A lot of people have been buzzing on the web for the past year about Angostura's forthcoming orange bitters. They were available in other countries outside the US for quite some time, and are now easily ordered from Kegworks, where you can also pick up a convenient three-pack of orange bitters of the three most popular commercial brands at once.
I got my bottle a couple weeks ago and have been taking it through the rounds. I've had Regan's and Fee Brothers orange bitters for quite a while now and those are vastly different products. The Fee Brothers has a nose of almost pure orange. In fact, it's similar both to my homemade orange tincture, and to Cointreau. Regan's, on the other hand, is much more complex and spicy. Anyone who has mixed with them knows how different they are.
So what was the Angostura to be? Well, do you remember those scented markers you had as a kid? A quick search turns up this:
Mr. Sketch Scented Water Color Markers by the good folks at Sanford, who also make the stalwart Sharpie (less pleasantly scented). I think I got my set of 12 in first grade and still remember the styrofoam box, cardboard slip cover, and most of the scents quite distinctly. For better of worse, the nose on the Angostura orange bitters reminds me of first grade. It is nearly identical (although for some reason I think it might be scented like the blue or the pink marker). Decide for yourself if this is a negative or positive association.
In gin drinks, the best word for the bitters is ASSERTIVE! In other words, a little dash goes a really, really, really long way. Dash twice and all you taste is the orange. There is nothing delicate about it and it certainly will overpower if you're not careful. But in some things, it's perfect.
To wit: Paul Clarke's recipe for the Red and White cocktail, a simple mixture of equal parts sweet and dry vermouth with orange bitters. I came to this drink out of both lethargy and necessity. Usually not a big fan of dry vermouth, I've been dragging my feet, not opening my bottle of Noilly Prat. Part of my past problem, I now realize, was letting vermouth get old and no longer tasting good. I didn't realize until relatively recently it didn't have a shelf-life like distilled alcohol. So once opened, I wanted to consume it with some speed. I also haven't felt like shaking anything. I want to stir, not use juices or other ingredients requiring a shake, and cut down on my already simple clean-up. Two vermouths with bitters? That's very easy. And since the bottles now reside in the over-crowded refrigerator, I also decided to forgo ice altogether and just stir the ingredients briefly.
Verdict? Great! The Red and White now has me enjoying dry vermouth as much as I've been loving her sweet sister in various iterations. Angostura orange works famously, bumping up the fruitiness of both wines and melding them together much more nicely than the Regan's. It's sweet and light, but still flavorful and interesting with some dimensionality. With Punt e Mes or some additional aromatic bitters, it would make a better preprandial tipple. Over ice with some seltzer water, it would be like a wine spritzer. But good. For non-fans of vermouth who think they only like the harder stuff, this may be a pleasant diversion from time to time. Especially if you have some extra vermouth on hand that needs to be consumed, or a friend who isn't a fan of the ardent spirits.
Red and White Cocktail
1.5 oz. dry vermouth
1.5 oz. sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.
If you're feeling lazy, stir together already chilled vermouths straight out of the fridge with bitters in a highball glass. Smile and enjoy the simplicity.