We recently received some tasty new bitters from The Bitter Housewife out of PDX (see our Samples Policy to understand what it means that we’re talking about them). We’re also lucky to have Scrappy’s bitters here in Seattle. We’re big fans of our local producers. 🙂
These two happen to have very different styles; Scrappy’s tends to make strong, dry, concentrated bitters that focus on one or maybe a few flavor components, while Bitter Housewife makes mildly sweet though still quite bitter concoctions that are less concentrated and use more supporting flavors to round out the central flavor. We thought it would be interesting to see how their bitters of the same types compare, both straight and in a cocktail.
First up, we tasted each of the flavors side by side to see how the compared directly.
- Nose: Grapefruit, coriander and fairly strong ginger. Faint cardamom.
- Palate: Bitter gentian and grapefruit peel are strongest, secondary flavors are honey and ginger, tertiary flavors are coriander and cardamom. Long bitter aftertaste. Hint of sweetness.
- Nose: Grapefruit and nutmeg with a hint of clove.
- Palate: Much more intense. Primarily grapefruit with some nutmeg and clove. Clean, bitter grapefruit peel aftertaste.
- Nose: Big hit of vanilla right at the beginning. Very baking-spicy. Cinnamon, dried fruit (cherry or fig), molasses-y walnut bread. Hint of unsweetened cocoa.
- Palate: Vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa powder. Rich baked good notes, like fruit bread or a nut muffin. Bitter though not as bitter as the grapefruit. Hint of sweetness compared to the Scrappy’s.
- Nose: Lot of herbal bitter notes, cedar wood, loam, earth. Much more earthy and herbal than spicy. Hint of rhubarb.
- Palate: Very similar to the nose with the addition of some clove. Not super bitter which is surprising given the nose. Quite herbal.
- Nose: Cardamom with a hint of cinnamon.
- Palate: Cardamom, tannic notes like black tea, cinnamon
- Nose: Very clear cardamom, faint tropical fruit notes like pineapple or mango.
- Palate: Cardamom! Then a strong vegetal finish, almost like celery. Somewhat astringent. Bitter, but less bitter than the Bitter Housewife. Unlike the nose, no fruit notes to speak of.
But of course, we’re all about mixing. We decided to make something with the grapefruit bitters, since the aromatics are so different that it wouldn’t be as clear a comparison and we felt the cardamom bitters were the least different of the lot. For our cocktail, we went with the San Pedro from Scrappy’s site, which is their official cocktail for the grapefruit bitters. It looked like a yummy, tequila-based riff on a Martini, so yes please.
- 2 oz silver tequila
- 1/2 oz dry vermouth
- 1/8 oz (or 1 bar spoon) Cointreau
- 3-4 dashes grapefruit bitters (we used 5-6 of the Bitter Housewife since it is less concentrated)
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a glass. Garnish with a lime twist.
- Nose: Tequila, clear grapefruit, little bit of rosemary and thyme from the vermouth. Very faint orange.
- Palate: Sweet orange and oxidized wine to start. Hint of chocolate as it transitions from the intro into the mid-palate. Mid-palate is cut grass and sweet hay flavors from the tequila as well as rosemary and thyme from the vermouth along with pronounced grapefruit. Finish is very dry and quite bitter, with notes of thyme and orange peel. Heavier body when compared side by side with the Bitter Housewife version.
- Nose: Tequila and herbal notes are the same. Grapefruit isn’t quite as strong. Hints of ginger and chocolate. Slightly sweeter smelling.
- Palate: Faintly sweet orange, grapefruit, and ginger to start. Mid-palate is similar to the Scrappy’s version with the tequila and vermouth flavors but with less pronounced grapefruit. Finish is mild with flavors of toasted nut, chocolate, and ginger. The drink is lightly sweet with a mildly bitter underpinning start to finish. Lighter body and less intense grapefruit flavor when compared to the Scrappy’s.
As you can see, your choice of bitters can influence the flavor of your cocktail quite a bit. Because we are dorks, we often like to have the same type of bitters (grapefruit, orange, aromatic, etc.) from several different makers on hand so we can use their different flavor profiles to best advantage. We recommend tasting any bitters you get straight, to help you get an idea of the style that maker prefers, and also to see how they compare to the same type of bitters that you’ve had from other makers. Building up this base of knowledge will help you reach for the right bottle based on the drink and your mood next time you assemble a cocktail.