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.
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
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
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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