You might be forgiven for wondering what on earth a bitters review is doing here on TheGinIsIn.
Those of you who don’t know me in the real world, will be forgiven for not knowing that I have a big soft spot for bitters. Over 20 varietals fill the gaps on my bar shelf between every bottle of gin. But while bitters have many uses in gin drinks, only one bitters is actually specifically built for gin.
These bitters are designed to go right into your Gin and Tonic.
And of course, you can bet we’ve put them to the test.
What do they taste like? On their own?
There’s a lot of citrus, actually grapefruit that comes off of these guys when you sip them off the spoon. Like, Ruby Red, fresh grapefruit. Orange rind, and white pepper notes on the finish as well. It’s a bitters, so it’s hard to say it’s really potable on it’s own, but you can see where it’s going. Mostly citrus, a touch of bitterness and hints of spice.
Grapefruit is an interesting flavor to choose for a gin paired bitters. Why? Gin goes famously with citrus fruit, yet grapefruit still is relatively uncommon among gins. Therefore it is a natural note that should go with most gins, yet not already be in there.
In the Cocktails: first, the Gin and Tonic
The first thing you notice about Thomas Henry Tonic Bitters is that they’re there. Yes, they’re in your Tonic. Tonic water is supposed to have some bitterness in it as it is. But most of the gentle sweet tonic waters of the supermarkets have taken downplaying quinine to an art. These bitters automatically add the note into there, amplifying the bitterness. Though I’m an unabashed fan of amari and bitter cocktails, these just didn’t do it for me. They clashed strongly with contemporary style floral gins, and only fared somewhat better with traditional gins. Less sweet tonics like Q tonic seemed to present a better environment for the tonic bitters to become part of G&T ecosystem, but it just didn’t work. In anything more than a single dash, they tended to overpower, dominate, and even transform the flavor of your G&T. If you’re looking for a more complex G&T that might have that quality at the cost of refreshment, perhaps these tonic bitters are what you’re looking for.
Then I tried a Pink Martini…
…and in this case I was relatively pleased with how the bitters worked. Their flavor seemed to really harmonize with the juniper or spice forward gins. [If you happen to be so fortunate as to be in Canada, Strait Gin was my favorite] The herbal notes of the Vermouth, the citrus notes from the bitters and the juniper from the gin blend quite nicely. Although I found some of the same clashing notes present with contemporary gins, at least in this cocktail I found their addition consistent with the overall feeling I was going for.
See the recipe below if you’re looking to mix up one of these bad boys.
Although I wasn’t crazy about them in all situations, they make an interesting addition to the bar of a bitters and gin lover. Firstly, pair them judiciously, they can overpower certain gins. Secondly, it will dominate the flavor or a G&T. Use only a single dash, or embrace the direction you’re going wholeheartedly. Thirdly, use them in other cocktails. I found the citrus forward point of view of the bitters helpful for using them in place of orange bitters in other cocktails. But with there being so many varieties of orange bitters out there, many fantastic, it’s hard to say that these bitters are worth the buy alone for being an able substitute.
Best consumed: The Pink Martini with a juniper forward gin was my favorite way of using them.
Availability: Sadly, Europe only with no plans to bring them stateside.
Rating: In a crowded bitters market, they don’t stand out as a citrus bitters substitute, and they overwhelm in their intended use. Though if you pick up a bottle and only put them to work in martinis, I think you’ll find them to be useful, but it’s unlikely in any event these will be anything more than your “once in awhile” bitters.
P.S. One final note. The official recipe on the back says to mix up the G&T using Thomas Henry tonic water. Sadly that’s also not available stateside, so I haven’t been able to test that. In the future when I do acquire some, I will be sure to test the recipe as written. And I will post an update.