New varieties of bitters are coming on the market every day. Nowhere are both the growth and diversity of the bitters world more evident than with Orange Bitters. We decided to sit down around the benches outside The Meadow with a gaggle of employees and cocktail aficionados to get to the bottom of this delicious subject.
Orange bitters are the most versatile and popular flavor of bitters. The orange plays beautifully off the herbaceous botanicals of gin, lifts up the treacle-spiciness of rum, and ensnares the fiery caramel flavors of good bourbon. More importantly, in today’s ever-expanding landscape of cocktails, orange bitters sharpen the flavors of ingredients that might otherwise might be uncooperative or ungainly. In other words, orange bitters not only adds complexity to an already good cocktail, a dash here and there can also fix one that, try as you might, just doesn’t add up.
All that being said, not all orange bitters are created equal. Some are one-note, some are intriguingly multifaceted, some are bitter, some are less so, or not at all. It starts with a bitters maker’s choice of base alcohol. Though a neutral grain alcohol like Everclear is probably most common, one may opt for rum, whiskey, gin, etc. Some may eschew alcohol altogether in favor of glycerin–a choice some believe ultimately disqualifies the resulting product as a bitters. The bittering agents too can vary. Gentian root extract is the most prevalent, but others include quassia, calamus, and angelica root–or any combination of one or more of them.
Then there are the rest of the flavoring agents.
In orange bitters as with any bitters, fragrant roots, herbs, spices, barks, fruits, or even meats–forsooth, bacon-flavored bitters do exist. It might be a simple, single-note recipe, or a wild compendium of diverse flavors. Different brands of orange bitters derive characteristic flavors not just from the different varietals of orange and citrus, but also the different parts of the fruit: blossom, peel, pith, flesh, juice, etc.
Maceration, where the ingredients are steeped in alcohol, will also vary from producer to producer. Because orange peel might need to steep for longer than gentian, a producer might opt to macerate each ingredient separately, and then combine the results in controlled proportions. Most prefer to do everything in a single batch, allowing all the ingredients to marry more harmoniously, though perhaps adding some of the more fragile ingredients later in the process.
All the permutations of ingredients and different approaches to maceration allow for nearly endless possible outcomes of sweet, bitter, spicy, pungent, and sour.
At The Meadow our selection of bitters is constantly growing—and these days, growing rapidly. The social circles of mixologists and cocktail professionals are not in want of creative minds, most of which have developed their own take on the classic orange bitters. With so many choices on our table of bitters, picking an orange one can seem more difficult than it ought to be. I decided to compare them all side by side not only to help out curious customers, but also to keep them straight in my own head.
Angostura Orange – Clear in color, this is one strong tincture. It’s like chewing on an orange peel: intense, bitter orange oil, extraordinarily complex with prevalent herbaceous and floral tones. A nice, light nose of orange blossom. The complexity of this bitters makes it the right choice for bolstering sweeter alcohols like rum, or maybe whisky or gin, or at least an equally complex and spicy vermouth or aperitif like Bonal, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, or even Oregon’s own Imbue. Anything else might be easily overpowered by Angostura Orange.
Bittercube Orange – Not a very bitter bitters, this one tastes of candied orange peel with hints of mint, or maybe even vanilla and chamomile (though the bottle says cardamom and coriander). The first thing to hit the nose is astringent alcohol but it’s quickly followed by orange zest. Its sweetness is perfectly balanced out by its bitterness, making this a fantastically versatile bitters, especially for crafted, viscous cocktails.
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markbitterman :: Sep.16.2011 ::
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