Orange Bitters

August 11th, 2007

Orange bitters were once the most popular type of bitters used in cocktails. Look at any pre-prohibition cocktail book and the recipes will be littered with references to this type of bitter, which has unfortunately fallen on harder times. These days, of the few people that know about bitters, most will only have heard of Angostura Aromatic bitters – orange bitters are unknown to most.

Selection of orange bitters bottles

However, Angostura are hopefully about to help change that with their recently launched orange bitters, which they hope to have stocked everywhere the regular Angostura bitters are. They aren’t the only orange bitters on the block though. Fee Brother’s have been making their own orange bitters since the nineteenth century, and the past few years has seen other new arrivals from The Bitter Truth, a German company ran by two bitters fanatics, and a bottling by the one and only Mr Gary Regan.

So how do they all shape up? In the following comparisson I will be testing Fee Brothers West Indian Orange bitters, The Bitter Truth Orange bitters, Regan’s No. 6 Orange bitters, Angostura Orange bitters and Stirrings Blood Orange bitters. Unfortunately although I tried to get hold of some Hermes Orange 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 separately along with Hermes Aromatic bitters.

With each bitters I sampled them both in a little water, and in a Martini. The Martini was a standard 3:1 Dry Martini with Plymouth gin and Noily Prat vermouth, with 2 dashes of the relevant bitters. They were all sampled side-by-side, along with a non-bittered Martini for reference (try explaining to your boyfriend why you have 6 Martinis lined up in front of you!), in an effort to ensure fairness and accuracy. First up, Fee Brothers…

Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters

Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters

These Fee Brothers bitters were the first orange bitters I ever brought. They have a sweet, slightly orangey scent, and in water they had an artificial, chemically taste to them. In the Martini they did little to help bring the flavours together, although they did provide a slightly sweet orangey hint. A definite improvement over the non-bittered Martini, but still not as smooth as I’d like it.

Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters can be found in better off-licenses and ordered online at Amazon.

Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6

Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6

The Regans bitters have a smell that reminds me of freshly broken orange zest. They are much less sweet than the Fee Brothers and have a slight spice and an orangey hint. Added to a Martini they really seemed to bring the ingredients together, taking the bite out of the gin whilst still allowing its flavour through. More subtle than Angostura or Bitter Truth, but more complex than the Fee Brothers.

Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6 can be found in better off-licenses and ordered online at Amazon.

Angostura Orange Bitters

Angostura Orange Bitters

Angostura Orange bitters have a strong orangey smell to them, and in water that continued through with a strong, quite natural orangey taste, and a slight spice. Although the spice wasn’t overly strong they still had a definite complexity over the Regans. In a Martini it mixed together well, providing a (relatively) strong orange note, along with some spice.

Angostura Orange bitters can be found in better off-licenses and ordered online at Amazon.

The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters

The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters

Like the Angostura Orange bitters these have a good complex taste to them. The smell is quite a bitter, orange zesty flavour, and they are probably the spiciest of all the bitters I sampled. They provide a real complexity to the Martini, though if not used judiciously they could easily overpower the drink. Possibly the least orange tasting of all the bitters, though there is a citrus bite to them which ensures there is no mistaking it is an orange bitters.

The Bitter Truth bitters can be ordered directly from Germany.

Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters

Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters

The Blood Orange bitters from Stirrings are a bit different to the others, being non-alcoholic. This lack of alcohol presents a much softer tasting product which doesn’t really embody the characteristics all the other bitters share. When using just a few drops the Stirrings bitters just get lost, both in the water and the Martini. It is perhaps not fair to judge these with the other bitters as they are so different. I know from experience a bar-spoons worth of these in a Cosmopolitan work quite well. But in this test I’m afraid they failed miserably.

Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters can be found in better off-licenses and ordered online at Amazon.

Upon embarking on this test I wondered whether I would be able to spot the difference a few drops of bitters makes to the many Martinis I tried, but even to my neophyte tongue the difference was surprisingly apparent. For me the Regans and Angostura bitters were the real winners, each providing a different, but interesting, taste to the Martini, without overwhelming it. The Bitter Truth bitters were also impressive though I feel they might work better in more aromatic drinks – I would love to see what they do in an Old Fashioned and will be trying that combination very soon.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Fee Brothers bitters, which didn’t really stand up very well to the Angostura, Regans and Bitter Truth bitters. That said, I know them to work well in sweeter drinks that need that balance bitters can provide. As for the Stirrings, they really aren’t the same product as the rest of these. Something to experiment with perhaps, but not one to use in standard recipes that call for orange bitters. Just be careful, as being non-alcoholic they’ll probably not last all that long unless you keep them in the fridge.

Overall none of these are bad bitters, but I suppose like many ingredient choices when making cocktails it all comes down to your own specific tastes. If you’ve never used orange bitters before, I’d recommend ordering a bottle of the Angostura Orange bitters, or alternatively Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6. Both of these are fine bitters and probably the most versatile of the ones I have tested here.

Now you know all about orange bitters, check out my review of aromatic bitters where I compare Fee Brothers Old Time Aromatic bitters, Fee Brothers Whisky Barrel-Aged bitters, Angostura Aromatic bitters, Peychaud’s bitters and The Bitter Truth Aromatic bitters.

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Posted in Orange Bitters, Reviews

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33 responses to “Orange Bitters”

  1. Gabriel Gabriel says:

    Fantastic post, Jay! Thanks for the run-down. The only orange bitters I’ve tried are the Regan’s and I completely agree with your assessment.

    I was thinking about reaching out for some Fee Brothers orange bitters but think I’ll wait until the Angostura become available here.

    Has anyone tried Collins orange bitters? I know their products are typically sub-par and taste cheaply produced but I was wondering how they stood up as well.

    Thanks again, fine work!

  2. Camper English Camper English says:

    If you keep doing great work like this, you’re going to put us drink journalists out of a job. Can’t you be a little more amateur? I’m only asking for more misspellings and grammatical errors. Is that too much to ask?

  3. Jay Jay says:

    Gabriel – I wouldn’t let my summary of the Fee Brother’s bitters put you off getting some. They may not be as suited to Martinis as some of the others, but they certainly have their use in other cocktails that don’t need the spice that the others provide. As for Collins, never heard of them I’m afraid!

    Camper – I will try to turn spell-check off once in a while, just for you! ;)

  4. Scotttos Scotttos says:

    This is tremendous. Can’t wait for the aromatic rundown.

  5. Giselle Giselle says:

    Hey Jay, i have to admit, the Angostura orange bitters bottle is much more appealing than the others and it appears to have the same quality of the original Angostura bitters. I bet people will reach for it at the supermarket to try. It will look great in a bar too.

    As a cocktial beginner, i will try all though and let you know how i feel. Your tips are great.

  6. Jay Jay says:

    The Angostura bottle is a looker, but I quite like the Regan and Bitter Truth bottles too. It’s definitely a good quality orange bitters, and if it does become as widely carried as regular Angostura bitters are I think it will do a lot for orange bitters as a whole.

    However, it’s been available for several months now here in the UK, and I’ve yet to see it anywhere but specialist shops. We shall see I suppose.

    I would love to hear what you think about the different bitters Giselle, make sure you keep us updated!

  7. Dinah Sanders Dinah Sanders says:

    Jay, really, an explanation of why you have six martinis in front of you? You need look no further than The Thin Man. ;)

    Go to the five minute mark in this clip:

    My much less thorough or scientific bitters summary for a friend is here:

  8. Jay Jay says:

    Haha – brilliant Dinah!

  9. Charlie Charlie says:

    The Angostura Orange bitters are definitely worth a shot. I have always enjoyed Regan’s #6 but Angostura didn’t disappoint . Their newest product just might be their best. The orange bitters just became available in the US this week, you can find them here.

  10. Jay Jay says:

    Charlie, thanks for the heads up about Angostura Orange bitters, it’s good to see they are finally available. However, if you do wish to purchase the bitters online I would ask you use this link which earns me a small commission and helps keep the site going. Cheers.

  11. Welcome to My Life… « A Mixed Dram says:

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  12. Ronald Ronald says:

    Thanks for the side-by-side testing. I’ve got the Fee Brothers and the Stirrings Blood Orange bitters. I was trying to figure out which drinks might best incorporate them. The Stirrings bottle is quite large… guess I’ll use it in some Cosmopolitans. I’ve used the Fee Brothers in an extra-dry martini with Bombay Sapphire and just a splash of vermouth – it seems to mellow the gin a bit. Sounds like the Regan’s is one that we fans of extra-dry martinis need to try.

  13. Jay Jay says:

    Ronald – Regan’s make a very fine Martini, yes. The Bitter Truth are definitely worth seeking out too if you can find them.

  14. Mycle Mycle says:

    I’m trying to figure out why the Angostura Orange bitters are so darned expensive. I bought a bottle, of course, but I intend to make it last. At 9.5 cents per ml, it costs about as much as a bottle of Lagavulin 16yr Scotch!

  15. Charles Dougherty Charles Dougherty says:

    I don’t think my original response lot through but I tried most of the bitters and was hoping to like the Angustora orange bitters introduced to the USA withing the last few months. I’m afraid I found other bitters better lol. If you are looking to add orange flavor to a drink I think Fees orange bitters does it better. If you want to smooth out a martini I think Regans No. 6 does that better. So there you have it except that my testing were done with Plymouth Gin and Martini and Rossi dry vermouth.

  16. Ronald Ronald says:

    Jay, Do you know of any place to get the Bitter Truth bitters in the US? I see on their website that shipping alone from Germany is 13 Euros for two bottles… ouch! That’s something like $20…

  17. Jay Jay says:

    Ronald, I know LeNell’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn carries them – not aware of anywhere else though, they’re not actually distributed in the States. At least not currently.

  18. Ronald Ronald says:

    I just received a bottle each of the Bitter Truth and Regan’s bitters, ordered over the phone from LeNell’s. Thanks for the info! Tried them side-by-side last night with my standard (Bombay Sapphire with Noilly Prat), extra-dry (10-1) martini. The Bitter Truth came out better, here. I ended-up adding a few extra splashes of the Regan’s in order to get some of the flavors to come through – it seemed to get lost in the gin’s botanicals. I can see different bitters working differently with different gins… that’ll be a future experiment…

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  20. Jay Jay says:

    Ronald – glad you managed to get your hands on those bitters. Different brands definitely work better with different gins, though sometimes it’s nice to swap them out just for a change. The Bitter Truth orange bitters are very aromatic and spicy, so definitely stand up better to strong flavours. The Regan bitters do have a lovely way of bringing everything together and smoothing flavours together though, particularly with something like Plymouth gin. Don’t be afraid to mix them up either, using two different brands in a drink can yield some interesting results!

  21. Ronald Ronald says:

    Jay – good point about mixing them; I’ll give that a try one of these days. Interesting that you should mention that, because one of my current pet projects is creating “ultra” martinis using two or more different gins (such as Bombay Sapphire with Citadelle), or two or more vodkas (Ketel One, for instance, has a different enough flavor profile to add a little something to, say, a Russian Standard vodka martini). It’s all a bit hardcore, I know…

  22. J dub J dub says:

    I have Fee Brothers myself. But the folks at Anvil in Houston (great bar for cocktail-purists) do also have Bitter Truth available – which they told me was quite pricey. Fee is the only one I can find at any liquor stores. Their Peach bitters was often found at Spec’s (Texas chain), but otherwise their Orange bitters gets sold out quick. Wish more people appreciated this superior bitters.

  23. Joe L Joe L says:

    Jay, any chance you created a cocktail to work with the Stirrings Blood orange? I bought a bottle today just to try it. As you stated it didnt hold a candle to the gin in my martini. Will try upping the proportions but I think it is better suited to sweeter rum or vodka drinks, perhaps with soda.

  24. Jay Jay says:

    Joe, to be honest I’ve not found much they work very well in. The best use for them is to make Jamie Boudreau’s Amer Picon replica, Amer Boudreau.

  25. Dinah Dinah says:

    Agreed. If I need to go sweet, Fee’s takes me far enough that way with much more complexity.

    Use ‘em up making Italian sodas with a splash in fizzy water.

  26. Joe L Joe L says:

    Thanks Jay, will give it a try.
    Thanks Dinah, I have been using it in fizzy drinks using orange and lime flavored Talking Rain water and vodka or Gin. Mixing it up to see what works. Adding orange juice for a little extra sweetness. Nothing exciting.

  27. Jenga Jenga says:

    I know this is an old post, but I wanted to pop in and say how much I enjoyed the overview. I found this after being disappointed with the sweetsy Fee’s and wondering what to buy as a replacement. I should have guessed that Angostura was the way to go — tried and true. Cheers!

  28. Watts Watts says:

    Interesting overview — I’ve been slowly building up a small bitters collection and have both the Regan’s and the Fee’s for orange bitters (so far I haven’t seen the Angostura orange, which surprises me). While I generally reach for the Regan’s, I used the Fee’s the other day in an Old Fashioned that I otherwise made similarly to yours (orange zest, but no fruit muddling!) — two dashes of Angostura and one dash of the Fee’s. I thought it actually worked pretty well; Fee’s is very bright and orangey, and intensified the “orange zest” notes in the drink.

  29. Giselle Laronde-West Giselle Laronde-West says:

    The Angostura Orange bitters is really excellent and definitely one to try in the Old Fashioned. It doesn’t offer the colour as the liquid is white, but the smell and taste of orange is unbelievable. Just one dash is all you will need.

  30. Graham Graham says:

    I have yet to find any orange bitters in a UK shop.
    Looking at the web I found Hoppe’s orange bitters.
    Before I start mail-ordering a brand, has anyone tried these?

  31. Jay Jay says:

    Graham – I’d steer clear of Hoppe. The Bitter Truth, Regan’s and Angostura are all good orange bitters to try. All can be purchased from UK online shops The Whisky Exchange or TheDrinkShop.

  32. Vince Vince says:

    Did you ever hear of a Rolls Royce Cocktail?
    Or Parson Goes to the Wedding?

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