GSN Review: New NYS Bitters To Try (Ballast & Keel, Dutch’s & Fee Bros.)

When I was at Tales of the Cocktail last month, it seemed as if there were bitters, bitters everywhere, but not a drop to drink.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  They were in use in literally hundreds of cocktails being served in NOLA.  One afternoon, I had the chance to try a few new products on the market.

Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters (at left) From the venerable Fee Brothers in Rochester, NY comes a new and very welcome black walnut flavoured bitters. These have a warm and nutty nose, reminiscent of sunny autumn days.  The taste is dark and bittersweet with notes of chocolate, walnut and brown sugar.  Any cocktail calling for coffee, nut liqueurs or an amaro will benefit from these bitters.  The flavor is exceptionally well balanced and lingers with a tantalizing dark lusciousness which I haven’t found in any other bitters currently on the market.  Fourth generation owner Joe Fee told me over a drink at the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar, that these were the first bitters he had created for Fee’s, because his sister Ellen who heads up the R&D Dept. is allergic to walnuts.  Joe, you did well!  GSN Rating: A

Dutch’s Colonial Bitters  (at right) Jonathan Forester’s Dutch’s Colonial Bitters is the first in a line of spirit based products that he will be distilling on his 400+ acre artisanal farm located in Pine Plains, NY.  Combining some very unusual ingredients including Kinnikinnick leaves, American spicebush, lavender and rose petals, he has created a very floral based nose.  The taste is quite dry and tannic, with notes of spearmint, tobacco, and fresh flowers.  Truly unique and yet at the same time, very much in keeping with traditional early 19th century flavours.  Great to use as a substitute for recipes calling for the now defunct (and poisonous) Boker’s bitters.  GSN Rating: A-

Ballast & Keel Bittering House Strawberry & Indian Fennel (seen below with other products in their line)  Based in Brooklyn, NY, Ballast & Keel have a wide range of two flavor bitters and seem to be adding more all the time.  Their strawberry and fennel blend is light, slightly sweet and reminiscent of tiny wild strawberries.  The overall blend is not complex, but that’s not a bad thing.  These will add a touch of lovely fruitiness to a gin or vodka martini, and even as an interesting diversion dashed into a glass of Brut Champagne.  GSN Rating: B

Ballast & Keel Bittering House Saigon Cinnamon & Walnut  Again, much lighter than most bitters, these are quite tasty.  I was immediately reminded of warm, cinnamon-sugar walnuts which are available this time of the year at the Great NYS Fair here in Syracuse.  Quite nutty and with medium notes of honey, cinnamon stick, and baked walnut, these are great in any bourbon or rye based cocktail.  In keeping with the NYC theme, why not try them in your next Manhattan?  GSN Rating: B+


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