Originally, cocktail bitters were the ingredient that distinguished cocktails from other categories of beverages such as Toddies, Slings, Fizzes, Sours or Punches. For decades, they were an essential component of good cocktail creations.
The start of prohibition curtailed consumers’ drinking habits and cocktail bitters almost sank into oblivion. Only a few brands survived that period, but even after that, not all of them managed to reestablish themselves in the new market. Angostura Bitters alone held their ground.
For some time now, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of cocktail bitters on an international level. Since 2006, the German bitters company The Bitter Truth has been doing its share to contribute to this development.
It all started during a stay in London during the Bar Show BAR ’06 in June 2006. At that show, Munich bartenders Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck gave birth to the idea of producing and distributing cocktail bitters on a large scale, as they were hard to find in Germany and of inferior quality. Both of them had already gained a considerable amount of experience in producing handmade cocktail bitters for the bars they were working at. In addition, Stephan owned a large collection of current and historical bitters, some of which hadn’t been produced for decades. Thus, he knew how the most well-known bitters of the world tasted and was considered a specialist in this area.
Their criteria for the choice of flavors was mainly provided by old cocktail recipes that could no longer be mixed true to the original because one crucial ingredient had been missing – the correct bitters.
In August 2006, the first products from The Bitter Truth were released: an Orange Bitters and an Old Time Aromatic Bitters. Shortly after that, a Lemon Bitters was released. Since then, two additional flavors have been added to the range: the Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters and a Celery Bitters, which won the award as »Best Spirit of the Year 2008« at the Mixology Bar Awards in Germany. In addition, The Bitter Truth has released a SloeBerry BlueGin‚ which is flavored with fresh sloeberries, and a range of fine liqueurs: an Apricot Brandy, a Crème de Violette and a Pimento Dram.
In Summer 2009 they started a global partnership with Janet and Avery Glasser, the founders of Bittermens, Inc., to bring their bitters line to market, starting with a Grapefruit Bitters and a Xocolatl Mole Bitters.
»The Bitter Truth – Elixier« is The Bitter Truth’s latest product, a digestive liqueur in the grand tradition of the Alps.
The liquid itself is a fairly vivid cherry red colour, and has a light anise aroma. In the mouth a strong earthy anise flavour dominates, with just a hint of sweetness which quickly dissipates to reveal spices like cardamom and a subtle floral note. These linger as a medium bitterness develops on the finish along with some alcoholic heat.
The obvious bitters to compare these to is of course Peychaud’s, but while superficially they are similar – the bright red colour and anise flavours – the overall taste profile is quite different. Peychaud’s is more dominantly anise, and sweeter (though by no means over-sweet!) with a lighter more floral flavour. TBT Creole bitters on the other hand have a more complex combination of flavours with much more spice and bitterness, and a deeper, longer finish.
The Creole bitters bottle recommends the Improved Brandy Cocktail, which is more commonly referred to as a brandy Sazerac. The bitters work well here adding extra nuance to the Cognac and resulting in a well-rounded and complex cocktail. The bitters work similarly well in the traditional Sazerac, where they add a little less anise flavour than Peychaud’s but give the drink a slightly more aromatic edge. I found I needed just a touch more sugar syrup to counteract the heavier bitterness of the Creole bitters, but the overall result was great.
Sitting between a traditional aromatic bitters and Peychaud’s, The Bitter Truth Creole bitters offer a wonderful depth that really adds to cocktails. While I can see them working as a replacement for Peychaud’s I think the most interesting results will be found in their use as an alternative to traditional aromatic bitters in drinks like the Manhattan where they work very well. I also eagerly await the new cocktails that will undoubtably be inspired by Creole bitters.
Overall a great new bitters and a must for the shelves of anyone with more than a passing interest in cocktails.
Size: 20 CL