Artisanal bitters are all the rage these days, with no producer more hallowed than Fee Brothers. (I rely on their Orange Bitters religiously, so I’m a devotee.)
But I’d never tried Fee’s “Old Fashion Aromatic” Bitters until recently. Angostura’s always worked for me, so why change?
Well today I finally put Fee Old Fashion head to head against its forebear. Flavored with Angostura bark and other aromatics, it’s a clear homage to Angostura, and the aroma on its own is decidedly similar. The big difference: A cinnamon/allspice aroma that’s strong in the Fee but minimal in Angostura.
The cinnamon/allspice character follows through in mixed drinks pretty strongly. It was noticeably present in a Champagne Cocktail (a rather loathsome drink, really), and even stronger in a rye Manhattan. It also sweetened the Manhattan considerably vs. a version I made with Angostura. In the case of the Manhattan, I liked both renditions, but ultimately preferred the one made with Angostura by quite a margin, which was a more balanced drink that hung on to its rye core and wasn’t overwhelmed by spices.
Both bitters are good, but ultimately the original Angostura still has stands as a bar essential. The Fee Brothers will stick around for experimentation — I’m sure there are cocktails out there where it will outclass Angostura, I just haven’t gotten to them yet — but for now it plays second fiddle.