BITTERS, BLENDING & MIXOLOGY (AKA Old Fashioned Bartending)
Bitters often look what would be in a medicine cabinet a century ago. And, if you were to guess that, you would most likely be correct. Bitters were essential a hundred years ago, not just to cocktails, but to common ailments from stomach pains to colds to just about anything that needed curing.
But quite simply, bitters make the cocktail. Just as you would add salt to any dish before, during and after cooking, bitters enhance and add another level to cocktails. Plenty may be content with a highball like a rum and coke or gin and tonic or even a vodka martini. But once you add a few dashes of bitters to that cocktail, it takes on a whole new life.
But back in the old days, many of these companies could not survive prohibition which lasted more than a decade. Even before then some were making such outrages claims similar to that of snake oil, which can cure anything from baldness to pneumonia, it was no wonder the US Government had to stick its nose in and add these false claims, especially when they were making people more ill.
But Fee Brothers managed to for several reasons, mostly because they continued to make wine used for ceremonies in the Church for the sacrament of Communion and the Eucharist. And, later on, they expanded their line of bitters which are still selling today. These are about half of the ones they produce below.
We are no experiencing a renaissance in the cocktail world. People are tired of the Margaritas, the Cosmos, and anything else which basically is sweet & sour mixed with any liquor of your choice that they call a cocktail. Now, finally, we are getting back to basics, but there is still a long road ahead. To start, most people are not going to spend $9 on a bottle of bitters to enhance their cocktail. In fact, most are lucky today if they can afford a $25 bottle of any liquor. But, if you are a moderate drinker and are tired of the same old thing, you will find a whole world of flavors opening up to you.
These bitters, no matter where you go to find or which you buy, add a whole other element and level of flavor. The best way to taste is to put a few drops in half a glass of water, or to put a small drop on the back of your hand. You will know immediately which you like, what you love and those you hate. Build from there.
Even if you need something more than water, something more refreshing and even a cure to a stomach ache, try a few dashes of bitters in your water, or better yet, seltzer or club soda. You won’t be disappointed. If you love soda but need a change, you will find bitters splashed in the mineral water of your choice very refreshing.
You can find Angostura in nearly every Liquor store or Supermarket (at least in this area), try a few dashes, see if it adds a delightful element of flavor to give a new twist on your favorite cocktail.
Now, just so you know, bitters cannot only be expensive at $7+ per bottle for a few ounces, but they also are closer to 90proof in many cases, so remember, just a few splashes. So if you are putting it in your club soda during lunch break and you feel a bit tired or dizzy, take into account that you just had the equivalent of a half glass of wine… so proceed with caution, start off slow, and remember that its adding alcohol content to any beverage. Is it worth the price? I would say yes, but don’t go out and buy a whole arsenal of bitters, try one at a time. Try it first in water or seltzer, then try it in cocktails and then you will know if you like it. Then move on to the next.
To be perfectly honest, while I love Angostura bitters in nearly anything, I really don’t care for their orange bitters. And while I love the Fee Brother’s orange bitters, I don’t really care for their Old Fashioned Bitters — so my staples are Angostura Bitters and Fee Brothers Orange Bitters. When you have sampled and tasted all others, you will find those you like and stick to them. Remember this is just a personal preference, thus far these are my favorites from those I would not want to live without, to those I can easily do without:
- Angostura Bitters
- Fee Brothers Orange
- Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla
- Fee Brothers Old Fashioned
- Bittercube Blackstrap
- Bittermans Elemakule Tiki
- Scrappy’s Grapefruit
- Scrappy’s Lime
- Scrappy’s Cardamom
- Fee Brothers Rhubarb
That’s the short list. I have many more to try, but honestly, if you just keep it down to a few bottles, you will be fine. Its great to experiment, but if you are on a budget, just stick with the two that have been around for over a century, Angostura & Fee Brothers.