Lots of cocktail recipes call for “Angostura Bitters”. We see that and translate it to “but which bitters am I in the mood for tonight?” We’re known tinkerers to be sure, but it’s also true that there were lots of aromatic bitters to choose from back when today’s classic cocktails were first being invented. In many cases, Angostura became the de factor bitter simply by outliving the rest. Lucky for us, some of today’s bitters producers are also some-time booze historians, and have recreated the best of them.
Jerry Thomas Bitters
- Gentle and full of sweet spice, with an ingredient list that includes clove, allspice, cinnamon, raisins, lemon, orange, and snakeroot. This style is also worth noting for common aromatic bitter ingredients it doesn’t use, aniseed and licorice, a flavor that seems to divide people into strong love it or hate it camps.
- These are great for adding island spice to rum cocktails, and winter spice to whiskey drinks. Try in an Old Fashioned, Hot Toddy, Milk Punch, or dashed into your Dark ‘N Stormy. The original recipe comes from bartender Jerry Thomas’ ‘How to Mix Drinks or A Bon Vivant’s Companion,’ the very first cocktail book.
- Vanilla jumps out first, with spiced cinnamon, clove, and cardamom tempered with a hint of cherry and smoky wood sugars, all coming together into a soft and intriguingly nuanced bitter. And unlike the eponymous bitter named for the town of Angostura, this is an angostura bitter whose main ingredient is bark from the aforenamed tree.
- Abbott’s are the bitters originally called for by name in a Manhattan, and offer a fantastic, slightly smoky take on the cocktail. Produced now by Tempus Fugit Spirits, who recreated the recipe after exhaustive research, and who continue to include six months of aging in small oak barrels.
- Bold, bitter, and astringent thanks to multiple bittering ingredients. As it opens, cardamom, anise, clove, and orange create a warm and woody bitter with hints of coffee and pine. On its own the bitterness is a lot, but used with sweet elements in a cocktail it becomes balanced and complex, lighting up a spectrum of taste receptors.
- Boker’s were called for in many pre-prohibition cocktails, including the Martinez (Gin, Sweet Vermouth, & Maraschino Liqueur) and Brandy Crusta (Cognac, Orange Liqueur, Gum Syrup, & Lemon Juice). In addition to gin and brandy, spicy herbal cardamom is also a perfect match for Scotch and Irish whiskey cocktails.