DrinkTake Taste Toss

Take, Taste, Toss: Specialty Cocktail Bitters

By on January 7, 2014 10:30am EST

Our contributors give you brief reviews of recent cookbooks/ kitchen gadgets/ recipes they’ve tried, and tell you whether you should take it home, just give it a taste, or toss it out.

Anyone who makes cocktails has (or should have) bitters on their shelf. Angostura bitters are the most ubiquitous, followed by Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6 and—if you live in the South—Peychaud’s. But did you know there are hundreds of other speciality bitters available, with flavor profiles ranging from walnut to peach, which can add a whole new dimension to your favorite bitters-laden cocktail? The good news is that the internets have made these previously hard-to-find bitters quite accessible. The bad news is that most of them are expensive. Are they worth the price? I tried a few to find out.



fee bros celery bittersFee Brothers Celery Bitters ($15 for 4 oz)

One of the first speciality bitters I tried, and one of my favorites. They have such a clean flavor and add a peppery freshness to cocktails. I love using them in martinis and old fashioneds, but you can really use them in anything. Plus, they seem exotic because CELERY. These are definitely on my must-have list of bitters.

Verdict: Take. $14 may seem like a lot for a 4 oz bottle of bitters, but these are actually a great bargain compared to some other speciality bitters.



scrappy's bitters gift box 1Scrappy’s Sample Bitters Gift Box #1—Lavender, Orange, Celery, Aromatic ($30 for approx. 6.8 oz)

If you want to try several different flavors of craft bitters, you can buy sample packs from some companies. Scrappy’s offers two sample packs of different flavors in very tiny bottles. Perhaps the other sample pack option is better, but I was underwhelmed by this particular selection. It could be I wasn’t putting enough bitters in (although I followed the directions of 6-8 drops for every dash), but the flavors of the orange and celery bitters didn’t pop for me. As for the lavender bitters, I haven’t found a good cocktail to use them in yet—the scent of lavender completely overwhelms me. I did enjoy the subtlety of the aromatic bitters, but why buy a sample pack of four when there’s only one flavor you really like?

Verdict: Toss. My personal recommendation is to skip the gift box and buy a full bottle of the aromatic bitters, which are very versatile.



dr adam elmegirab's boker's bittersDr. Adam Elmegirab’s Boker’s Cocktail Bitters ($22 for 3.38 oz)

Boker’s Bitters were created in 1828 by Johann Gottlieb Boker and were a favorite of Jerry Thomas, the author of the world’s first bartending guide, The Bon Vivant’s Companion. Unfortunately, like so many other bitters, Boker’s went out of business during Prohibition. No one knew what they tasted like until Elmegirab used old company receipts to recreate the recipe.

These bitters don’t taste anything like I was expecting. I was thinking they’d be similar to Angostura or Fee Bros Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters, but actually they have a very light flavor. There are definitely hints of citrus, but there’s a savory element to the bitters as well. They do NOT go with everything. With bourbon they taste absolutely foul, but I do enjoy them in martinis or in drinks with light, blended whiskeys.

Verdict: Definitely take if you’re a cocktail geek—it’s worth it for the curiosity factor alone, and you will get some use out of them. For the average person, taste—they’re not versatile enough for every home bar, but might be ideal for some.



the bitter end mexican mole bittersThe Bitter End Mexican Mole Cocktail Bitters ($20 for 2 oz)

These bitters taste EXACTLY like a cup of Mexican hot chocolate—a perfect blend of bittersweet chocolate and fiery cayenne that burns on the way down. I think I fell in love with these bitters as soon as I tried them. Unfortunately, they also wreak havoc on my stomach (I can’t really eat chocolate—forgot about that, oops), so I’m not getting a lot of use out them. That’s just me, though. They stand up well to strong-flavored spirits like bourbon or brandy, and would be amazing in a cocktail with Bénédictine.

Verdict: Taste. Like Boker’s, they’re not for every home bar, but could hit the sweet spot for the right person.



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Tasha Brandstatter

Tasha Brandstatter is a freelance writer, bibliophile, art historian, and cocktail blogger at Liquid Persuasion. Feel free to chat with her about libations and books @heidenkind.