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Dec 9, 2013 07:41 AM

What are the most unusual bitters flavors you have tried, and what recipe(s) did you use them in?

I happen to live near a shop that sells many different kinds of bitters and would like to experiment a bit with some of them. But I would also like to be practical, as some of them (Bittermans) are $26/bottle...

I recently picked up a bottle of Bittermans New England Spiced Cranberry, which I have been using in Manhattans (as a holiday alternative) and a Boulevardier last night.

Please share your ideas/recipes.

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  1. Are you sure you want the most unusual? Maybe the most useful would be a better question?

    For example, I have celery bitters and don't find them useful. There just aren't any drinks that I like that call out for a strong celery flavor. You can add them to seltzer for something like Dr Brown's Cel-ray Tonic.

    - Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit
    - Bittermens Xocolatl Mole
    - Pie spiced: Angostura, Fee WBA, Jerry Thomas, etc
    - Bokers
    - Orange: Angostura and Regans'
    - Some type of lemon or lime bitters to boost citrus notes when you don't want more acid from juice.
    - Peychaulds

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    10 Replies
    1. re: EvergreenDan

      I suppose most unusual while still being useful works :-)

      The Bittermens (thanks for the correct spelling) Xocolatl Mole happens to be one I was looking at. What do you like to use it in?

      1. re: cobpdx

        Xocalatl mole is subtly chocolate, rather than overly so. Think more Mexican Mole Poblano sauce than Hersheys. It works very well with tequila, obviously.

        2 Cups of Blood from Beta Cocktails would be a place to start.

        The Conference (Death & Co)

        Or my own Mole Hill

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        1. re: EvergreenDan

          Hey Dan,

          That Mole Hill sounds interesting, but I don't have Meletti - would Ramazzotti work? Other dark amari I have are Cynar and Fernet, but I don't think they sound at all similar to Meletti.

          1. re: ncyankee101

            It would be a different drink, but sure, try Ramazzotti. Ramazzotti has a pie-spice cola-like flavor. Meletti has a chocolate-like tones that (to my surprise) come from saffron.

            You could also add a very small amount of creme de cacao if you have it -- maybe 1/2 tsp. The chocolate should be subtle.

            If you can find Meletti, it is relatively inexpensive and quite different from other amari. It is nice to have for depth. It also makes a great ice cream flavor. Just mix with good quality vanilla or maybe sweet cream.

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      2. re: EvergreenDan

        "Are you sure you want the most unusual? Maybe the most useful would be a better question?"

        This is perfect advice.

        I went through a phase where I bought a bunch of different bitters -- maybe 20 -- and now I have maybe 15 bottles that I rarely, if ever, touch.

        To Dan's list I might add:
        - Peach bitters (key for many classic cocktails)
        - Cherry bitters (nice counterpoint for some drinks)
        - A chocolate bitters other than the Xocolatl (if you want a cleaner flavor)
        - Bitter Truth Creole Bitters (sub for Peychaud's - a lot more bitterness and intensity)
        - Amargo bitters from Peru (ideal for pisco-based drinks)

        1. re: davis_sq_pro

          What peach bitters do you recommend? I one I tried tasted like Jolly Rancher -- a common problem with peach flavor, liqueur included. It seems to be a difficult flavor. It reminds me of cantaloupe -- the ripe fruit is so wonderful, but the sorbet is always awful.

          Also do you have a favorite cherry?

          1. re: EvergreenDan

            Which one did you try? The Bittermens is pretty good IMO.

            For cherry, all I've tried, and all I have, is the Fee Bros one. Which ABSOLUTELY tastes like a Jolly Rancher. Not necessarily a bad thing; I think most people are used to that kind of flavor from "cherry" stuff so it work well. If I want a more natural flavor I'll muddle a brandied cherry or add a splash of Heering to the mix.

            1. re: davis_sq_pro

              Fee. Didn't know about Bittermens. Thanks for the tip.

            2. re: EvergreenDan

              I like Fee Brothers Peach Bitters, but as you note, a little goes a long way -- one dash too many and the drink goes from having pleasant peach notes to cloying after taste. A dash or two in a Martini can be nice for a change of pace, and it works with a Bourbon based Manhattan, less so with Rye. The cocktail recipe on the back of the bottle is nice -- equal parts dry Vermouth, Gin and a dryish Sherry (Fino is a little austere, Amontillado seems to work bettter), shaken or stirred with ice and served up. A particularly good apperitif.

              I find Fee Brothers Cherry Bitters a little too candy like for most cocktails, but it livens up plain seltzer. I've liked the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrel Spiced Cherry Bitters a lot in Rye and Bourbon Manhattans.

              I just tried the Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters (got them mail order from the folks at The Boston Shaker) and thought it was really delicious in both Rye and Bourbon Manhattans, but it is another one where you need to use a very light hand.

              Love the Angostura Orange Bitters --very different from the complex Regans Orange Bitters and the Fee Brothers Orange Bitters, though I like them as well. The Angostura seems to have a sharper orange flavor, which I find really shines in a Negroni.

              1. re: BHAppeal

                I use the fee brothers peach bitters in making Laphroaig Projects:


                As the blogger here says, it doesn't sound like the ingredients would go well together but they do.

        2. I love playing around with different bitters and have these plus a few more that I can't remember off the top of my head:

          Angostura (probably needs no comment)
          Peychauld's (for Sazeracs and Vieux Carre)
          Regan Orange Bitters (milder than Angostura, good for martinis)
          Miracle Mile Chocolate Chili (love these for bourbon drinks with some spice component)
          Miracle Mile Castilian (works ok with tequila/mezcal, but don't use them often)
          Miracle Mile Sour Cherry (don't use a lot)
          Miracle Mile Gingerbread (like the idea of them but haven't used)
          Miracle Mile Toasted Pecan (like the idea of them but haven't used)
          Bittermens Burlesque Bitters (hibiscus flowers, sour berries with peppery spice, use in a drink with rum, falernum, grapefruit shrub & lime juice)
          Bitter End Chesapeake Bay Bitters (haven't found a good use for yet)
          Bitter End Curry Bitters (haven't found a good use for yet)
          Bitter End Thai Bitters (have used with Mekong Thai Whiskey drinks but don't use very much)
          Bittercube Jamaican #2 Bitters (like to use in blackstrap rum drinks in place of Angostura)
          Brooklyn Bitters Black Mission Fig (like the flavor profile but haven't found a great use for)
          Brooklyn Bitters Charred Pineapple (haven't tried yet, probably would work well in Pisco drinks)
          Bitter Tears Ms Piggy Bacon Peppercorn (like this alot, use it in a drink with bourbon, homemade date syrup, lillet blanc and grand marnier)
          Bitter Tears Curry Pumpkin Spice Mezcal Bitters (haven't tried yet)
          Bitters, Old Men Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (love this one, use it in a drink with fresh squeezed blood orange juice, whiskey, and maraschino)
          Bitters, Old Men Bangkok Bigtop (Thai Peanut flavor, haven't used yet)
          Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Boker's Bitters (for Martinez)
          Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged (haven't used)
          Fee Brothers Rhubarb (works in drinks with fruit shrubs or with Pisco)
          Fee Brothers Peach (works in drinks with fruit shrubs or with Pisco)
          Cocktail Kingdom Coffee (new purchase, haven't used yet)
          El Guapo Gumbo Bitters (new purchase, haven't used yet)

          2 Replies
          1. re: bg90027

            You win the award for most unusual collection. That is a really fun list you've got there!

            Maybe my biggest surprise in your list is that you haven't used Fee WBA yet. It is cinnamon and fairly bitter; goes where Angostura goes.

            I really need to get some Burlesque based on your comments.

            And you should try to get some Angostura orange. It is a pure orange flavor -- very useful when you don't want the complexity of Regans'. Powerful though; can easily dominate.

            1. re: EvergreenDan

              You're right I really should try those WBA Bitters. I'd blame my failure on two things: (1) I am most likely to use bitters that I bought for their unique flavor profiles or to use to make a specific drink. I bought these for neither reason, more because of generally hearing good things about them. (2) perhaps more importantly they ended up hidden behind a ton of other bottles. Out of sight and out of mind...

              The one bottle I forgot to mention was a recent purchase of Bittercube's Door County Hops Bitters made with chinook and cascade hops. I experimented a little with them last night trying to mirror the flavor profile of an IPA with St. George's Mt. Tam Gin, Zirbenz Stone Pine liquor, a barspoon of Kummel and some fresh lemon juice, orange juice and grapefruit shrub and a couple of drops of the burlesque bitters (for a touch of floral). The drink wasn't bad and I think the bitters went well with those sorts of flavors. I probably had a little too much going on with so many ingredients. I might try leaving out the oj and subbing a rye or wheater bourbon for the gin and playing a little with the ratios.

          2. A great resource for both buying and sampling bitters is The Boston Shaker in Davis Sq, Somerville, MA (outside of Boston). Definitely worth a trip if you're within driving distance, and they mail order too.

            They have a big area with open samplers, little cups, and seltzer water. Nice folks, too. Sampling is really helpful in avoiding a bunch of duds (of which I have a few).


            1 Reply
            1. re: EvergreenDan

              Good call on Boston Shaker, Dan.

              For those on the other coast, the Napa Valley Distillery Vintage Bar Shop in Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa has a bitters tasting bar with some 200 labels available to try.

            2. I have to give a shoutout to Cocktail Kingdom Wormwood Bitters - unique and the bitterest of bitters - works really well in a genever, meletti, px sherry cocktail I learned from Colin at Franklin Mortgage in Philadelphia - it really pulls the whole drink together - wish I could remember its name...also a big fan of Fees rhubarb in a Manhattan with 50% of the vermouth replaced by Zucca and finally, Bittermens Tiki bitters - they enhance most tiki drinks.

                1. re: EvergreenDan

                  Even though I'd be mentally willing to try eating insects, my gut reaction is a simple and very straightforward "ew."