Tag Archive | "Joe Fee"

What’s Hot: Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters

When Joe Fee was in town earlier this year for the first San Antonio Cocktail Conference, the topic of conversation naturally turned to bitters. His family’s company, Fee Brothers, has been making bitters for four generations. In recent years, a number of flavored variations hit the market — mint, grapefruit, peach — and they’re all good. But the one version not to miss is rhubarb, which the label describes as follows: “Using flavors available in 1800s America, Fee Brothers developed Rhubarb Bitters for that authentic historical taste.”

The aroma harkens back to the past with a pleasant floral quality mixed with a strong sense of both cherry candy and maraschino cherries. Tart, delicious rhubarb mixed with bitter spices come in when you taste the bitters alone. Both fragrance and flavor suggest it would be great with bourbon or rye in cocktails as well as gin and even tequila. I tried it in a variation of the classic Old Fashioned called the Old Smashioned, which featured blackberries and a touch of orange flavor (see recipe below).

Don’t stop with the cocktails, though. Bitters add a welcome complexity to cooking as well. I tried the rhubarb bitters in a marinade for squash before throwing them on the grill. I could also see adding a dash or two to a vinaigrette to give it some life.

Just remember, when you use bitters, try a dash first and then build up to your desired flavor level. They are strong, and too much can be overwhelming.

Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters can be found at Twin Liquors on U.S. 281 south of Bitters Road. The price is $5.99. All bitters should keep for as long as you own the bottle.

The Old Smashioned

The Old Smashioned

1-2 drops orange blossom water
3-4 blackberries, to taste
1-3 dashes Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar, or more to taste

Rinse your cocktail glass with a drop or two of orange blossom water.

In a cocktail shaker, muddle blackberries. Add bourbon to taste, a dash of rhubarb bitters and the agave nectar with ice. Shake and pour into glass (you can strain the berry seeds, if you choose). Add more rhubarb bitters to taste. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Makes 1 cocktail.

Adapted from


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For the Fee Brothers, Bitters Are Better

Joe Fee holds a bottle of Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters.

It seemed inevitable that bitters would make a comeback. After too many years of ultra-sweet “Sex in the City”-induced cosmopolitans, a great many cocktail lovers are suffering from sugar shock.

Bitters offer a blessed balancing act, using herbs to temper a sweetness in some cocktails that all too often is cloying. It also is used as a digestif, said to settle the stomach. But the big plus of bitters is the way they add live and a greater depth of flavors to your cocktail.

Few people could be more excited about this interest than Joe Fee, whose family founded Fee Brothers four generations ago. The Rochester, N.Y.-based company makes a series of cocktail mixes, cordial syrups, brines and coffee flavors, but it is known to many for its vast array of bitters, which come in flavors, from cherry to mint.

Fee, who is in town for the inaugural San Antonio Cocktail Conference, knows that the resurgence of interest in old-fashioned, handcrafted cocktails has also boosted a renewed interest in bitters. And he’s here to spread of the gospel of what they can add to cocktails and cooking alike.

Lovers of cocktail recipe books, both old and new, know that many a libations writer cautions against using too much bitters in a drink. It’s good advice when you’re starting out and don’t know your own tastes, but it also helps to sample your drink and adjust the bitters until you get the desired result. It’s like adding salt and pepper to food. Some recipes call for more than a dash of salt. And there are cocktails that call for up to an ounce of bitters, Fee says.

“Everyone’s tastes are different,” he says.

The company’s top seller is Old Fashion Bitters, which Fee says is the equal of Angosturra, another well-known bitters, and a necessary ingredient in a Manhattan. It’s followed closely by orange bitters, a dash of which can make a dry martini even more perfect. Other flavors include peach, lemon, grapefruit, rhubarb and whiskey barrel-aged. This March, a gin barrel-aged orange bitters will be introduced.

But Joe Fee is more interested at the moment in another new addition: black walnut bitters, a flavor he developed himself. His sister, Ellen, who usually is in charge of development, took a pass because she’s allergic to walnuts.

One taste of the black walnut bitters is filled with a pleasing nuttiness as well as a spicy tone, a touch of cinnamon and, of course, vanilla, which Fee calls “the salt of the flavor world.” Add a dash or two to a good bourbon or tequila for added dimension, he recommends, or use it at a tiki party in everything from rum pineapple drinks  to tropically flavored food, especially pork dishes.

Each bottle of Fee Brothers bitters, which can be found at Spec’s and Twin Liquors among other local stores, comes hand-wrapped in paper, which gives the product a personal touch. It also makes the bottle look a little like Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. But the paper prevents the flavors from fading.  Bitters will never go bad, no matter how old the bottle is, Fee says, because of the alcohol in it.

The San Antonio Cocktail Conference continues through Sunday. For information, click here.

The following are a few cocktail recipes that use bitters:

Carte Blanche

3 cucumber wheels
1 1/2 parts Hendrick’s Gin, a cucumber gin
1/2 part fresh lime juice
1/2 part simple syrup
2 healthy dashes orange bitters
Brut sparkling wine

In a mixing glass, muddle two cucumber wheels. Add  gin, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters and ice. Shake well and double strain into a cocktail glass. Top with sparkling wine and garnish with the final cucumber.

Makes 1 cocktail.

Adapted from Hendrick’s Gin

Champagne Cocktail

1 lump sugar
Dash of Fee’s Old Fashion Bitters
2 ounces brut sparkling wine

Soak sugar cube with bitters. Place cube in champagne flute. Fill with sparkling wine. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Makes 1 cocktail.


Come Again

1 teaspoon Fee’s Peach Bitters
1 1/2 ounces gin

Shake bitters and gin with ice. Strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass. Garnish with 2 mint sprigs.

Makes 1 cocktail.



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