Aromatic Bitters

September 28th, 2007

At long last, almost two months late, the follow-up to my orange bitters comparison. Better late than never no? This time around it’s Aromatic bitters, a category dominated by Angostura bitters. However, there is no shortage of other aromatic bitters, so how do these stand up to the ubiquitous Angostura? Those of you unfamiliar with bitters might like to read my introduction to bitters before reading any further…

Selection of aromatic bitters bottles

In the following comparison I will be testing the classic Angostura bitters against Fee Brothers Old Fashion Aromatic bitters, Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters, The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic bitters and Peychaud’s bitters. Unfortunately although I tried to get hold of some Hermes Aromatic bitters at the time of this comparison I was unable to. I have since been able to get hold of some, and have reviewed them along separately with Hermes Orange bitters.

Each bitters was sampled both in a little water, and in both a Manhattan and Old Fashioned cocktail. The Manhattan was a basic 2:1 ratio with Rittenhouse Bonded rye and Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth. The Old Fashioned was made using Woodford Reserve Bourbon to my preferred recipe. Like the previous orange bitters review they were all tasted side-by-side, along with unbittered cocktails to act as a reference point, in an effort to ensure fairness and accuracy.


Angostura bitters bottle

The classic bitters that have been around since 1824, when a German doctor invented them as an aid to stomach upsets. Angostura bitters are the one type of bitters you have a good chance of finding at a bar, although sadly there is an equally good chance dust covers the bottle and no one knows what to do with them. They’re also readily available in shops and are called for, by name, in a good many older cocktail recipes.

Angostura has quite a sweet taste that is only slightly bitter, with an interesting mix of flavours that are hard to exactly pinpoint. They worked excellently in both cocktails, making it clear why they are the one bitters that have lasted all this time and managed to maintain good availability.

Angostura bitters can be found at most good off-licenses, many larger supermarkets, and online at Amazon.

Fee Brothers Old Fashion Aromatic

Fee Brothers Old Fashion Aromatic bitters bottle

Fee’s attempt at aromatic bitters is a bit less spicy than the Angostura, but has a lovely aromatic taste with hints of cinnamon and an interesting citrus note that suggests orange zest to me. It has a considerable bitter finish, much more prominent than that of the Angostura.

They worked well in the Old Fashioned, but seemed to lack a certain kick that the Angostura provides. In the Manhattan, they worked wonderfully with the already spicy Rye to produce a drink markedly better than the Angostura Manhattan.

Fee Brothers Old Fashion Aromatic bitters can be found in better off-licenses and online at Amazon.

Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged

Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters bottle

Released just this year, these are a limited edition bitters which are bottled every spring. Fee Brothers take their Old Fashion Aromatic bitters and age them for a number of months in oak barrels previously used to age Jack Daniels. The aging process has smoothed these bitters, making the flavours meld together with a more consistent flavour. It has a less pronounced citrus taste, and the bitterness is a little more subtle.

In both cocktails the Whiskey-Aged bitters seemed to do a better job at blending the ingredients together. In fact overall I would say they did everything right the plain Old Fashion bitters did, but just a little bit better. The Old Fashion bitters are by no means bad, but the Whiskey-Aged bitters are a definite step up and well worth the slight premium they cost.

Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters can be found in better off-licenses and online at Amazon.

The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic

The Bitter Truth Aromatic bitters bottle

The Bitter Truth is a new company on the bitters scene, established last year by Stephen Berg and Alexander Hauck, two German gentlemen who take classic cocktails very seriously, and have what might just be the largest collection of classic cocktail books I’ve ever seen.

The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic bitters had a very different taste to the Fee and Angostura bitters, with a much drier flavour and a nice subtle, but definite, bitterness. They worked well against the sweetness of the Old Fashioned to create a different take on the classic drink, and similarly in the Manhattan they produced a different, but wonderful cocktail.

The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic bitters can be ordered directly from Germany.


Peychaud's bitters bottle

Peychaud’s bitters were created in the 1830s by Antoine Amedee Peychaud, a Haitian immigrant who settled in New Orleans and took up work as an apothecary. They are the sweetest of the bitters tried here today, bright red in colour and with a licorice flavour to them.

They worked surprisingly well in the Old Fashioned and Manhattan, creating a noticeably different overall flavour that was still enjoyable. However, Peychaud’s bitters are best sampled in the Sazerac cocktail.

Peychaud’s bitters can be found in better off-licenses and online at Amazon.

Every one of these bitters had a very different effect on the cocktails I tried them in, and choosing a favourite is difficult, if not impossible. Ultimately it is up to your own taste, and I know that personally I like to vary the bitters I used in the drink, sometimes preferring a classic Manhattan with Angostura bitters, other times fancying a bit of a change so using The Bitter Truth bitters instead.

From experience, I would say the Angostura is the most versatile, working the best in the most number of other cocktails. Therefore, if you’re currently bitter-less (god forbid) then the Angostura bitters are probably the first you’ll want to pick up. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, then either the Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged or The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic bitters will give you some interesting variations on the drinks you are used to with Angostura.

After tasting 10 different types of bitters over two different comparisons you’d have thought I might be sick of bitters by now, but if anything my interest in them has grown even more. It still amazes me that just a few drops of bitters can have such a big impact on the overall taste of a cocktail. So now I’ve tried all the brands available to buy, where now? I think it’s time to start experimenting with home-made recipes! (To be continued…)

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Posted in Aromatic Bitters, Reviews

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11 responses to “Aromatic Bitters”

  1. Phil Phil says:

    The whiskey barrel aged Fee’s are my favorite. The regular Fee’s ones are just an imitation of Angostura, but the aged ones just have the most amazing flavors. I’ve found they pair perfectly with berries, so you can give an extra dimension to what would normally be considered an unsophisticated fruity drink.

  2. Jay Jay says:

    The combination of the barrel-aged bitters and a fruity cocktail sounds very interesting Phil – do you have any cocktail you’d particularly recommend?

  3. niels niels says:

    I’ve found two German bitters called Hemmeter, an angostura bitter that’s very differet from the dr. siebert one, and an orange bitter. Would you know anything about those?

  4. Jay Jay says:

    niels – I’ve not heard of Hemmeter bitters before, but a quick Google with my limited knowledge of German seems to suggest they are linked to Riemerschmid bitters. Christian’s review of Riemerschmid orange bitters is less than favourable…

  5. Matt Matt says:

    Great Article! I love the Fee Brothers original. Try this recipe for a Manhattan! It certainly takes some liberties but it’s delicious.

    2 oz. Makers Mark bourbon
    1 oz. sweet vermouth
    1 oz. Tuaca
    3 dashes Fee Brothers aromatic bitters
    pour over ice, add 3-4oz. of coca cola and a cherry.

    The cinnamon notes from the bitters is brilliant!

  6. Lisa Lisa says:

    Great post. I’ve always loved Angostura bitters, but is that because it was the only bitters I ever tried prior to last year?! To date I’ve also now tried Peychaud’s, which I didn’t like nearly as well (but I need to experiment with it more). I’d love to try the whiskey-barrel-aged bitters; must look for those.

    And speaking of bitters and Manhattans: Recently I had a Manhattan made with Templeton Rye at a local restaurant, and then I subsequently bought a bottle of Templeton to play with at home. It’s made in the U.S. by a small outfit in the state of Iowa and is based on a recipe from the Prohibition era. I liked its rather spicy character. Not sure what availability outside the U.S. is. (I am not associated with the company in any way! Just mentioning out of general interest.)

  7. Matt Matt says:

    Thanks for the comment Lisa. i’ll try the Templeton asap.
    I had a great bourbon over the holidays as well! It’s called black maple hill and it was outstanding! It was almost to good to mix with but i tried it with coke after enjoying it on the rocks and it was fantastic!


  8. Jay Jay says:

    Black Maple Hill produce some superb Bourbons and ryes. The 23 year old rye is one of my absolute favourite spirits, though sadly it is awfully difficult to get hold of.

  9. The Bitter Truth… « Boredom Breeds Beauty says:

    [...] reading here and here. Posted by boredombreedsbeauty Filed in Bartending Leave a Comment [...]

  10. Graham Graham says:

    Has anyone tried the newly revived Boker’s bitters?

  11. Jay Jay says:

    Graham – I will be reviewing Adam Elmegirab’s Boker’s Bitters
    as well as a version from Bob’s Bitters in a future post, probably next week.

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