Bitterholics Anonymous

March 2nd, 2008

They say admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, so I’m just going to say it…

My name is Jay Hepburn and I am a bitterholic.

As my interest and knowledge in cocktails has expanded so my bitters collection has followed, and I now have a collection of nearly twenty bottles, ranging from the ubiquitous Angostura Aromatic bitters to the rare Hermes orange bitters and even a few of my own attempts. I just can’t get enough of them, and I can’t really explain why. One bottle of aromatic bitters and one bottle of orange bitters would be perfectly adequate to make most of the cocktails I drink, but nonetheless every time I see a new bitters I can’t resist trying to get my hands on it.

Collection of bitters bottles

The world of bitters has been transformed over the last decade, with the arrival of a huge number of products that helped reverse the rapid decline that set in during the middle of the twentieth century. Now that the commonly called for aromatic bitters and orange bitters are pretty well catered for, we seem to be moving in to a second phase in the resurgence of bitters with companies starting to produce both more unusual bitters from the past, as well as entirely new flavours.

A perfect example of the later is Bittermens bitters, whose creators Avery and Janet Glasser have crafted products based on chocolate, nuts and tiki drinks which open up a wealth of possibility to modern bartenders. The more esoteric classic bitters are also making a comeback though. Fee Brothers’ range of grapefruit, lemon and mint bitters have been available for some time now, and The Bitter Truth, who already produce an excellent set of aromatic, orange and lemon bitters, have been working on two new bottles – Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters and, drum-roll please, Celery Bitters.

When I caught whiff of these products courtesy of Christian I immediately got in touch with Stephan Berg to find out when they were going to become available, but true to previous generosity he went one step further and sent me some to try for myself. Consider me very much off the wagon…

The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters

The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters

Celery bitters were produced in the nineteenth century by several different companies, and are occasionally cited in older recipe books, but the decline of bitters in the twentieth century sealed their fate and celery bitters were no more. This new bottling from The Bitter Truth marks the first time in many decades celery bitters have been produced, making their appearance a rather exciting prospect.

At a hefty 45% alcohol, The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters have a fiery kick to them which is pretty overwhelming when tasted alone. Behind the fire, there is a strong taste of celery seeds, along with a citrus bite and some spice. There is a long finish of celery seeds as well as a moderate amount of bitterness. They taste quite unlike any other bitters I have tried, and have a real complexity which suggests to me they will be a very useful ingredient in many cocktails.

Even when bitters were in their heyday celery bitters were fairly obscure, so to say it’s difficult finding recipes that call for them is something of an understatement. Indeed the only recipe I could find, the Celery Sour, called for just one teaspoon each of celery bitters, lemon juice and pineapple syrup. Not being particularly enthralled by that idea, I instead decided to try the celery bitters in a Dry Martini.

I mixed up the Martini using my standard brands of Plymouth and Noilly Prat, at a ratio of about 3:1, along with two dashes of the celery bitters. The resulting drink was absolutely delicious – one of the best Martinis I’ve ever had. The celery bitters added an almost citrus like zing which rendered the lemon twist I usually add completely unnecessary. They helped the gin and vermouth blend together perfectly, and added an extra flavour dimension to the drink I had never experienced before. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

I’m looking forward to trying celery bitters in other cocktails, and can’t wait until they get in to the hands of mixologists and we start seeing some new recipes. Based on the Martini I tried, I think these bitters have a huge amount of promise. The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters will be released in the next few months – keep an eye on their website and order some as soon as you can!

Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters

The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters

Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters are a limited edition tribute to Jerry Thomas based on the recipe he provided in The Bartenders Guide. Originally produced by Stephan in a very small batch last year, their popularity with the people that tried them persuaded him to make a larger batch. Just 202 bottles have been produced, all of which have unfortunately sold out.

The bitters have a bright, mildly sweet initial taste. There are hints of raisin, clove and citrus, and the finish reveals some bitterness. They are less intense than The Bitter Truth’s own aromatic bitters, but the taste profile provides some interesting flavours not found in any other aromatic bitters I have tried. They worked well in a Manhattan, though a relatively large dose was required to stand up to the spiciness of the rye. In an Old Fashioned they worked even better, blending really well with the Bourbon and adding plenty of extra depth.

Although there are no plans to make this a regular product in The Bitter Truth’s line-up, Stephan tells me there is a chance another batch will be produced within the next few months. Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters are a useful addition to the aromatic bitters family, and interesting from a historical standpoint given their origin. A fitting tribute to the godfather of mixed drinks.

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Posted in Aromatic Bitters, Celery Bitters, Recipes

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29 responses to “Bitterholics Anonymous”

  1. Ouroboros Ouroboros says:

    I’m so bitter! I mean, I’m so jealous!

    I’ve tried to make a celery bitters, but having no experience of the stuff to go on, I produced something interesting but not compelling. I can’t wait to get some of those into my liquor cabinet.

  2. Marleigh Marleigh says:

    Oh. Oh my. Color me a bright shade of envy. That’s quite a collection, and celery bitters sound amazing!

  3. Gonçalo Gonçalo says:

    The Celery Bitters are worth quite some consideration. Gibson and Red Snapper cry for depth. First experiences were Martinesque, though:

    4-6 parts Tanqueray
    1 part cucumbered* Noilly Prat Dry
    1 dash ROBitters
    3 dashes TBT Celery Bitters

    Stirred and strained into chilled Cocktailglass. Lemon Twist, no Drop.

    * about 3 fingers of cucumber. then skinned. just the dark green part, muddeld. noilly prat to wash the stick. rested for 4-6 minutes. double-strained into the above mixture.

    Cheers, Gonçalo.

  4. Doug Winship Doug Winship says:


    I know what you mean. I buy every darn new bottle of bitters I come across, and seldom use any of them more than once or twice, save for my trusty Angostura.

    The only one I use with any regularity is Fee’s Mint Bitters. A few dashes of that really dresses up a Stinger quite nicely.

  5. Ouroboros Ouroboros says:

    I’ve had the Fee’s Mint Bitters in a Mojito, it was great, but I thought “why buy a bottle for just one drink”. But the Stinger, and the Good Night Irene, that makes three. I’m getting one the next time I see it.

  6. Jay Jay says:

    You know what, I’ve just realised I don’t have a bottle of the mint bitters! This is terrible… a trip to Gerry’s is in order tomorrow.

    Gonçalo – the cucumbered vermouth sounds interesting, I will definitely be giving that a go.

  7. Mycle Mycle says:

    I thought *I* was a bitters fanatic. I’m quite envious of Jay’s collection. Sometimes, I’ll decide I’m in the mood for bitters and will choose a drink that specifically calls for it. Or just add it to whatever I’m making anyway!

  8. Jay Jay says:

    Mycle – I regularly choose my bitters before my cocktail. Similarly I often choose something like an Old Fashioned, only to be stuck trying to decide which combination of bitters to choose. It’s a tough life eh?

  9. Mycle Mycle says:

    One thing I like about The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book is that for all of the cocktail recipes, the bitters are listed first, which makes it easy to choose a cocktail by the type of bitters you’re in the mood for.

  10. The Pegu Blog says:

    [...] an obscene collection of bitters someone had amassed. Took my a while, but I found it. Who owns it? Guess. Jay needs a hobby. Apparently, he already has [...]

  11. Brett Mason Brett Mason says:

    would like to buy celery bitters is there an outlet near to leicester

  12. Jay Jay says:

    Brett, the celery bitters are not currently available to buy, but The Bitter Truth will be releasing them in the next few months hopefully. When they are, you can order them from their website – delivery to the UK is normally pretty quick. The only UK shop I know of that stocks The Bitter Truth is Gerry’s on Old Compton Street, London. I don’t know whether they will stock the celery bitters when they are launched though…

  13. Tiare Tiare says:

    I`m also awaiting those celery bitters…not to mention some of the Bittermens bitters..

    In the mean time i`ve made myself some grapefruit bitters.

  14. Walt Walt says:

    I haven’t had positive experiences with bitters. I’ll not hesitate to keep trying. Does anyone know a good source in the USA? I doubt I’ll run into Jay on his trip.

  15. Jay Jay says:

    Walt, what have been your bad experiences? If you want to pick up anything beyond Angostura Aromatic bitters and you can’t find a local store that sells them I’d recommend checking out my Amazon store. Most of the better bottles are available there. If you want The Bitter Truth bitters you can order them direct, but you will have to pay quite a bit in shipping.

  16. Ellen Fee Ellen Fee says:

    Thanks for all the positive comments about Fee Brothers Bitters. Are you ready for my newest creation? Rhubarb Bitters! We are really curious to know how you will use it.

  17. Mycle Mycle says:

    Nice to see someone from Fee Bros. posting here. I’d like to take to opportunity to say how much I like Fee’s Old Fashioned Bitters. I ordered it on a whim not knowing what to expect, but I find myself reaching for it quite often. It just has a wonderful flavor.

    Ellen, is the Old Fashioned Bitters intended to emulate the defunct Boker’s Bitters, or is entirely original? I’ve seen cocktail writers suggest using it in old recipes where Boker’s was called for.

  18. Ellen Fee Ellen Fee says:

    I never really knew the answer before. So I just had a chat with my 86 year old father, John Fee III “Jack”. He had never worked for Fee Brothers before his Dad died in 1951. What he found in the lab were a series of test batches with notes scribbled down. Some of them in code. My Dad did his best to decipher what my Grandfather had left behind. Many good recipes were lost because of this secret code. However, the Old Fashion Bitters is one of the recipes that survived. We believe he developed it in the late 1940’s. As to what he was trying to do…who knows. Jack said that his Dad only had a high school education, but a fascination with experimenting, and a great set of taste buds.

  19. Mycle Mycle says:

    Ellen, that’s a fascinating story. Thank you for sharing it. Whatever the Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters (finally got the name exactly right) was intended to be, it’s a great formula. I’m currently awaiting an order from Kegworks that will include Fee’s Lemon Bitters, Grapefruit Bitters, and another bottle of Old Fashion Bitters (the first time I ordered directly from Fee Bros, I ordered an abundant supply of Orange Bitters, but just the one small bottle of Old Fashion, now I’m afraid of running out of it!). BTW, I noticed that Kegworks already has your Rhubarb Bitters available.

  20. Jay Jay says:

    Ellen, the rhubarb bitters sound very interesting. I heard a lot about them at Tales of the Cocktail but sadly managed to miss meeting Joe, so didn’t manage to try any myself. If you fancy sending me some, feel free… ;-)

    Great info on the Old Fashioned bitters, are they the same recipe as the barrel-aged bitters? I *love* the barrel-aged ones, looking forward to picking up some of the 2008 batch when I can.

  21. Chris Chris says:

    I am currently recovering from an amazing night at the Bramble Bar in Edinburgh during which I sampled a decent proportion of their cocktail menu. The standout drink of the evening (and ALL of them were excellent, by the way) was the Celery Sour. An absolute sublime, complex, delicate flavour that has to be tried to be believed.

    (And if you can get to Edinburgh, or live nearby, the Bramble is a cocktail connosieur’s paradise. Over the course of a busy Saturday evening every drink was turned out with care and precision and looked as good as the web site photos!)

  22. Jay Jay says:

    Chris – I had the pleasure of chatting to Jason of Bramble at the Class Bar Awards a few months ago. I’ve heard lots of good things about Bramble (and not just from him ;) ) and I’m looking forward to hopefully making it up to Edinburgh at some point this summer.

  23. gethin gethin says:

    I see that Gerry’s now have the Fee’s Rhubarb bitters. Has anyone been using them ?


  24. Jay Jay says:

    Gethin – I’ve not been to Gerry’s for a while, didn’t realise they had these in. Our american friends have been doing some interesting things with them, so I’m looking forward to picking up a bottle to see what they are like.

  25. oog oog says:

    Celery bitters, on their own, tasted strikingly like Fruit Loops.

  26. Lewis Lewis says:

    Good article, thanks man.

    Currently drinking a White Lady with the Jerry Thomas bitters in as we speak…:D it is pretty awesome. Amazing how much difference just a few (but more than two dashes…I really do think double that is the best number) drops can make. I’ve been experimenting with the same cocktail side-by-side using different bitters, and so far I can safely say the JT stuff is one of the best, followed by Fees Bros Grapefruit bitters. Their Curacao Orange bitters are also fantastic, and I look forward to trying all the others everyone here has raved about ;) celery must be next on the list!

  27. Jay Jay says:

    Lewis – I would try to get hold of the Bittermens/Bitter Truth Grapefruit bitters if you like the Fee Bros, they are a bit different but work great in cocktails. Much deeper, more bitter flavour.

  28. Heaven’s Dog – Part I | Oh Gosh! TV says:

    [...] Join Jackie Patterson at Heaven’s Dog in San Francisco and enjoy one of her original creations, the Fleet Street. Based on the classic Champs-Élysées cocktail, it replaces Cognac with gin and makes great use of The Bitter Truth Celery bitters. [...]

  29. Suzanne Suzanne says:

    I have another recipe that calls for celery bitters.

    It was just published today in the Food section of the Washington Post.



    2 ounces aquavit
    2 ounces tomato juice
    1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
    2 dashes celery bitters
    Pinch fine sea salt
    Pinch freshly ground black pepper
    Pinch cayenne pepper
    Twist of lemon peel, for garnish


    Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the aquavit, tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, celery bitters, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Shake well for at least 30 seconds, then strain into an ice-filled highball glass.

    Garnish with the twist of lemon peel.


    Recipe Source:
    From “Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits,” by Jason Wilson (Ten Speed Press, 2010).

    [Tested by Michael Taylor for The Washington Post.
    E-mail the Food Section with recipe questions.]

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