A couple of months ago, I got a bottle of Legent™ from Jim Beam. Among the marketing materials that I received with the bottle was a book of cocktails that featured Legent™ as their main ingredient. As you might have guessed, I was intrigued. There was a problem though. I like cocktails, but I really only keep the ingredients on hand for those that I really like. Ones that I will make often. Unfortunately, the cocktails that come in marketing materials need to be unique in order to position the brand’s…
Ugh, I hate marketing speak so let’s just say they use a lot of ingredients that a normal person would not have on hand. Hell, many bars wouldn’t have some of these ingredients on hand. So when I decided that as part of the review I was going to try one of their featured cocktails, I chose the one that involved the least amount of spending on my part.
I chose the Kentucky Kyushiki mostly because the only thing I needed to buy was a bottle of bitters. That particular cocktail is basically a riff on an old fashioned. Just bourbon, flavored simple syrup and lavender bitters. Now, I had no idea where to find lavender bitters, but a quick search of the Total Wine website showed me that they had a sampler pack from Scrappy’s Bitters that had a bottle of Lavender Bitters in it. Yay!
So there went twenty dollars toward a half-ounce bottle of bitters that I wanted and three more that I really didn’t care about. And so, of course I decided to spend another twenty dollars on the other four pack so I could try their entire line. You know, for science. Or something.
When I test bitters, I tend to do it in the most reproducible way possible. Namely I make my favorite non-alcoholic drink (bitters and soda water) and then an old fashioned. Both are very simple drinks where the differences from drink to drink are solely from the bitters. I used Maker’s Mark as it is a pretty plain palette to paint the bitters across. The impressions below encapsulate both testing methods.
Purchase Info: $20 each for two sample packs of four half ounce bottles each at Total Wine, Burnseville, MN.
Orleans: Strong anise notes on nose and mouth. Brings out a lot of spicy notes to a Maker's Mark old fashioned while maintaining the anise notes.
Aromatic: Cinnamon and clove flavors at the forefront, not as richly flavored as Angostura at the same dilution. Adds a little baking spice to the old fashioned. I'd choose Angostura over this.
Orange: Jellied orange slice candy, hints of spice. Maintains the orange candy flavor in the old fashioned. If you choose this over Regan's or Angostura orange, use it sparingly. The orange flavor easily overpowers Maker's. Though I wouldn’t choose it over either of those unless you really like orange candy flavors in your cocktail.
Celery: Strong celery notes on the nose and mouth. Almost salty tasting along with fizzy water. Adds an interesting herbal finish to the Maker's Old-fashioned. I mean that in the most minnesotan way possible. I do not like celery and this has a lot of celery. However in a rye old-fashioned, this sings. Really good pairing with the herbal notes of a good rye.
Grapefruit: Sweet Grapefruit on the nose. Generic citrus on the mouth. This reads as orange in the old fashioned. It actually works better as an orange bitters than the orange did.
Chocolate: Dark Chocolate nose. Milk chocolate and caramel mouth. This turns the old fashioned into a liquid candy bar. Nice dark chocolate notes on the finish.
Lavender: Floral lavender on nose and mouth. Mouth brings lemon zest. as well As to be expected, this adds a floral note to the Maker's old fashioned. Honestly this works better with Beam-branded products than it does with Maker’s.
Cardamom: As to be expected, cardamom notes predominate on both nose and mouth. This brings out a lot of baking spice to the old fashioned. Including a nice "Christmas note". Not sure I’d want this all the time, but I can see uses for it occasionally in the right cocktail.
Thoughts (After fizzy water): Most of these are fairly straightforward. For the most part these are pretty one-note affairs. For example the Orleans is just anise. As opposed to Peychaud's which has anise and other herbal and bitter notes, or the Orange which is just an orange candy flavor as opposed to the orange and spice melange of Angostura's Orange Bitters. In fact it seems many of these are lacking in much bitter flavor at all. They remind me of Fee Brothers in that respect. Great for use as a flavoring, but not really as a bittering agent.
Thoughts (After use in a Maker’s Mark Old Fashioned): Overall, I think the Orleans is my favorite. It takes your typical aromatic bitters note and adds a hit of anise which really elevates the drink. I like the lavender in the Kentucky Kyushiki and it works very nicely with Beam-branded bourbons. It also works nicely in a gin and tonic. Other than that, most of these I don’t know that I will find a use for. The orange and aromatic aren’t as good as the two big guys and the rest I’d only use every once in a while. As far as I'm concerned, the Orleans and the Lavender are the two I will continue to buy full bottles of, and the rest I’ll struggle to finish the half ounce bottle. As always your milage may vary.
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