Embitterment: Phase one in which Doris gets her oats.

So, tonight is the beginning of something special, the first part of a multi-part review.  Bonus points if you get the reference.  Let me begin by introducing the subject of tonight’s profile:  Embitterment.  This company, if you lack basic reasoning skills, is a fresh new brand from the District of Columbia which sells—ding, ding, ding, that’s right—bitters.  Embitterment is a very new company, and a very small company.  So small and new I would have no idea they existed if it weren’t for the fact that one of the founders of the company is a fella I used to drunkenly jabber about the Clash and revolution with in college. Good guy.  Anyways, Ethan approached me when his company was getting ready to release their first commercially viable batches of bitters, undoubtedly familiar with the fact that I am now the #1 google search result for “E&J XO Brandy Reviews” and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: either he sends me some delicious bitters, I make a lot of drinks, get jolly and write about them; or he murders my prize steed.  Not one to be intimidated, I woke up with a horse’s head in my bed and bitters in my mailbox.  Over the course of this sloshy mini-series I will go more into the profile of the company, their values, their goals, and their personal financial information.  Now, however, I feel it is appropriate to begin the series with a kind of control testing.

Embittered

For my first experiment I have Embitterment’s Aromatic Bitters and Orange Bitters serving up alongside two big boys of the industry, Angostura and Peychaud’s.  Ethan had recommended I conduct a baseline test before throwing these puppies in some cocktails, as a way of really getting to understand the profile of the product.  He had suggested I do this by putting a few dashes in some seltzer water to really let the flavors open up, and I agreed—it seemed logical, scientific and all that jazz.  Then I realized I rather loathe seltzer water.  I thought about doing it with a bit of tonic, or even some sprite or something—Angostura does actually make a lemon lime soda.  Then I thought, screw it, this blog is all about blues and booze—I’ll put it in a clear liquor.  Since vodka is icky I decided I will do variations on a theme: pink gin.  Traditionally pink gin is Plymouth gin and a dash of Angostura.  I went with Beefeater’s 24 and tonight’s challengers.  So, welp, here it goes.  First off, the established brands:

Angostura Bitters: Classic Aromatic

First off let me mention two things.  Yes, I screwed up, I wasn’t supposed to use London Dry Gin.  But Plymouth was more expensive.  Second, this isn’t pink at all; it’s kind of brackish looking.  Okay three, I didn’t chill it enough. The good news is that this is actually a pretty good medium for testing, as long as I put a ton of bitters in.  Anyways, if you’ve had any experience with bitters, it likely it was with the Caribbean classic Angostura.  The recipe from Angostura bitters, like most of the genre, came about first as some kind of digestive cure-all in Venezuela in 1824.  Basically, a lot of people assumed that mashing up a bunch of herbs and roots and shit with some hooch might make you feel better.  Remember, these were people who thought your health was controlled by humours.  Anyways, said Venezolano amigo’s recipe has been a long guarded secret, it’s oversized label a trademark, and the little drops themselves a classic cocktail additive.  Angostura’s flavor profile is dominated by a variety of root flavors, foremost among them in my mind is gentian root.  Can’t place that flavor?  New Englandah’s will recognize that flavor as the principle ingredient in Moxie soda.  On it’s on (yes, I just splashed bitters on my tongue) angostura is, as you’d expect, is bitter, spicy—think cinnamon and nutmeg, and a bit  vegetal, with a finishing note that seems to leave that part of my tongue numb.  Added to drinks, such as my brown gin, it really opens up with caramel and tons of that moxie flavor, with a bit of something I can’t place…juniper?  Oh, that’s right, gin.

Second up, Peychaud’s.  Peychaud’s bitters are just about as old (about 1830) as Angostura, and came about in much the same way—the crock of shit school of medicine.  Peychaud’s were my first entrée to the world of bitters, as at one point I tried to master the Sazerac, and Peychaud’s were a crucial part.  Rather quickly I resorted to putting endless dashes into my bourbon on a nightly basis, and even one night slugging them down on some kind of bet.  I may have bet myself I’d do it.  It wasn’t particularly pleasant.  When mixed with the proper accompaniment, however, Peychaud’s are quite pleasant.  Though similarly packing with gentian root, to my taste Peychaud’s are far more floral, are quite sweet in a very cane sugar type of way, and have a bit of licorice / anise—which make it clear why they’re the classic Sazerac, jiving perfectly with the Absinthe or Herb Saint.  The Peychaud’s also go perfectly for my whole pink gin thing—first because they actually make the gin pink, looks like a goddamn Cosmo pink, and second because the clean sweetness of it makes a perfect foil to the dry gin, and the licorice note seems to perfectly meet the juniper and grapefruit so prevalent in Beefeater’s 24.  I can see drinking this again, though not in public.  It’s pink and in a martini glass.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s star time! Tonight, the stars of our show: Embitterment!

First off, it’s automatic, diplomatic, enigmatic, and aromatic. Aromatic bitters, that is.  First thing of note, these bitters are stealthy!  They have very little color compared to the older contenders, which I imagine means these are a bit more au natural.  Now, it’s hard to say if I just put more bitters in, or if these just pack more of a punch, but wowww.  Anise is huge here, with a lovely bit of root spice, a tad of citrus and a very light, soft sweet note that kind of remind me of elderflower liqueur.  In the world of bitters varieties are opportunities, and these offer a distinct interpretation that undoubtedly will offer some delicious new twists to some of the classic cocktails I will tackle later.  Also, note to self, a little goes a long way—isn’t that the point of bitters in any cocktail?

The closer for tonight’s performance, another original, is Le Orange.  They don’t call it that; they just go with Orange Bitters.  I’m going to be honest here—I have very limited experience with orange bitters. I’ve had Regan’s once or twice, but these are a lively new experience for me.  They’re warm and round with maybe some brown sugar on the entry and then rich oily orange peel expressed vibrantly.  Little sweet vermouth and I’d have a perfect martini here.  I taste a world of opportunities, a new world to me…and I can’t wait to see what this does to an old fashioned.

Let me remind you folks, this is just an introduction, a teaser, a taster…if you will.  I haven’t really thought it through, but there’s going to be at least one more (possibly many more) installment(s) in the Embitterment review series, with more to come on the company, the mission, and the bitterness.

PS: Special perks to tonight’s medium, Beefeater’s 24, a lovely, floral and balanced gin.

Review: Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac

Since I’ve started this blog, which must be at least a year ago now, one article has surged to the peak of popularity.  To date my review of E&J XO Brandy has somehow managed 3,043 views, which is significantly (stunningly) more than the blog homepage.  My review of that product is the 4th result that shows up when you search for it on google.  Seriously, go try it.  Freakin’ crazy.  Particularly freakin’ crazy as it may be the cheapest booze I’ve reviewed.  The funny thing of it all is that I have only bought E&J XO Brandy once, the bottle I reviewed.  That review may well be the farthest my voice has reached in this world, hell the first edition printing of Moby Dick was 3,000 copies.  They ended up burning the ones they couldn’t sell.  My article on a $14 bottle of booze has gained popularity quicker than Herman “the harpoon” Melville—probably because he didn’t have that badass nickname until now.  Anyways, to get to the point, I’ve made my impact on Google based on a product I don’t even really drink.  I do, however, drink brandy somewhat regularly, and tonight I come to review the brandy I actually do drink, Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac.

While I’m going to avoid going over the grading system generally applied to brandies, seeing as you already read it on my E&J post, I will give a little backing on what exactly Armagnac is.  See, brandy is basically a distilled wine hooch.  In France they like to name their brandy after the region in which it was made, the most famous of which is Cognac.  You likely know Cognac from rap music videos or rich old men in smoking jackets with oversized snifters.  Well, like Cognac, Armagnac is a brandy which is made in a specific region—what the French call an appellation.  There’s a vocab word for you, kids. Also, stop reading about booze you goddamn 4th grade lush.  Anyways, Armagnac is from the Southwest of France and is known for being a bit more robust, partly the result of being double or single distilled rather than the more commonly triple distilled Cognac, and partly because it is, quite frankly, a less refined product.  I mean that in the best of ways though.  You see, Armagnac is made almost entirely by smaller producers, some of which are essentially long running family farm businesses, and therefore they create a product that is less industrialized, less homogenized, more…passionate. To put it in terms more familiar to the average drinker, your Remy Martin and Courvoisier are like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada: big producers that make a well liked and high quality product.  Armagnac is more like one of the thousands of startup breweries that have exploded over this country, there’s more character, more drive, less money—I come back to it, more passion.  In some cases, centuries of passion, with the same family still on the same farm that has always just kept afloat.

Marie

Marie Duffau, according to my thorough research on the back of the bottle, was started somewhere about 1925 and is now run by the great grandson of Prosper Delord and Marie Duffau.  Granted, this is a bigger brand in their genre, given their US distribution, however you still get the feeling they aren’t that big a company.  Hell, the label looks like it was cut out with those craft zig-zag scissors you use for scrap-booking.  Now, what you want to know is why I keep coming back to this brandy, why I drink $45 Armagnac when I could drink $14 E&J or $23 Courvoisier?  One, because my dad likes it to, which means he buys it and I get to drink it.  Sharing is caring, I’m told.  The main reason though is a bit simpler.  It’s sublime.  So lush, complex, and warming you’ll think you’re suckling the teat of Aphrodite.  I admit, I may have gone too far, so I’ll shut up.  Notes:

Appearance: Beautiful, like a Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup and with long even legs that hang to the edge of the glass. Yes, I used Maple syrup as my reference point, I’m from New Hampshire.

Nose: Full of rich fruit, spiced apple, apricot and even a bit of citrus, backed with a dash more spice, maybe nutmeg, and a hint of vanilla from the oak with just a light wisp of alcohol.  My mouth is watering.

Taste:  Enter orgasm joke here.  Warm and sweet, fine and mellow with the baked apple and lush fruit the nose hinted at, backed by caramel or even honey, and finishing with a very light spice and vanilla that lingers effervescently on the tongue.  Liquid divinity—like my above asinine metaphor warned you.

I think you see now why, when I do drink brandy, I go for the Armagnac, and why I dearly love Ms. Marie Duffau.  Brandy is one of those beautiful luxuries of life that are worth more than $14, worth savoring when you can.  So while yes, you can get a fine cognac for the same price, there is something revelatory to drinking the single distilled family craft that is Marie Duffau Armagnac.