It seems like you can’t blink these days without another bitters producer popping up somewhere in the world. Ten years ago just Angostura and Fee Brothers were producing what was at the time a largely forgotten relic of a past age in mixed drinks, but since then thanks to the perviverance of those companies as well as the rennaisance in cocktails and new pioneers like Gary Regan with his orange bitters and Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck with their line of The Bitter Truth bitters, the category has exploded.
The latest bitters line I’ve become aware of are Scrappy’s, produced by bartender Miles Thomas of Tavern Law is Seattle. Miles produces six main bitters from standards like orange and grapefruit to more unusual flavours like chocolate and lavender, plus a limited seasonal run of an apricot bitters. After some trouble with prohibitively expensive international shipping I finally got hold of five of the flavours thanks to Miles and Jens Stuhldreier of Dranken Unie (sadly grapefruit was unavailable). How do they stack up though to the existing flavours from the likes of The Bitter Truth, Bob’s Bitters and Bittermens?
Celery – A strong celery seed taste with a fair bitterness is brightened by some background citrus hints. The finish is long, with a dry, vegetal, celery seed finish. Not as sharp and bright as The Bitter Truth celery bitters, but the strong vegetal flavours may work well in mixed drinks.
Cardamom – Surprisingly sweet, the cardamom is more subtle than you might expect and initially almost dominated by citrus notes. However the spice maintains a lasting flavour on the tongue leaving a nice aromatic finish. Much less bitter than the Bob’s Cardamom, and less cardamom led, but the overall profile is nonetheless interesting. Strikes me as having a lot of potential in more aromatic drinks.
Lavender – A strong lavender aroma follows through with a bright lavender flavour that develops a rather astringent taste before revealing a heavy spice then fading in to a slightly earthy, bitter finish with a hint of sweetness. Bob’s Lavender provide a more rounded flavour profile but I’m sure the powerful flavours here would work well in a drink that can balance them sufficiently.
Orange – A surprisingly light nose belies a strong fresh orange flavour with underlying bitter orange notes. Spice and a light bitterness follow, but the finish is short and uneventful, leaving the overall experience is a little underwhelming. Not a bad bitters, but given the great orange bitters already available I’m not really sure how
Chocolate – Made using toasted cacao nibs these have a strong vanilla aroma and a flavour that starts with a medium chocolate note followed by lots of vanilla. The finish brings a little spice and a deeper, slightly woody cacao flavour. Very different to the deeper, more bitter Bittermens Xocolatl bitters, these provide a more straight forward chocolate flavour but retain a depth that makes for a very interesting bitters. Infinitely superior to the Fee’s Aztech Chocolate.
Overall I was pretty impressed with Scrappy’s Bitters. A few of the flavours lack the requisite bitterness I think should be present in a bitters, and come across more as tinctures or flavourings. However at the end of the day they remain interesting, useful flavours, all of which will give more options to bartenders when making drinks. The chocolate in particular was very impressive, and I look forward to exploring more cocktails that make use of the Scrappy’s Bitters line.
Scrappy’s Bitters can be found in over 40 bars in the Pacific Northwest including Zig Zag Cafe, Vessel and Teardrop Lounge. They are also available to purchase from The Boston Shaker, Meadow and DeLaurenti in the US and Dranken Unie in Europe.
Note: In the interests of full disclosure, sample bottles of Scrappy’s Bitters were supplied to me by Scrappy’s Bitters and Dranken Unie for evaluation and experimentation.
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