No discussion of bitters could possibly be considered complete without Angostura, the granddaddy of them all. These bitters were created in 1824 by a medic in the Prussian army named Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, who later became the Surgeon General under Simón Bolívar, the military leader who helped to liberate Latin America from Spanish rule. While stationed in a little town in Angostura, Siegert worked on developing a health-boosting tonic for the troops made from local plants and herbs. Years later, after Siegert perfected his recipe, he and his sons moved their operation to Trinidad and the House of Angostura was born. To this day, they continue to supply bitters to the cocktail world based on the tonic that Siegert created back in 1824. The recipe is shrouded in mystery and secrecy (surprise, surprise) with only a handful of people knowing the ingredients. The bitterness in Angostura bitters is thought to come from the gentian root, and their flavor profile to include elements of clove and cinnamon, which are fairly evident when you do a taste test. When Angostura bitters are added to a cocktail like an old-fashioned or a Manhatten, they draw out those same types of flavors in the bourbon and rye, adding an additional dimension to the drink. If you are someone who cooks, you can think of it working in the same way as layering flavors works to add depth to whatever dish you are making.
In an effort to gain a better understanding of the 3 essential bitters than we’ve discussed so far, I decided to make a trio of Old-Fashioneds with each one containing different spirits and the bitters that I thought would work best with them. The Classic Old-Fashioned was easy; I used Angostura bitters and I prepared it in the traditional way by dissolving a demerara sugar cube in 2 dashes of the bitters and a splash of water. I used Buffalo Trace as my bourbon. I tasted the drink without the bitters and I felt like I was basically drinking just bourbon, water, and sugar – all ingredients in place, but broken apart. The minute I added the bitters they brought out deeper flavors in the bourbon, bound it together with the sugar, and there was my Old-Fashioned, pictured to the far right below.
For my second variation I chose to go with Redemption Rye and Nux Alpina, which is a walnut liqueur that has an absolutely beautiful flavor. The spice of the rye and the sweet warmth of the Nux Alpina needed a bridge between them and I decided to try Scrappy’s Orleans bitters, which is their version of Peychaud’s. My reasoning here was based on the idea that the anise flavor in the bitters would work well with the walnut flavor of the Nux Alpina, and the spice flavors would complement the rye. This was the first time that I used a Peychaud’s type of bitters in this way and I was happy with the result. This drink ended up being my favorite of the three. It’s pictured to the far left below.
My third and final Old-Fashioned was made with Rujero Singani, a Bolivian spirit made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes grown at high elevations and reminiscent of a slightly floral fine tequila, Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao, which is a triple sec like Cointreau, and Fee Brothers orange bitters. In this case I chose the bitters to accentuate both the orange flavor of the Pierre Ferrand and the floral notes of the Rujero, thus tying the 2 spirits together. The end result was a more delicate style of Old-Fashioned that felt as equally balanced as the 2 that were made with more traditional darker spirits. It’s pictured in the middle below.
2 oz Buffalo Trace bourbon
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 demerara sugar cube
1 splash of water
1 orange twist for garnishing
Place the sugar cube in the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass. Add the two dashes of bitters and a splash of water. Muddle together until the sugar cube is almost completely dissolved. Swirl the glass a bit. Add the bourbon and 1 large cube of ice. Stir the drink gently, just enough to get it chilled. Garnish with the orange twist.
Rye Walnut Old-Fashioned
2 oz Redemption Rye
½ oz Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur
½ oz simple syrup
2 dashes Scrappy’s Orleans bitters
Orange twist for garnishing
Place all the ingredients into a mixing glass and fill ⅔ full with ice. Stir using a long-handled bar spoon for 30 seconds until cold. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with the orange twist.
Rujero Singani Old-Fashioned
2 oz Rujero Singani
½ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao
½ oz simple syrup
2 dashes Fee Brothers orange bitters
Orange twist for garnishing
Place all the ingredients into a mixing glass and fill ⅔ full with ice. Stir using a long-handled bar spoon for 30 seconds or until cold. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with the orange twist.