I am seeing a lot of recipes calling for Abbott’s bitters in Martin’s Index of Cocktails. I understand these are the original recipes and Abbotts got sued out of business by Angostura, but I am wondering which bitters on the market today would come close. I tried both Darcy’s (Art of Drink) bitters about 10 years ago (still have some) as well as Tempus Fugit, they have 2 very different flavor profiles. Last night on YouTube I was actually watching Darcy demonstrating how to make some at home. I don’t have the time, equipment or desire, I much prefer to buy something readily available.
I see one out there now called Bob’s. I can spend a fortune on bitters, I literally spend hundreds over the years at The Meadow in NYC which has dozens of them, so I am trying to avoid buying more and/or just spending money on bitters rather than books or booze. Is Angostura the next best thing in this case? What about Dale DeGroff’s Aromatic Bitters? I avoid Fees now because they contain no alcohol and while they taste good, I try to stick with the original ingredients that put bitters on the map 100 years ago.
As of this writing, Abbott’s bitters only directly appears in two (2) recipes in Martin’s Index: the Atom Bomb and the Peacock Gallery. The rest are merely drinks calling for aromatic bitters that you could use Abbott’s in if you like.
I don’t have an opinion about Abbott’s other than I like Darcy’s version just fine. There’s a permanent degree of uncertainty surrounding the original product. (I have sampled vintage Abbott’s, but I don’t place any particular stock in that experience.)
If you are simply looking for a functional alternative to Angostura, my recommendation would be Bitter Truth’s Bogart’s. You need to use slightly more than you would of Ango, but it works and it sidesteps the Christmas flavors.
Darcy’s Abbott’s bitters come very close to the original (I have several bottles), I haven’t had the Tempus Fugit version, but as I recall, they are based off of a gas chromatograph I had done of one of my samples, which due to potential inaccuracies of such was WAY too clove heavy. From a purely flavor aspect, I tried to creat my own recreation (recipe published in Imbibe) which missed the mark, but I found that when mixed 50/50 with Angostura, it was pretty darn close. The Bitter Truth folks used my bitters as a starting point for their aromatic bitters, and when you mix it 50/50 with Angostura it also comes pretty close to Abbott’s
This is false – just because they contain glycerol does not mean that they are alcohol-free. They have 1% to 46% ABV depending on the flavor which is above the 0.5% ABV limit to be alcohol-free. The below data comes from Europe where they require this information and is available on the web:
I avoid Fee’s because they taste more like the ingredient than the ingredient which hints that they are compounded from a flavor-house (i.e.: possibly artificial or a natural flavors from other sources) instead of through maceration of the simple ingredient.
Relatedly, I am curious about what Boker’s bitters are supposed to taste like. Years ago in search of some pre-Prohibition thrills, I bought a bottle of Fee Bros.’ “Cardamom Bitters, Boker’s Style.” It tastes exactly, and intensely, like the artificial root beer flavor you’d find in cheap candy. Nearly unusable outside of applications where “cheap root beer candy” is the desired effect.
Bitter Truth’s (and I’d guess Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s) version must certainly be both better and more authentic, but what do they taste like? Are they root-beery?
It seems likely we’ll never really know. I am only aware of two samples surviving: the first, a remnant that was brought to the London Bar Show back in 2009:
Until about a year ago there wasn’t a person alive who knew what Boker’s bitters truly tasted like. But then a man turned up at the London Bar Show with a finger of the old stuff to share. Made using cassia, cardamom, and bitter orange peel, Boker’s was once swirled with brandy, orgeat syrup, and lemon peel in a cocktail known as the Japanese. The company disappeared a century ago in the wake of legal changes that outlawed many bitters, and it’s impossible to find anything but empty bottles today. “It was a tiny amount of original Boker’s—no one knew it existed,” says Charlotte Voisey, a champion British bartender who has created cocktail lists for The Dorchester in London and New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel. (Departures | The Bitters Truth)
I’m not clear exactly where the dubious assertion that Boker’s was “made using cassia, cardamom and bitter orange peel” originates from, but it has been hanging around causing trouble for years. My guess is it comes from old book formulas for compounding ersatz stuff.
Later, The Bitter Truth guys managed to score an entire bottle of the stuff, and their “Bogart’s” product is their attempt to reproduce it. They roped in Ted Haigh and Jamie Boudreau (who has made his own earlier attempts at Boker’s speculation) to lend credibility to the project. At any rate, what The Bitter Truth is marketing diverges significantly from the rudimentary description, above. Otherwise, your conclusions are as good as mine. There’s a thread for discussing that product.
Thanks for this Fred. I remember a friend of mine who wrote a book on bitters stating that Fee’s made a “business” decision to ditch the alcohol and I just took him at his word. I went to my bar and found 3 bottles of bitters left, Grapefruit, Aztec and Orange. The latter was the only one that listed alcohol as part if its ingredients. I know they make at least a dozen, but I never saw it listed in their ingredients. I am not sure they are obligate to (although I would suspect they are, all he rest like Angostura, Peychaud, even vanilla extract have it labelled). I actually favor Fee’s Orange bitters over any other, but recently took the Martin Cate approach and mixed it 50/50 with Regan’s. I never cared for the Angostura Orange Bitters, it had too much of that spice (tamarind perhaps) which is better suited for marinating food than using in cocktails.