You never know what cool or unusual product is going to come down the pike next in the cocktail game. The latest such surprise is Cardamom Bitters, Boker’s Style, produced by the lovably bitter folks at Fee Brothers.
Fee Brothers is one of the mainstays of the alcohol and beverage business, having been operating in one form or another since 1863. They’ve been making cordials and other flavorings and ingredients for much of that time, but today they’re probably best known for their bitters. (To learn more about bitters, read Bitters 101.)
They currently make at least 15 different types of bitters, ranging from Plum to Rhubard and Peach, along with mainstays like Old Fashioned Aromatic and West Indian Orange. Now they’ve gone way back into the history books to resurrect one of the first types of cocktail bitters.
Boker’s Bitters were invented in New York City in 1828 by John G. Boker, a German immigrant. His bitters found favor with the city’s bartenders and became the favorite of the original Professor, Jerry Thomas — barkeep extraordinaire and author of the world’s first bartending guide.
In his How to Mix Drinks, Or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion (published 1862), Thomas lists recipes for a handful of cocktails — a new type of alcoholic beverage at that time — and specifies Boker’s Bitters (sometimes misprinted as “Bogart’s Bitters”) in almost all of them.
Now Fee Brothers has produced their own version, marketed as Cardamom Bitters, Boker’s Style. How these bitters differ from the original Boker’s is impossible to say, although we know that cardamom was a key ingredient in the original.
So what are they like? I poured some in a shot glass to smell and taste, first undiluted and then with water. Fee’s version smells sweet and herbal — it reminds me a lot of sassafras. (Think root beer.) Undiluted, the flavor is very bitter, predictably, astringent and bark-like, with orange, spice, and a little mint. With water, the taste is similar, although obviously more muted. The sassafras returns, along with a little sweetness.
Cardamom Bitters are a creative substitution in any cocktail that calls for Angostura Bitters. They are an especially good choice for pre-Prohibition-era cocktails, when Boker’s would often have been the bartender’s bitters of choice. Drinks such as the Japanese Cocktail and Martinez immediately come to mind.
Kudos to Fee Brothers for providing another weapon in the bartender’s arsenal.