Today we take our falernum syrup and design the “Falernum Sour,” but not before we bust out a bitter marathon with some history and further explanation of cocktail bitters. Once we understand the fundamentals of a cocktail bitter we will create our Falernum Sour with Bittermen’s Hopped Grapefruit bitters and one without any bitters and see if we can find a differentiator.
First, taking a look at some aromatic cocktail bitters such as Angostura and Peychaud’s research suggests these are great in aged spirits, those brown spirits like scotch, whiskey, brandy and others that may be influenced by oak and age. That’s not the only need for an aromatic bitter, of course, as you’ll see Angostura called for in the Champagne Cocktail and plenty of others–it tends to be the go-to product when a cocktail simply calls for “a dash of bitters.”
Let’s not really just stop there, though, because an orange bitter, while relatively new to the scene most recently, it has become a huge boon to white spirits like gin and herbal spirits such as jagermeister, chartreuse and many others (I bet even absinthe will fall into this category even if the aromatic qualities of Peychaud’s tend to be anise-forward). While West Indian Orange Bitters from Fee Brothers has been on a huge rise and selling like hot cakes, you’ll see the 2008 launch of Angostura Orange has started to catch on and Bittermen’s Cream Citrate is a great small batch product but the current industry standard is, beyond a doubt, Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6.
Why is Regans’ dominating? First, I believe price is a huge selling point as you can buy a bottle of Regans’ for $6.20 or a single bottle of Cream Citrate or Scrappy’s Orange for $17. So, from a bar stocking perspective a business that’s catering to hundreds of patrons will probably find value in the cheaper version and…let’s face it, are your patrons going to find a huge difference in a $6 vs. a $17 bottle (we’re not talking about the demographic of high end mixology masters or cocktail enthusiasts, just someone that wants a tasty beverage).
Now, for those mixologists going for specific flavor nuances of an orange bitter, they’ll find entirely different flavor profiles from Fee Brothers vs. that of Regans’ against that of Angostura, Scrappy’s, Bittermens and Hella Citrus Bitters. Price is a deciding factor for bars more so than mixologists and home enthusiasts that want to build a cocktail to match a specific profile on the palate. In those cases, Regans’ may not be their first choice simply because they like the flavor of another brand better for their cocktail.
I believe Regans’ is also number 1 on the market (pun intended) because the producer is a well known mixologist in the craft and when a mixologist gets their hands dirty developing a product that they believe makes a cocktail better damn straight people will sit up and listen! Street cred baby.
Yet, with all this banter of aromatic and citrus bitters we must not leave out all the great bitters flavors that follow the craft outside your standard thinking. New Orleans Coffee Bitter is a great concept of a coffee nuance while hopped grapefruit, as used in our falernum sour, compliments those overly sweet cocktails as well as the classics by bringing tartness along with some unusual nuance of noble hops (without making it taste like a beer).
So, how do you choose the right bitter for your drink? Some flavor profiles just won’t work well together but others may surprise you. For instance, as we mentioned, some sour notes might not always work with a chocolate and an overly sweet drink with cherry bitters may take you into some really wild ride of “way to sweet and crazy for my face” direction. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun trying or pairing products just like you may pair food for a meal or spices for a steak on the grill.
Get out of the habit of spicing up your food and leaving your cocktails to fest the life of ordinary. If you have the trust to add a bit of flavor to a chicken, steak or pork, why leave your margarita, mai tai and daiquiri flailing in the wind of basic? Spice up your life already!
Falernum Sour Recipe
- 1/2 oz. Falernum
- 1 oz. Sour Mix
- 1 1/2 oz. Rum
- Fill with Club Soda