.)

So I set out to make some tinctures using an easy standard for each flavoring agent (usually 5g unless specified otherwise) and the spirit base (50 ml). The roots, herbs, and so on were kept whole unless they needed a bit of pounding in the mortar (and some were a real pita -- I mean you, red sage root).

As for proof, Avery of Bittermens wrote this post about proof and extraction:

We did alot of experimenting over here - to get good extraction, we always had to be well over 100 proof to get decent extraction... even when heat is involved. I've also found that extracting at low proof ends up reducing the shelf-stability.

You have to be careful, because depending on what you're extracting, over 150 proof can end up extracting too much oil out too quickly, leaving a bitter almost resin-like taste.

I had a bottle of 80 proof vodka (Tito's on sale) and a bottle of 190 proof Everclear; a 1:1 mixture works out to 135 proof, well above 100 but not over 150, so that's what I used for most of the experiments.

The following were standard measures of 50 ml 135 proof spirits and 5g of, um, stuff:

agrimony

allspice

angelica

bilberry

birch bark

black haw

burdock

calamus

cascara sagrada

chaste tree

clove

cubeb

grains of paradise

hawthorne

hops

licorice stick

lovage

myrrh

pau d'arco

prickly ash

red sage root

sarsparilla

sassafrass

wild cherry bark

wormwood

yohimbe

Blessed thistle and hops required 100 ml of the 135 proof spirit. Since I was pretty well convinced I'd want to use these tinctures and wanted to fiddle with proof a bit, I made the costus root and pau d'arco with 151 proof Wray and Nephew rum. I also made four cinnamon tinctures at 80, 135, 151, and 190 each.

Comments, suggestions, warnings if you've got 'em. Otherwise, I'm letting these sit two weeks and shaking them each day.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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yohimbe

My only warning is about the use of the Yohimbe, as the active chemical in the bark (yohimbinine) can raise blood pressure. I'm not sure how much is extractable using alcohol, but it's been warned that people with blood pressure issues or on high blood pressure medicine should avoid it.

-Avery


Avery Glasser

Bittermens, Inc. - Producers of Bittermens Bitters & Extracts

Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs

Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

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. . .  I have been trying to figure out what the hell a tincture is exactly. . .

I don't think there is any cut-and-dried definition of tincture that would apply to our usage.

In medicine, a tincture is an alcoholic solution containing the extract of a non-volatile substance. For example, tincture of opium or tincture of iodine. An alcoholic solution containing the extract of a volatile substance was called "spirit of [whatever]."

For our purposes, what we're talking about is the extract of some substance, both the volatile and non-volatile parts in an alcoholic solution. The best way to do this is using as close to pure alcohol you can get.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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My only warning is about the use of the Yohimbe, as the active chemical in the bark (yohimbinine) can raise blood pressure. I'm not sure how much is extractable using alcohol, but it's been warned that people with blood pressure issues or on high blood pressure medicine should avoid it.

Thanks. The store at which I bought all this stuff had little signs about this and that, and unless it seemed dangerous I grabbed it. By the time I reached yohimbe, I had inhaled three-quarters of the several hundred items, so who knows what the yohimbe sign said.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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