Three dashes of bitters is all it takes to make an old fashioned. You have a quarter-ounce of this and ounces of that, but only three dashes of bitters take a drink from a sweetened nothing to an old fashioned cocktail.
How much do those three dashes matter though? To help, I have my friend Matthew, who tends to enjoy dinners with a classic Jack and Coke.
BvsB 2 is a battle between the two most common old fashioned bitters: Angostura and Fee Brothers Old Fashion.
Before I get to tasting, I have to start with some history going in. I first started making old fashionds years ago with Fee Brothers Old Fashion Bitters. I never minded, but my wife hated them (just blanket stated she hated bitters because of it), and a friend eventually scoffed and said I needed Angostura because that’s what real bartenders use. Anyways, I got some Angostura and never looked back, but I never got around to trying Angostura and Fee Brothers side by side to see which one I like better… until now.
2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
1/4 oz simple syrup
3 dashes bitters
1 big ice cube
Notes: Build this one in a rocks glass. Add the sugar and bitters first, then stir a bit, then add the ice cube, then the rye. Give it a little stir if you like a colder drink, or sip slowly and taste the transition from cool to cold. Add an orange peel if you’re compelled, although don’t feel obligated.
After pouring, it was clear how much the three dashes change the cocktail. The Fee Brothers made for an old fashioned with more of a red color, and it smelled much sweeter. “Cinnamony” was the word used.
Tasting, Matthew had the same opinion. “It’s sweet and tastes like cinnamon. It’s holiday spicy… It’d probably make a good holiday drink.” The Angostura, in comparison, had a “milder taste.”
He swirled both glasses a bit, took a few more sips, and declared, “If I were to finish one, it’d be this guy (the Angostura).”
I came to the same conclusion. The Fee Brothers brought a lot more flavor – mostly cinnamon, and I think the other flavor is clove (I admittedly don’t have much experience with clove, so ¯(ツ)/¯)\ Angostura, on the other hand, had most of the same smells, but the whiskey came through as well.
Tasting them, the best way to describe the difference is to think of it as cooking with butter vs. coconut oil. Both are good, but butter blends and enhances flavor, while coconut oil (like Fee Brothers) brings something else to the table. It’s not particularly unwelcome, but it feels more like a flavoring than a flavor enhancer.
In a unanimous decision, Angostura wins the bitter(s) battle. If you enjoy old fashionds and like a nice, liquor-forward drink, Angostura blends in nicely. The Fee Brothers Old Fashion Bitters aren’t a total slouch though – if you want something a little spicier, or maybe wanted to mask a little of the alcohol taste without adding more simple syrup, I imagine Fee Brothers would be up to the challenge.