You are trying to live a life that’s completely free.
My apologies to Phish, but that catchy ditty just happens to share the name of one of my favorite makers of orange cocktail bitters. And I suppose I could have called this post, “Fee Fie Foe Fum” but that conjures up giants and British things.
And while the whole hippy Phish thing wouldn’t seem to make any sense at all, give me a few paragraphs and I’ll find a way to work it in.
Eighteen months ago, I had yet to open the FUSSYlittleSTORE and I found myself on the horns of a dilemma. There were no orange bitters to be found anywhere in the area. Which makes sense because New York State liquor laws are completely Byzantine. But it also makes no sense at all, because the longest standing producer of orange bitters is only a few hours up the road in Rochester.
For those who do not know, Rochester’s other claim to fame is something called a garbage plate. I’ve got to get there and experience it for myself. I’m an idiot that way.
Fee Brothers in some form or another has been operating in Rochester since 1863. It is a four-generation family business. If I am reading the history correctly, it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the company started to produce bitters. And frankly, I do not know if their orange bitters were part of the original bitters product line, and really it does not matter.
What matters is that I had been on a hunt for orange bitters since 1996. I found something that was labeled orange bitters in London in 1998, but it wasn’t terribly bitter and had a startling day-glo color. In 2001, I found a cocktail lounge in Las Vegas at the Bellagio Hotel that included orange bitters in their martinis. Shortly after that I stumbled onto a bottle of Fee’s orange bitters at a small but excellent liquor store in Berkeley. And it was worth the wait.
But in moving from Berkeley, CA to Albany, NY I had to leave most of my home bar behind. And I was flummoxed about what to do about the appalling lack of bitters available for sale in the area.
I considered driving out to Rochester, but instead I decided to call.
On the phone, I explained my predicament and my suspicions were confirmed. There was no store locally where I could buy my precious. But there was good news too. Given that there were no retailers in my area, the woman told me she would be happy to sell me whatever I wanted.
In my exuberance, I may have over-ordered just a wee little bit. You see, I’d never had their grapefruit bitters, and I thought that perhaps their grenadine would run circles around Rose’s, which is crap.
The best part was when they explained how they were not really set up to take orders over the phone. The woman told me, “we’ll just send these out, and send you an invoice a few days later.”
Really? Awesome! I mean who sends off a box full of bitters without taking a credit card number. Could they be Phish fans? Are there hippies in Rochester? I tell you, they don’t look like hippies.
While Fee Brothers is one of the largest national producers of bitters, they are still ultimately a small company.
I wish I could tell you that all of the products they make are outstanding. I wish they were, but they are not. I have most of the bottle of grapefruit bitters if anyone wants it. I can’t bear to throw things away, yet I have no intention of drinking it either. The grenadine I tossed.
The orange bitters are fantastic though, and I recommend them without reservations. I do also enjoy their lemon bitters. And their whiskey-barrel-aged bitters are pretty good, although I think they work best in addition to traditional Angostura bitters.
Recently Raf suggested my recipe for the Afro-Cuban cocktail could benefit from a dash of bitters. And as I thought more and more about it, I realized that he was partially right. Raf was thinking Angostura bitters would do the trick, but the spiciness really clashed with the direction of the drink. Fee’s orange bitters felt like it worked better with the Cuban theme, and did add a subtle balance to the cocktail.
And with Fee’s orange bitters added to the cocktail, maybe the best place to enjoy one is under the cool shade of a banana tree?
Before I go, just one last shameless plug: If you are interested, Fee’s orange bitters and a host of others are only a click away at the FUSSYlittleSTORE.