28 JAN

The Spirit Cellar Online - Fee Brothers Bitters

Bitters - The Bartenders Spice Rack

Author: David Coveney 


When I first started bar tending, the spice rack of bitters that are now common place on most bars was almost nonexistent.  Just a lonely bottle of Angostura would usually be found, possibly a bottle of Peychaud standing next to it for that one customer who would always order a Sazerac.  Nowadays, bars are stocked high and low with different tinctures, bitters and cordials; enabling bar tenders to manipulate drinks in any way they feel. 


Over the past couple of years we have seen a resurgence in prohibition style cocktails and hidden speakeasies are almost common place in most cities around the UK.  There has been a shift from long, fruity and bright coloured beech cocktails to shorter, more aromatic old school drinks that demand a much more intricate composition.  This has led bar tenders to search out flavours and aromas which you wouldn't normally expect to find and a few companies have cropped up over the world who are constantly developing new bitters and tinctures that are helping this resurgence of powerful and memorable drinks. 


Bitters, essentially, are aromatic flavourings made by infusing a wide range of roots, barks, seeds and herbs with high proof alcohol.  For a very long time, bitters have been made for medicinal purposes.  Alcohol itself is a great extracting agent.  During the infusion process the alcohol does a fantastic job of extracting all the essential oils from the herbs or spices, which have often been accredited to helping with different illnesses like stomach cramps, headaches and indigestion.  Bitters have become an integral part of many of the world's most famous cocktails.  One day, try a Classic Champagne Cocktail or an Old Fashioned without bitters.  You will notice the difference straight away, the drink just isn't palatable without the key ingredient.


Aromatic bitters where being applied to alcoholic drinks in England in the 1700s but it wasn't until the 1850s that bitters saw their popularity boom in the United States.  Increase in alcohol tax and the early rise of the temperance movement, who highly discouraged social drinking, actually helped bitters become a household product, where they were used as medicine for many people.  Alcohol based bitters have always been classed as 'nonpotable bitters' which aren't affected by the usual taxes aimed at the sales of spirits.  By the 19th Century, bitters where a multimillion dollar industry, and companies where making huge claims of what they could be used for and how they could help your body.


These days, companies are producing aromatic bitters, which are specially made for the use in cocktails.  And now, there is something for every cocktail.  If you can zest it, there is a bitter.  If you can dry it, there is a bitter.  But a question does come up quite a lot now; "Has the bitter market been saturated?" Brad Thomas Parsons, author of 'A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All' asks "how many lavender bitters does one really need?" and I do think he has a point.  So I have asked some of the top bitters brands around to let me know what they believe are the two products that best represent there range.  I will be trying and testing these over the next couple of weeks and updates will be applied as and when they come.  


Very exciting stuff.




Fee Brothers Orange Bitters


The orange bitters from Fee Brothers should be on every bar in the country. 

Zesty but fruity, acidic and dry they are the perfect addition to many cocktails.  Try adding a few drops to that special Cosmopolitan, drying the flavours out and sending it back to its Martini roots. 


I've been using it in the Ramos Gin Fizz recently, one of those forgotten classics that needs a real punchy orange bitter to break through the other textures and flavours.


In my opinion, throw away your Angostura Orange, and stock up on the Fee Brothers, you won't be disappointed.



Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters.

One word, phenomenal. 


This was a huge surprise for me.  I was expecting an intense bitterness, with a pithy kind of character but what I got was a burst of freshness followed by a wonderfully delicate bitterness that lingered just long enough on the palate to make me jump at my fridge and pull out a bottle of tonic water.  Filling glass with ice adding some tonic, a slice of lemon and a large dowsing of the bitters I sat back and enjoyed one of the most refreshing and interesting 'pink tonic' variations I have tried.  It was truly inspirational. Ideas started to buzz around my head and my gaze fell on the bottle of almost untouched Sloane's gin on the side.  I filled a rocks glass with ice, added a dash of my own lemon bitters, a few drops of the Fee Brothers and a large glug of the gin.  Stirred it slightly and sipped.  Just beautiful.  Fresh, aromatic and smooth.  A true delight.  I can't wait to try the Fee Brothers Orange Bitters on for size.