These days, there is a wealth of orange bitters on the market, but until quite recently this wasn’t always the case.
Back in the 1990s, before the cocktail renaissance took hold, there was just one company making them – Fee Brothers, and you had to contact the owners directly to get a bottle. Many of the original recipes for classic cocktails, such as the Martini, called for these bitters, so the dearth posed a problem for bartenders who valued authenticity.
It was due to this scarcity that former bartender, and renowned former bartender, now cocktail writer and columnist Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan decided (with his late wife Mardee – an equally excellent drinks writer) to start making their own.
The recipe was taken from The Gentleman’s Companion: an Exotic Drinking Book, by Charles H. Baker Jr. This text detailed Baker’s trips around the world, including drinks he enjoyed on his travels. The bitters recipe called for orange peel, caraway, coriander, and cardamom. To this Regan added gentian, cinchona, and quassia for “a little depth”. It was a pastime, with small batches of different ingredients created and tended to in his New York apartment. Bottles were given to friends and bartenders, with the consummate barkeep, Dale DeGroff, using them at the Rainbow Room, a famous NYC bar.
In 2005, The Sazerac Company agreed to help Regan produce and market his bitters commercially. After a little back and forth with the Tax Bureau (who deemed the bitters too drinkable to be ‘non-potable’, a requirement for cocktail bitters) batch number 6 was created, and that is the bottling we have today.
56 cases were sold in the first year, by 2018 that number had grown to 12,000.
The bitters have a powerful rooty spice note, with plenty of cardamom and dried orange peel bitterness, alongside a touch of quinine.
Bottled at 45% ABV, these bitters are extremely intense, and often paired with Fee Brothers (a far milder 9%) to create “Feegans”, a well balance bitters that offers a bright orangey punch.
A superb bottling that can really elevate a drink, fantastic in both Martinis and Old Fashioneds. Our thanks to Gaz Regan for reviving this style.