Orange Bitters Battle!

From L to R: Bittercube, Really Horrible, Regans', Beehive, RACM, Dashfire, & Angostura Orange Bitters

From L to R: Bittercube, Really Horrible, Regans’, Beehive, RACM, Dashfire, & Angostura Orange Bitters

After aromatics, orange bitters are pretty much the standard and next step in anyone’s bitters collection. They mix well in many drinks, everyone loves citrus, and orange bitters range from clean and simple to extremely complex with many combinations of spices, herb, and botanicals. We’ve got seven orange bitters ready to battle today, from the big boys like Angostura & Regan’s, to fast rising start up’s like Bittercube and Dashfire, and the new kids on the block like Beehive Bitters, Root Bitters, and Really Horrible.

I’ll be providing tasting notes from each bitters, a bitterness rating from 1 to 5, 1 being almost no bitterness to 5 being a solid tongue numbing, and a little bit of knowledge about the brand. These tasting notes are a combination of mine as well as a sommelier friend for posterity and professionalism. Without further ado, let the battle begin, in no particular order:

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Regans’ Orange Bitters #06:
Regans’ Orange bitters have a fantastic story to them that I highly recommend reading if you’ve got a moment. But, like most great things, they were born out of necessity, in that the creator Gaz Regan couldn’t find an orange bitters suitable to his taste and so embarked on making his own. The end result was a mix of experimentation based on an old article from The Gentleman’s Companion: An Exotic Drinking Book, by Charles H. Baker which is more or less required reading for any budding bartender or mixologist. Onward:

Tasting Notes:
Candied florals on the nose along with the orange. These bitters are extremely cardamom and coriander forward, which for some can be off-putting, straight up there isn’t much to these bitters outside of that, but they tend to shine and smooth out in a cocktail. If you tend to lean towards more herbal flavours rather than spice or citrus [though the citrus is definitely present] then these are for you.

Bitterness:
2.5 out of 5 — These aren’t exceptionally bitter, but the cardamom adds a different level of bitter herb quality to them.

[Buy]

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Dashfire Vintage Orange No. 1:
Dashfire is a newer name on the bitters scene but they’re quickly making a name for themselves with their high quality bitters and tinctures. Lee Egbert of Dashfire has used his extensive travels to bring together spices, herbs, and botanicals to build quite a line up of products ranging from classic Brandy Old Fashioned bitters all the way to Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Secret bitters. They’re one to keep an eye on for sure.

Tasting Notes:
Herbal and spicy on the nose with hints of licorice root, orange zest, and old time soda. To taste these still have a solid cardamom presence but it is more subdued than the Regans’ above. You get hints of turkish jelly treats, molasses, coffee, and the orange is very subtle throughout the complexity of these bitters, almost too subtle. Once in a drink they shine out a bit more but these are a bit spice heavy and tend to lose a little focus on the citrus I feel.

Bitterness:
3 out of 5 — These run the middle of the road when it comes to bitterness and it plays well with the spice forward profile.

[Buy]

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Root Bitters Spiced Orange:
Root Bitters is a young craft company out of Los Angeles and they’re beginning to make moves. Their creator Richard pay extreme attention to detail from the bitters themselves, to the packaging, and recipe cards he sends along with them. With a handful of initial flavours on the market and more planned, Root Bitters in time will be quite a force to be reckoned with.

Tasting Notes:
Orange, nutmeg, and cinnamon on the nose. My friend summed these bitters up in a joking but extremely apt way; “Like having a fall party in your mouth.” These bitters are everything you love about fall baking, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, orange zest all things you would consider pumpkin style spices. The orange is present too and not overrun by cardamom or herbs, like they say on the label this is definitely a Spiced Orange bitters. Outside of cocktails, these would lend themselves very well to baking.

Bitterness:
3.75 out of 5 — While not extremely bitter these do have a tongue numbing quality in larger doses, a little goes a long way.

[Buy]

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Bittercube Orange Bitters:
Bittercube has been around for about six years now and has been making waves in print and bars across the country with their products. Producing a classic lineup of flavours like orange and cherry vanilla to more esoteric and less often seen Blackstrap, Bolivar, and Jamaican varieties. They pride themselves on only using natural ingredients, no extracts or oils and their passion has won them features and accolades from Martha Steward, NPR, Imbibe Magazine, and even Playboy.

Tasting Notes:
Orange and vanilla on the nose, but also something bitter and almost chemical. Not chemical in a bad way, this is likely just from the bittering agent they use. These bitters have one of the oddest taste associations of these reviews, candy cigarettes. For some reason I can just taste the chalky vanilla sweetness of them, along with orange, cardamom, and again the slightly chemical almost patent leather taste.

Bitterness:
4 out of 5 — I’m not sure what the bittering agent is in here but it’s strong and definitely a bit tongue numbing straight up. I’m going to wager it’s something off the beaten path or a combination of two different bittering agents.

[Buy]

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Beehive Spiced Orange Bitters:
Beehive Bitters Co. hail from Roy Utah and sprang onto the market via Instagram and social media. Their first offering was their spiced orange, followed by two more citrus bitters in the form of Lime and Lemon as well as a limited batch of caramelized orange. They’re releasing new flavours soon and really have a passion for making a quality product that knows how to play well with other ingredients.

Tasting Notes:
Largely orange and nutmeg on the nose with a hint of cinnamon, very true to their label. To taste these are extremely clean with orange up front and the aforementioned spices that follow along with some allspice. These are very flavorful but will not overpower a cocktail in even large doses, only add more citrus and nuance to it. Perfect for beginners or those that love them some citrus.

Bitterness:
2 out of 5 — The only bittering agent used in these are the orange peels and pith themselves which is what makes them so clean and fresh, again perfect for those afraid of heavy bitterness.

[Buy]

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Really Horrible Orange Bitters:
Don’t let the name fool you, Really Horrible bitters are really good! Really Horrible is a small brand out of Ontario that produces a number of classic flavours like orange, lemon, and lime along with a fantastic Hellfire spicy bitters and a very clever “Can-gostura” aromatic flavour as well as some other excellent drink and sundry goods.

Tasting Notes:
Very orange on the nose with an almost creamsicle quality to it with a bit of vanilla. To taste very orange up front with again the vanilla, some subtle spice and bark which is likely the bittering agent itself. These are very straightforward and focus on the orange rather than adding ancillary flavours and spices, what I would call a true orange bitters.

Bitterness:
3 out of 5 — These are odd as they’re fairly bitter up front but not long lasting on the tongue and still have a delightful orange aftertaste.

[Buy]

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Angostura Orange:
Angostura have been the reigning kings of cocktail bitters for decades but it wasn’t until 2007 that they diversified and brought something other than their aromatic bitters to market. Their first, and still only, other line is their Angostura Orange bitters. These were immediately embraced by bartenders world wide who had come to trust the Angostura House name.

Tasting Notes:
Herbs and a strong medicinal nose, with hints of yellow curry and molasses. To taste despite the orange moniker, it still retains the aromatic herbciousness of it’s namesake, fans of original Angostura, Green Chartreuse, will find themselves right at home with these. While the orange does come through it’s more of a caramelized orange which lends itself to the underlying molasses tastes. Despite being extremely potent, it evens out nicely in cocktails.

Bitterness:
4 out of 5 — It’s got a very solid bitterness and might be the most bitter of the bunch.

[Buy]

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So there you have it sports fans, each of these bitters has something to offer for everyone and will appeal to many different tastes. All of the above tasting notes are the bitters in their purest form, straight out of the bottle. Once in a cocktail they will add flavour and nuance, dilute, even out, and it’s up to you to determine how much or how little to add. While a particular bitters may not be my regular cup of tea, we tried to be as impartial as possible to help appeal to those that might enjoy it. And the winner is…

Root Bitters Spiced Orange!
Root Bitters are the most well balanced of the bunch with the spices, citrus, and bitterness blending perfectly. While they may lack some of the herbal qualities of the other bitters, with a name like Spiced Orange you can’t really be surprised.

Here are your runner ups:

Beehive Bitters Spiced Orange: Clean & Refreshing, Perfect for the Home or Bar
Really Horrible Orange: True & Pure Orange Bitters
Bittercube Orange: Candy Cigarettes Make Us Happy
Regan’s Orange No. 6: The King of Cardamom & Storytelling
Dashfire Vintage Orange No. 1: Complexity & Balance, Ying and Yang
Angostura Orange: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, Just Add Orange

Cheers.

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