December 5th marks the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. The “noble experiment” had a far reaching and highly damaging impact on the world of the cocktail, causing many brands to fold, and forcing certain spirits in to obscurity for the rest of the twentieth century. Arguably one of the biggest casualties of those thirteen dry years were cocktail bitters, the strange elixirs that have such a powerful effect on a drink despite a contribution usually measured in mere drops or dashes.
Once a thriving category, Prohibition dealt a devastating blow to bitters and for the remaining years of the twentieth century they all but disappeared save for the famous Angostura and Peychaud bitters. Thankfully over the past decade the fortunes of bitters have reversed, thanks to the hard work of dedicated cocktailians and companies like Fee Brothers and Buffalo Trace, and the category is now probably healthier than it has been since prior to 1920.
One of the foremost companies in this revival is The Bitter Truth, a Germany company ran by Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck. Bartenders and bitters lovers, they started out in 2006 at first producing aromatic, orange and lemon bitters plus an orange flower water. Earlier this year that line-up expanded to include Jerry Thomas’ Decanter Bitters and the highly unusual Celery Bitters. To commemorate the repeal of Prohibition they have released an early Christmas treat for all cocktailians in the form of The Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters.
The Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters
Departing from the usual Bitter Truth design, the Repeal Bitters label is styled like a 1930s newspaper and gives a brief overview of prohibition and its impact on bitters. Inside the bottle, the bitters are a deep amber, unusually light compared to the normal deep brown of most bitters. On the nose there is a hefty nose of cinnamon and burnt orange zest as well as something lighter, almost floral, that I can’t quite work out and a touch of cardamom.
In the mouth an initial bright sweetness, with hints of cinnamon and citrus, descends in to deeply bitter notes of cardamom and a slight heat on the tongue. The finish is long and bitter, with definite hints of citrus zest. The overall flavours are fairly intense, and the result is quite unlike most other aromatic bitters I’ve tasted.
Of course cocktail bitters are best used in a cocktail, so I gave them a go in the original cocktail, the Old Fashioned. Given the chance to become diluted and dispersed, the bitters really come in to their own. Behind the bourbon lies a delicious layer of cinnamon, burnt orange and a sort of spicy incense. Given its intensity and heavy bitterness it’s not a bitters I’d reach for any time aromatic bitters are called for, but in the right drink it works very nicely. I look forward to trying Repeal Bitters in a Manhattan, and perhaps a Brandy Crusta.
When I caught up with Stephan while he was in London a few weeks ago he was keen to point out the Repeal Bitters will be a strictly limited edition product, released just this once to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of prohibition. Given that only around 600 bottles have been made, and how interesting these bitters are, I highly suggest you stock up while you can. Now I’m just waiting for The Bitter Truth 24 year old rye to be released, so I can enjoy a truly indulgent Bitter Truth cocktail!
The Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters, along with the rest of the product line, is available worldwide via their online store.
Note: In the interests of full disclosure, I am friends with both Stephan and Alex and The Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters were supplied to me by Stephan.
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