When Dan first suggested I make Orange Bitters, I was a bit hesitant. There were already a number on the market by well known brands and I wasn’t sure another was really needed. I don’t believe in just copying a flavor to have it on our line up. But Orange is a classic that many folks are looking for and if I could provide a unique take on the flavor they might as well have ours as an option.
So the first thing I did was taste every Orange bitters on the market that I could find and made notes about what I liked and what I didn’t. Overall I felt most of the options either had an almost fake, Tang like orange flavor or they were heavily spiced with cinnamon and clove. I wanted to make something that had a really fresh, natural orange flavor and was just lightly spiced, with a vibrancy I felt the others were lacking.
I grabbed every kind of “orange” I could when they were in season and made tinctures from the peels. I tasted Valencias, Navels, and Cara Cara’s as well as Tangerines, Satsumas, and Mandarines. Surprisingly, I thought Navels had the best flavor and luckily they’re pretty easy to source. While Valencias make the best juice, their peels have a natural Tanglike flavor.
I then tested dried peel versus fresh peel and not surprisingly fresh peel was significantly better. Being able to capture all the natural oils not only made for an amazing aroma, it also gave the brightest, freshest flavor. And while my mixture of cardamom, allspice, and Earl Grey tea give our Orange Bitters a subtle, but not overpowering spice and a lovely floral note, it’s really the fresh peel that makes all the difference. We use approximately one orange worth of peel per bottle.
We only buy domestic oranges in season, November through April, which means we have to make all the Orange Bitters we need for the year during those 6 months. We used to peel all the oranges by hand with a vegetable peeler. We’d go through a few peelers for each batch and have lots of nicks on our hands. Now we have an awesome machine that’s made in Spain and while still relatively manual it’s significantly faster. Once the oranges are peeled we get all the peel into neutral grain spirits right away to capture all the natural goodness. Then we mix in all the other ingredients and follow our regular process.
All artisan made products are an expression of the maker behind them, with our Orange Bitters are what I believe to be the best expression I can make. Not to mention they are extremely versatile. Try a few dashes in your Gin & Tonic or Vodka Martini, or play around with some tropical rum and tequila based drinks, or bring some excitement to your Old Fashioned or Manhattan.