Most of us believe that a cocktail is simply the result of a quickie marriage between some spirit and a soda or fruit juice. I guess one could argue that this is true, but until you try a mixed drink before and after bitters are added, you won’t truly understand the exquisite complexity that exists in a real, quality cocktail.
A few of us from KegWorks recently had the pleasure of touring the Fee Brothers facility in Rochester, NY to learn a bit more about their bitters, mixers, and cordials. The business is now in the hands of the fourth Fee generation with Ellen and Joe Fee. Ellen is the production manager, and her brother, Joe, is the Sales Director.
Ellen gave us the facility tour, and what a wonderful hostess she was! I told her at the end of those two hours (which felt like minutes), that if all else failed, she definitely had a future in tour guiding. Not only did she walk us through every square inch of the facility – explaining the equipment, introducing us to the staff, and telling us what was what – but she gave us the most fascinating bits of history at every step. Her animated expressions and tonal shifts were a glaring reflection of the passion running rampant through the pipes of this age-old company.
From a sandwich delicatessen, to a liquor producer and importer, to assisting customers with home wine-making endeavors during Prohibition, Fee Brothers has been in just about every nook and cranny of the alcohol business since its opening in the 1800s.
It wasn’t until John Jr., the second generation of Fees took over the business, that they started focusing on the bitters, mixers, and cordials, though. And it was during this time that the famous "Don’t Squeeze, Use Fee’s" motto came about.
While we didn’t spend as much time with Joe, he was there at the end of the tour to give us an amazing "before and after" experience. He bought the cheapest whiskey and grapefruit juice he could find, and then added the only good "before" ingredient – the Falernum, which is an almond, ginger, and lime flavored cordial. He then made the same drink, with the same crappy ingredients, but this time with a few dashes of Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters.
We held the drink without the bitters in our left hand, and the other in our right, and between those two hands remained a world of difference. What was an astringent, rough tasting whiskey drink on the left, became a smooth, rounded, and complex cocktail on the right – a true delight.
Of course there’s more to the history of Fee Brothers, and if you’re interested in reading further, just check out the history portion of their website.
We carry a ton of Fee Brothers bitters, mixers, and cordial syrups, so check them out today and experience the true taste of a quality cocktail. And thanks again to Ellen and Joe for a spectacular afternoon! We won’t soon forget it!