Bitter Me This, Bitter Me That

Darcy O'Neil :: November 13, 2006 7:18 PM

bittersSo it is another Mixology Monday and I have yet to miss one, so it’s time to put down my website design tools and open the bar for a quick drink. This months topic is bitters, the often misunderstood component in a cocktail. Many people have an apprehension to bitterness because they may have bad memories from childhood or are just pixie stick addicts. But the reality is that bitterness can be rather pleasant if done right. For example a good Manhattan requires the bitters to make the drink interesting. A Champagne Cocktail uses bitters to make a great aperitif. Bitters also have health properties, such as stimulating gastric juices to help digestion. So for this Mixology Monday, I took out five bitters (Angostura, Peychaud, Regans’, Underberg and Drinkboys bitters) and compared them. Here’s what I discovered.

First, the methodology for this tasting is simple. In a tasting glass, I took five dashes of bitters and add 1¼ oz of sparkling mineral water (Perrier). Why sparkling water you ask? Well, the carbonation helps to bring the subtle aromas to the surface where I could get a better idea of the make up of the bitters. Tasting the bitters straight would require drinking a larger quantity than I felt like doing, plus straight bitters might overwhelm my palate resulting in skewed results.

Angosutra Bitters

When combined with soda the bitter effect is subtle, but the colour is very pronounced with its pink hue. The aroma has a subtle reminder of cola. You can pick up cinnamon aromas with hints of other Christmas spices and herbs. The bitterness is mild but still present.

Peychaud Bitters

Aromas of menthol and cherry. Pink to red in colour. Aroma similar to cherry flavoured cough syrup. But then again, bitters were the original medicine that cured what ailed you. This is the least bitter of all of the bitters in this review. Overall a pleasant bitter with a slight sweetness.

Regan’s Orange Bitters

A strong nose of orange and ginger. Very pale straw colour, the lightess in colour of all the bitters. Strongly bitter with a lingering after taste.

Drinkboy’s House Bitters

Straw colour. Strongly aromatic with aromas of cinnamon, ginger and clove. Smells very much like Christmas spices. Not as bitter as Regan’s, but more bitter than Angostura. Would go well in a Manhattan with a full throttle whisky or bourbon. Lighter whiskies would be overpowered. (Thanks Erik for bitters)

Underberg Bitters

Straw colour, similar to Drinkboy’s House Bitters. Aroma of bitter herbs (Gentian is very pronounced). Other herbs and spices are present, but no particular one is as pronounced as the Gentian. The Underberg bitters are moderately bitter and have a slight sourness. Second in bitterness to Regans’ Orange Bitters.

Overall, Regans’ Orange Bitters are the most bitter of the group. Drinkboy’s House Bitters have the most flavour and strongest aroma. The lightest is Peychaud, which is also the least like the other four. Peychaud lacks the cinnamon, clove, ginger properties that the others share, or at least parts of that spice group.

I like Regans’ in a Manhattan made with Canadian whisky because it doesn’t over power the whisky with flavours, it compliments them. It also provides a noticeable level of bitterness. Drinkboy’s bitters are my second choice and would go well in a cocktail that has strong flavours that need a complimenting flavour. The other three are relatively equal since they each have unique areas where they are strong. In the future I’d like to try The Bitter Truth bitters.

As for my project to make my own bitters, that’s been stalled for a bit. I have all the components and cranberries are abundant at this time of year, so I should have some samples ready soon.


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