GSN Review: Bitters, Old Men Bitters & Tonic

Seems like I’ve got a bitter vendetta.  Whenever I hear about a new kind of bitters, I get a collector mentality.  I’ve got to try every one, or my life won’t be complete.  Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating (maybe), but just a few years ago, I was lucky if I could find any bitters other than the one with the over-sized paper label.  Now, it seems, along with craft distilling, craft bitters are the hot new business.

Bitters, Old Men is a New York City company and they’ve already made a name for themselves at such fine establishments as Fatty Johnsons, Empellon and wd-50.  As well, they’ve received positive reviews in the New York Times and even been used on the Martha Stewart Show.  They are nothing, if not ambitious.  Read on to find out my thoughts on their entire product line….

Gangsta Lee’n Bitters – Including bacon, orange peel and smoked almonds.  The bacon is predominant and you can imagine that you just ate a handful of smoked almonds on top of it.  These will work with bourbon or rye quite handily and make for an interesting addition to a Bloody Mary.  GSN Rating: B

Great in ’28 Bitters – No indication of what to expect from these bitters, I can only guess that it refers to the original Boker’s Bitters which were one of the great cocktail products of the 1800’s.  The founder, John G. Boker began producing his product in 1828, and sold millions of bottles until the Volstead act shut him and many other companies down in the 1920’s.  Certainly less aggressive than Angostura or other modern aromatic bitters on the market, these have a subtle herbal quality with a hint of grapefruit in them.  Try these in some of Professor Jerry Thomas’ recipes which call for Boker’s and see what you think.  GSN Rating: A-

Issan Another Level Bitters – Just reading the label ingredients made me wonder what in the world they were smoking when they came up with this recipe.  It sounds like an Asian market: ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, bird’s eye chili, fish sauce and soy sauce are just some of the ingredients used.  However, the flavor is not what I expected, being more about heat than anything else.  Not that these are volcanic, but they do have a fresh ginger-like kick with an unusual flavor that I can only describe as umami.  When you’re looking for a touch of the unusual, these bitters will do it for you.  GSN Rating: B+

Krangostura Bitters- I can’t imagine a certain Trinidadian company letting this particular name continue without a legal suit.  Bitters, Old Men say that they are named after a villain from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series.  We’ll see.  Aside from that, these are very much in line with other aromatic bitters, although softer and will work quite well in any cocktail calling for them.  GSN Rating: A-

Papaya Bitters – These are very subtle and fruity.  Yes, they taste like papaya, but I think they would get lost in a cocktail unless you used a hefty portion of them.  Try with vodka or soju, or use a few drops on top of a drink as a delicate olfactory garnish.   GSN Rating: B-

Prickled Pink Bitters – These have a unique baked vegetal quality similar to sweet potatoes, although the main ingredient is prickly pear cactus.  There is almost an air of Thanksgiving dinner about these.  Try them with cranberry juice based cocktails, agave and mezcal or in an old-fashioned for an extra kick of flavor.  GSN Rating: B+

Roasted Macadamia Bitters – Fee Brothers came out with a Black Walnut bitters last year, which are excellent, but the roasted macadamia nut bitters are quite different.  The flavor is very much forward and present and has a slightly grainy texture.  The taste is quite good and will add a wonderful transcendent quality to any tropical based cocktail.  I think that nut based bitters are going to be the latest trend.  GSN Rating: A+

Smoke Gets In Your Bitters – Not smoked per se, but they include the very smoky Lapsang Souchong tea along with asian pear.  Slightly sweet and quite smoky with a round body.  Another very unusual bitters which has a lot of potential in brown spirit cocktails and tomato based drinks.  Also, these will work well in drinks which call for a hint of Islay scotch for obvious reasons.  The flavor goes on for quite a while.  GSN Rating: A-

Restorative Tonic – Quite dry and with a lot of cinnamon and citrus peel.  You don’t need a lot of this to be “restored”.  I would add about a teaspoon to a small glass of water to quiet an upset stomach, or use a few drops in place of an aromatic bitters.  GSN Rating: B

For more information go to: Bitters, Old Men

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