Since I’m the person who flips to the last page of the mystery novel, I feel obligated to cut to the chase: Peychaud’s Bitters are out, and Orange Bitters are in. If you’re a cocktail nerd, you already know why, but if you’re curious about the circumstances that led up to a small decision that took a great deal of personal reflection and input from others, please read on.
The simple reality behind the choice is that as far back as the beginning of 12 Bottle Bar, it was always a toss-up of whether or not Orange Bitters made the cut. Part of me said they made more sense than Peychaud’s; part of me even thought they might make more sense than one or two of the spirits. Of course, when I bring up the concept of this experiment within the hallowed halls of cocktailia, more often than not, I’m greeted with “Well, Bitters and Vermouth shouldn’t even count towards your bottle count.” Ah, but the name is 12 Bottle Bar, not 12 Spirits Bar. I count the Bitters and the Vermouth because, in reality, they are not bottles with which the non-drinking set is intimate. The message here has always been “stock your bar with these 12 key ingredients and some mixers, and let’s party”. The problem was: Peychaud’s wasn’t really lighting up the room. Still, I made a choice, and my initial reaction was: come hell or high water, I’m going to stick with it. But then I began to wonder — was there more integrity in living with the choice or in admitting that, a year on, things had become a little clearer? Status quo was the easier path; changing thing up was the right one for 12 Bottle Bar.
Now, I wouldn’t call the choice of Peychaud’s a mistake. It is a great product — one that is integral to a fine number of cocktails, chief among them the peerless Sazerac — but, alas, Orange Bitters will ultimately take us so many more places. A search on CocktailDb for “Peychaud” returns 35 results; “Orange Bitters” offers 327. So, why didn’t we go with Orange Bitters in the first place? Love of the Sazerac, most likely. Too pre-occupied with the easy availability of ingredients, possibly. Certainly, Orange Bitters were more difficult to come by just a year ago than they are today. Bevmo now carries them (alongside Angostura and Peychaud’s), or you can order them via our 12 Bottle Bar Supply (an Amazon storefront) – making them just a click away.
Why one Bitters for another? The major difference between Orange Bitters and aromatic bitters like Peychaud’s or Angostura is the primary focus of the blend. As can be assumed, orange and other fruit bitters derive their primary elements from bittering fruit agents, such as the peels of Seville Oranges. Aromatic bitters, on the other hand, are chiefly composed of herbs and spices. Both styles date all the way back to Jerry Thomas and beyond. Ultimately, Orange Bitters will simply prove to be a more useful member of our toolkit.
With three major brands on the market — Angostura Orange, Fee’s, and Regans’ — the biggest question was which to choose. I asked the regulars in the bitters thread over at eGullet, and Angostura was ruled out by popular vote. Both Regans’ and Fee’s have their supporters, most likely because of their vastly different profiles. Regans’ truly lives up to the name “Bitters”, while Fee’s boasts a light top note that is almost Orange Crush-like in nature. As Bitters are supposed to be, well, bitter and non-potable (you shouldn’t want to gulp a bottle), Regans’ is my single-bottle choice. Like Peychaud’s, Regans’ are manufactured by the Sazerac Company, and they possess a level of depth and concentration similar to Peychaud’s. If you’re curious as to the story of how they came about, please take a jaunt over to Gary Regan’s site.
An interesting tip (thanks to Erik Ellestad), if you should want to dash your Bitters the way that hip bartenders do, is to mix equal part Regans’ and Fee’s for what’s known as “New York Style” or “50/50” Orange Bitters. This is highly recommended.
What are the repercussions of all this? There is really only one, if we’re talking about drinks: the Sazerac. Not being able to make a Sazerac is like casting Apollo from Olympus. It is a drink that can make the sun rise. For everyone who advised me to make the switch, there was a moment of “but you can’t live without the Sazerac”. We’re going to try, because at the core of all this is a reminder of something very important about 12 Bottle Bar: we’re just the beginning.
If I were to equate us to the world of Tolkien (and why wouldn’t I?), 12 Bottle Bar is “The Hobbit”. Some of you might not care for “The Hobbit” one lick, and that’s fine. Some will follow along with zeal but never crack the Rings trilogy or the even more arcane “Silmarillion”. Some will wait for the movies (in this analogy, for Cheesecake Factory to offer a Vodka Sazerac). Still, a rare few among you will dive-in head first and spend the remainder of your weekends cocktail LARPing, which is really what all those mustachioed, suspender-wearing, neo-Baroque mixologists are doing. And that’s the beauty of it. There are no rules, only discovery.
Our limited choice of two bottles of Bitters is designed only to make your first steps easier. At your own pace, add the Peychaud’s (and immediately make a Sazerac). Then, make an appointment with Dr. Adam Elmegirab and his curiosity shop of flavor. Put a Fee’s pin in your map and work your way through the range. Uncover the secrets of The Bitter Truth‘s Celery Bitters. Or, just crack open Jerry Thomas or Charles Baker and make your own.
There is no right way, only discovery. Should you come to two roads diverging in the woods, the important thing is not that pick the one less traveled by but that you simply put foot forward. Courses can always be corrected, but the journey must begin — that, and that alone, makes all the difference.
A Round-up of Ripples: How does this change affect our drinks?
There are a few posts we will need to go back and revise. In all such cases, the original posts will be indicated and made available.
A link to “Retired” drinks will be added to the Drinks Menu. They shall include:
- Sazerac Cocktail – This will be moth-balled.
- Manhattan (12BB Style) – Moth-balled until we devise a replacement.
The following are also affected in minor ways:
- Brandy Crusta – We’ll substitute Angostura Bitters.
- Ted Haigh’s Burgess – We’re not touching this one, even though it calls for Peychaud’s. It stays, even if smash all the bottles and join the temperance movement.
- Satan’s Whiskers – Will gain the Orange Bitters it deserves.