Fee Brothers Cardamom Bitters (Boker’s Style)

Fee Brothers Cardamom BittersYou 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.

After many years lost in the wilderness, Boker’s Bitters were recreated by Adam Elmegirab in 2009. You can buy them at Amazon, The Boston Shaker, and Kegworks, although they’re not inexpensive.

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.

Fee Brothers Cardamom Bitters


Let’s Talk About Grenadine

You might think you know what grenadine is, but you probably don’t. For years, I thought it was that neon red, cherry-flavored syrup that you can buy in any grocery store in America.

Nope. Grenadine is actually a sweet-tart syrup made from pomegranate juice and sugar. It should be a rich, deep magenta color, it shouldn’t taste like “cherries,” and it definitely shouldn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it.

roses grenadineThat doesn’t mean I never use Rose’s, the ubiquitous brand mentioned above. I do — in my kids’ Shirley Temples. If you make one using the real stuff, it just doesn’t taste right. (They don’t think it tastes right, anyway.)

But I don’t use it in cocktails. It’ll give you a nice, bright color, but that’s about it. The flavor is all wrong. You’re better off leaving it out altogether than putting it in your drink.

And that would be a shame, because grenadine is great stuff. It was a common ingredient in the pre-Prohibition era, and shows up in many classic cocktails, including the Jack Rose, El Presidente, Mary Pickford, and Bacardi Cocktail. It even adds a grace note to the Zombie.

You can make your own grenadine — here’s a recipe that isn’t too challenging. Or you can buy some of the good stuff.

Here are some brands that I recommend. They cost a little more and can be a little harder to find. But it’s worth the effort.

Grenadine Syrup

B.G. Reynolds’ Hibiscus Grenadine (Amazon link)

Employees Only Grenadine Syrup* (Amazon link)

Small Hand Foods Grenadine

Sonoma Syrup Classic Grenadine (Amazon link)

 Wilks & Wilson Genevieveʼs Grenadine (Amazon link)

*I haven’t tried the Employees Only grenadine. But given its provenance — Employees Only is one of the world’s great cocktail bars — I still feel confident in listing it.

101 Ingredients Mixology

Bitters 101: A Brief History of Potent Non-Potables

Cocktail bitters are something we hear about a lot in the liquid world, but many people aren’t exactly sure what they are. It’s worth your time to find out more about them, as they can be the crucial difference in whether a drink succeeds or fails.

Bitters are flavorings for cocktails. Much like adding salt and pepper to a soup or stew, bitters aren’t necessarily a flavor that you highlight on their own, but rather one that contributes to the overall taste of the cocktail. You might not even notice they’re there, but you’ll definitely notice if they’re not.

Bitters don’t make a drink taste bitter, even though they might have bitter ingredients (like gentian) in them. Their flavors run the gamut from sweet to spicy to citrusy, herbal, floral and more. They serve to enhance and accentuate the other flavors in the drink, adding some extra zing. It’s like putting salt on french fries — they make the whole thing taste better.

The origin of bitters dates back three centuries, well before the era of the cocktail, when they were used as patent remedies and tonics. Formulated by doctors, pharmacists, and charlatans, bitters were taken for a variety of ills, most notably an upset stomach.

The problem was, bitters didn’t taste very good. It was medicine, after all, and medicine isn’t expected to taste good. So people started mixing their bitters with other things to make them more palatable. Once people start combining liquids, you can bet it won’t be long before alcohol goes into the mix. And so it did, and thus the cocktail was born.

By far the most common type of bitters is Angostura. They are a type of “aromatic bitters” that are so ubiquitous they have become sui generis. Made in Trinidad for almost 200 years, the flavor of Angostura bitters has elements of tamarind, clove, allspice, and cinnamon. They add a warm, spicy touch to your cocktail, and are commonly used in drinks like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Pink Gin, and Champagne Cocktail.

It wasn’t that long ago that the only bottle of bitters you’d ever see on the shelf was Angostura. These days, however, there are enough different types of bitters on the market to fill a swimming pool. It can be a little intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

After you’ve bought a bottle of Angostura, you can start branching out beyond that. Probably the next most used type are orange bitters, and a variety of them are available. Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters and Regan’s Orange Bitters are the most common, and both are recommended. Orange bitters were traditionally used in Martinis, along with other cocktails like the Bronx and Bijou. They can also add an interesting dimension to a Daiquiri or Margarita.

Peychaud’s, a type of Creole bitters created in New Orleans, are a very handy third addition to your arsenal. There are sweeter than Angostura, with elements of fruit and licorice. They are essential if you’re going to make the official New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac, or that other Big Easy favorite, the Vieux Carré. They also make a nice change-up in your Manhattan.

There are scores of other varieties of bitters available, everything ranging from chocolate to cherry, lavender to lemon, and celery to sarsaparilla. Whether or not you will need any of these depends on how deeply you plan to go into your mixological explorations, and what kinds of drinks you want to make. If you do want more, Kegworks is a great place to check.

So don’t be intimidated by bitters. When you see a recipe that calls for them, use them. Once you get comfortable with how the flavors work, you can even try experimenting on your own.

If you’re interested in finding out more about bitters, I highly recommend Brad Thomas Parsons’ book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All. It contains everything you’ll ever need to know about the subject, including how to make your own. It’s a gorgeous book and a fascinating read.

Cocktail Bitters

Amaro History Ingredients Recipes

Whatever Happened to Amer Picon?

If you’re a casual drinker, you’ve probably never even heard of Amer Picon — which is probably a good thing, since it’s not available anymore, and thus you don’t know what you’re missing. But if you’re an experienced imbiber, bartender or Basque, you probably know Amer Picon. And to know it is to miss it, since it’s all but impossible to acquire.

Amer Picon is a bitter-sweet French aperitif. (“Amer” is the French version of the Italian “Amaro,” which translates as “bitter.”) It is sometime drank before a meal to stimulate the appetitite, but more often it’s mixed in cocktails, most notably the Picon Punch (the “National Drink of the Basques”) and the Brooklyn Cocktail.

Amer Picon was invented by a Frenchman named Gaétan Picon in 1837, and produced by the company he started, the House of Picon. The aperitif starts with dried orange peels that are macerated (soaked) in alcohol and then distilled. (This basically creates a flavored vodka.) The distillate is then infused with gentian root and quinquina (to add bitterness), and topped off with sugar (for sweetness) and caramel (for coloring).

The Picon brand was purchased by one of the predecessor companies of the British drinks conglomerate Diageo years ago. It is no longer produced in its original form, although two replacements — Amer Picon Club and Amer Picon Biere — are supposedly available in France. No version of it has been exported to the United States in at least a couple of decades.

To deepen the pain even further, the recipe of Amer Picon was changed sometime in the 1970’s, and its proof was lowered steadily from 52 to 42 to 36, cutting its alcohol content by over half. (The original version made by Gaétan Picon was much stronger, coming in at 78 proof.) So even if you can find a bottle from the last 30 years, it won’t be the good stuff. But if you do find a bottle, please send it to me anyway.

Torani Amer is the substitute for Amer Picon that is used most often. As far as I can tell, it’s only distributed in California, where it’s cheap and easy to find. Or it can be ordered online. Those who know more than I say that the Torani version is a shadow of the real stuff, with far less complexity and orange flavor. It does, however, restore the spirit to its original strength of 78 proof.

Some bartenders, most notably the great Jamie Boudreau of Canon in Seattle, have created recipes of their own to try to duplicate the flavor of the original Amer Picon. Amer Boudreau (Jamie’s version) is relatively easy to make, although it does take some time due to the infusion process. I’ve made some and it really is worth the effort. I think the flavor is clearly superior to that of Torani Amer.

However, if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own, Torani does fill in well enough. It would be a shame not to enjoy such a great drink as the Picon Punch for want of the key ingredient.

Picon PunchPicon Punch

2 1/2 oz. Amer Picon (sub Torani Amer or Amer Boudreau)
1 tsp. Grenadine
1-2 oz. Club Soda
1/2 oz. Brandy

Build in a highball or collins glass filled with ice. Add Amer Picon and grenadine, then give a quick stir. Top with club soda, then the brandy float. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Topa! (That’s the traditional Basque toast.)

Books Ingredients Mixology

Win a Zombie Prize Pack, Courtesy of B.G. Reynolds’ Syrups

If you've already bought your copy of Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde: Recipes for the World’s Most Lethal Drink (thank you!), you know that some of the ingredients that go into a classic Zombie are a little obscure.

In addition to the various rums, the recipe for Don the Beachcomber's Zombie Punch calls for Don's Mix, falernum and grenadine. (Okay, grenadine isn't hard to find. But good grenadine can be.)

In order to make your Zombie mixing a little easier, Professor Cocktail has teamed up with B.G. Reynolds to give one lucky winner a set of these three syrups.

I've mentioned B.G. Reynolds' syrups before — their orgeat was the co-winner of our Orgeat Taste Test — and they're also recommended in Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde. For my money, they're as good as anything you can find on the market. All the syrups are hand-crafted in Portland by bartender Blair Reynolds and his team, and contain real sugar and real ingredients.

Here's how you enter the contest: Buy a copy of Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde: Recipes for the World’s Most Lethal Drink from Amazon, then forward a copy of your email receipt to me at

If you've already bought the book — thanks again! — you're set. Just forward me your purchase confirmation and you'll be entered. If you haven't purchased yet, you have until October 28, 2013 to enter.

That's it! One lucky winner will receive a set of three syrups from B.G. Reynolds — and be quickly on his/her way to mixing Zombies. (Sorry, but U.S. residents only. Rum not included.)

Bg reynolds syrups
Visit B.G. Reynolds' Bar Store


Purchase is required for entry. Winner must reside (or have a shipping address) in the United States. One prize pack will be given away. Contents of prize pack are subject to change without notice. Must be at least 21 years of age to enter. One entry per person. Borrowing the book doesn't count. All decisions are final. Contest organizers aren't responsible for anything. Contest ends at 11:59pm Eastern time on October 28, 2013. Thank you for buying my book. It makes you extra handsome/pretty just for owning it.

Cocktails Ingredients Mixology

Ten Easy Tips for Making Better Cocktails at Home

If you order a drink in a good bar, chances are it will taste better than what you can make at home. But it doesn't have to be like that. By following some simple strategies, you can greatly improve the quality of your cocktails. You may not reach A+ level, but with just a little work, you'll soon be the bartending star of the block.

1. Buy a couple pieces of decent equipment. At the very least you need a cocktail shaker and a jigger. The two together will only cost you $20 and you'll be set to make most drinks. (You can also buy a low-cost set from a store like I have this particular set and it's hard to beat for the price.)

2. Measure! Once you've got your jigger, you can start measuring all your liquids that go into the drink. This is crucial.

3. Use good ice. I wrote about ice a couple years ago, so I won't go into too much detail. If you can't make good, fresh ice at home (you need a clean, odorless freezer to do so), then buy a bag at the store. Some people are down on bought ice, but I think it's fine for most purposes.

4. Buy good quality booze. The better the booze, the better your drinks will taste. But this doesn't necessarily require you to spend a lot of money. Cruzan Rum, for example, is perfectly fine and costs less than Bacardi. Sobieski makes good quality vodka that is very cheap. You can find Tanqueray Gin on sale for under $20.

5. Know when to splurge. Bite the bullet and spend the extra money to get Cointreau and Grand Marnier (for example). They're more expensive than the other brands, but they're better. The difference between Cointreau and generic triple sec in a drink is night-and-day. The good news is, most cocktails only require an ounce or less of a liqueur. So you'll get at least 25 drinks from that one bottle. It's worth it.

6. Use fresh juices. Everyone says this, and there's a reason for that. I do sometimes use canned/bottled juices (Bad Professor!), but most varieties just don't taste very good. If you use fresh lime and lemon juice, your drinks will taste better. You can get away with buying orange juice and grapefruit juice from the store, but try to get fresh, not-from-concentrate.

7. Avoid any mixers with high fructose corn syrup. In addition to being bad for you, HFCS doesn't mix well in cocktails. You can almost always find substitutes that contain real sugar. They probably won't even cost any more. You just need to read labels.

8. Buy some decent glasses. A few highball, cocktail, rocks, and collins glasses won't set you back very much, but they'll make your drink experience so much nicer. The right glass can also make your drink taste better, by ensuring you don't flood it with too much mixer. You can buy Libbey brand glasses at Amazon or Target and they don't cost very much. Or you can find unique glasses at your local thrift store for very cheap.

9. Don't substitute ingredients until you know what you're doing. If a recipe calls for a particular kind of juice or liqueur or mixer, use it. You need to have a good understanding of the flavors before you can start changing things up. Sometimes substitutions work — but they often end up in a wasted glass of booze.

10. Taste your drinks before you serve them. If you watch videos on YouTube of bartenders in high-end cocktail bars, you'll often notice them tasting their cocktails before pouring them into the glass. (The usual method of doing this is to take a straw, plug one end, and dip it in the drink. This draws out a small amount that you can taste.) This is your last chance to fix anything in your cocktail that might be off. Too sweet? Add more citrus. Too tart? Add more sweetener. Etc.

If you have any tips that you'd like to share, please post them in the comments below, or email them along.

Bar equipment

Ingredients Mixology Spirits

Stocking a Home Bar: Spirits

Properly stocking a home bar can be an expensive proposition. There are many different products you likely will want to buy, and a lot of them aren't cheap. The good news is, you probably won't be going through the bottles that quickly, and most alcohol stays good for a very long time.*

There are three different major styles of gin: London Dry, Old Tom and Genever. (You could also throw Plymouth Gin into the mix.) The good news is you only need to buy one bottle to start: London Dry. Tanqueray has long been my favorite, but Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater are excellent as well. Buy whichever one is cheapest.

It's easy to spend more money on vodka then you need to, especially if you reach for the Grey Goose because you "heard it's the best." By all means, pick up an expensive bottle if you're feeling flush. My favorite, which is medium-priced, is Stolichnaya. But you'll get by very well with some Sobieski.

Rum is a little more challenging, because rums vary a lot depending on what country they're from, what color they are (light/white vs. gold/dark), how long they're aged, etc. I would recommend starting out with two bottles, one of white rum and one of gold rum. Cruzan (from the U.S. Virgin Islands) is recommended — both cheaper and better than the ubiquitous Bacardi. But if you can find Flor de Caña (from Nicaragua) it only costs a little more and is excellent. If you don't drink much rum and only want to buy one bottle, I suggest you get some Appleton V/X, a very versatile and tasty rum.

Tequila has grown enormously in popularity over the past several years, which means there are now a lot of great choices on the shelves, in all kinds of prices. If your goal is to make Margaritas and other similar drinks, you'll want a silver tequila. I recommend either Camarena or Milagro. They're both affordable and easy to find.

This is a tough one, because there are so many types and so many choices. Do you go with a Scotch, Canadian or Irish? Bourbon, rye or Tennessee? If I were buying just one type, I would probably go with bourbon, and would probably get Maker's Mark. Maker's isn't the favorite whiskey of a lot of people, but it's a very good one and it's something that almost any whiskey drinker will drink without complaining. If you want to branch out and add a Scotch, I'd go with Johnnie Walker Black. Again, not always a favorite, but a crowd pleaser.

Cognac (which is brandy made according to certain rules in a particular area of France) was hot a decade or so back when the hip hop community discovered it, and brands like Hennessy and Remy Martin were name-checked in rap songs. It's cooled off since then, so there are plenty of good bargains to be found. (And also plenty of bottles that will cost you as much as a nice vacation.) If you want a simple brandy, I find Raynal to be quite good. It works fine in a lot of cocktails and won't set you back much at all. If you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, go for one of the cognacs made by Pierre Ferrand. (Their Ambre is very good and only costs around $40.)

If you're going to make any kind of cocktails, you're going to need some modifiers, with the most common being an orange liqueur. It might be triple sec or Curacao, but in order to make a Margarita or a Sidecar or Mai Tai, you're going to need something. There are many different types of orange liqueur, ranging from cheap to expensive. Unfortunately, the cheap stuff is usually not very good. On the upside, a bottle will last a long time, so it doesn't hurt as much to splurge. If you want a dryer liqueur, go with Cointreau. If you want a sweeter one, go with Grand Marnier. Yes, they're expensive. But they're so good that you'll be glad you spent the extra money.

If you're planning to make Martinis or Manhattans, you'll need to get some vermouth. Sweet (red) vermouth goes in a Manhattan and dry (white) vermouth goes in a Martini. There are some high-end brands that are delicious. But on the affordable end of things Martini (sweet) and Noilly Pratt (dry) work very well. 

You're not going to get this done without spending a couple hundred bucks. But once you do, you'll be able to make a lot of drinks — and save yourself a ton of dough over what you'd spend in a bar. Plus, with a little practice, you'll be able to whip up some great cocktails that will quickly make you the envy of all your friends and neighbors.

*Except for vermouth. Vermouth is only good for a couple of months once you open it. And only if you keep it in the refrigerator. And yes, I know vermouth isn't a spirit. Neither is orange liqueur.

Ask the Professor Ingredients

Ask the Professor: Orgeat Ingredients

I'm starting a new feature here on Professor Cocktail: Ask the Professor. This is your chance to write in and ask me anything. I may not have an answer…but if I don't, I can probably make something up.

Kevin writes to ask:

Would you mind posting the nutrition information for the Small Hand Foods Orgeat and the Routin 1883? I'm working on tweaking my orgeat recipes and that info would help, thanks!

An easy one! Yes, Kevin, I can do that.

Small Hand Foods Orgeat contains: Water, Organic Cane Sugar, Almonds, Apricot Kernels, Organic Lemon Juice, Orange Blossom Water, Brandy (.5% abv)

Routin 1883 Orgeat contains: Cane Sugar, Water, Natural Flavor

My recipe for orgeat contains water, sugar, almonds, orange flower water, and a little high-proof vodka as a preservative. I've tried it with the addition of rose flower water as well, but I didn't think it added anything.

On a related note…Don't miss the Professor Cocktail Orgeat Taste Test.

And please
send in your own questions, or leave them as a comment on one of the posts.

Ingredients Mixology Quotes

Quote of the Day: Gregory Boehm on Original Ingredients

"It's pretty clear that by 1908 grenadine had already become red simple syrup." –Gregory Boehm, Proprietor of Cocktail Kingdom and Publisher of Mud Puddle Books

The quote comes from the September 30, 2012 issue of Wine Spectator. Boehm is discussing how the quest for historical authenticity in cocktail ingredients can sometimes lead to ironic results.

Ingredients Ingredients Reviews

Follow-up: Torani Almond (Orgeat) Syrup

In the comments section of my recent story on the Orgeat Taste Test I performed, a reader named Markahuna wrote:

I'm sorry about your opinion of the Torani syrup but even sorrier that you chose to taste test the Torani Almond which is no where near the same as the Torani Orgeat. I find the Torani Orgeat to be quite nice for the $5 per litre price, I have tried all of the above listed Orgeats and more and I still prefer to use the Torani Orgeat if I don't have a batch of home-made orgeat on hand.

I was curious about this, and wondered if perhaps Torani had changed their syrup, or it was a different type of almond syrup, and that somehow accounted for how poorly their orgeat scored. So I contacted Torani's corporate office to inquire.

One of their customer service managers responded:

Based off of market research, we decided to change the name to Almond since the majority of people didn’t realize what “Orgeat” meant.  The name changed but the formula stayed exactly the same.  We no longer carry “Orgeat” labeled syrup in our warehouse.

So that answers that question. The Torani orgeat is the same, just with a name change. I'm following up with them to see if I possibly got a bad bottle, but I'm doubtful.