The Dashing Dozen: Twelve Badass Bitters Producers
As cocktail culture continues to evolve, mixologists and creative bartenders are rediscovering some “lost” recipes. Many of these recipes call for bitters, and as they’re rediscovered, bitters are being reinvented. From more intense flavors to truly innovative styles and production methods, many bitters producers are seeking to dethrone Angostura and Peychaud’s. Let’s take a look at 12 companies that are taking the spotlight away from the old guard.
When you combine dedication to precision and creativity with organic fruits and spices to create bitters, the result is Bar 40 Bitters. Each batch is handmade with neutral grain spirits and because they are made in very small numbers by hand, every batch is slightly different. Bar 40 wants cocktail and bitters creation to evolve and they love to work with new and innovative flavors. Their current line of bitters is based on the five gustatory taste receptors – evidence that they want to do something completely different – and is available in Sweet, Sour, Salty, and Umami.
Scot Maddox used to run the bar at the now-closed New Orleans restaurant Iris. Maddox used to make his own bitters at the French Quarter restaurant and eventually, after receiving praise and encouragement, struck out on his own. Named for the nickname Maddox received while serving in the Marine Corps, El Guapo Bitters focuses not only on cocktails but also the culinary world; the owner recommends that people cook with bitters to activate areas of taste buds that are not normally stimulated. El Guapo is available in Spiced Cocoa Tea, the favorite Chicory-Pecan, Cucumber and Lavender, Crawfish Boil, Gumbo, Mojo Cubano, Polynesian Kiss, Summer Berries, Fuego (formerly Tex-Mex), and seasonal varieties. The company donates a full 10% of their profits to the Semper Fi Fund for wounded Marines, and they support several other charities throughout the year.
If you’re involved with cocktails in any way, you know Hella Co. and Hella Bitters. In fact, the three founders have been featured in a television commercial for American Express. Founded in Brooklyn, these bitters have taken the scene by storm. They’re made in small batches with all-natural ingredients, and come in Aromatic, Citrus, Orange, Ginger and Smoked Chili.
Miles Thomas, a Seattle bartender, founded Scrappy’s while he was searching for better cocktails. It took years of development with Miles researching and developing herbs, flavors, and various methods of extraction. Scrappy’s launched in 2008 and each flavor is developed by hand. Scrappy’s produces Lavender, Grapefruit, Orange, Cardamom, Chocolate, Celery, Lime, Aromatic, and Orleans bitters. The company also occasionally releases specialty bitters, like the now unavailable Peach, Coffee, Cranberry Spice, Rye Barrel Spice, Special Run, Black Lemon, and Seville Orange bitters.
These high-quality, small batch bitters are the product of a collaboration between a chef and a mixologist-sommelier who together have 30 years’ experience in the food and beverage industry. Award-winning mixologist and sommelier Lauren Mote and celebrated chef Jonathan Chovancek use artisanal, homegrown ingredients to produce their award-winning bitters. Bittered Sling is available, in alphabetical order, in Autumn Bog Cranberry, Cascade Celery, Clingstone Peach, Denman, Grapefruit & Hops, Kensington Dry Aromatic, Lem-Marrakech, Malagasy Chocolate, Moondog, Orange & Juniper, Plum & Rootbeer, Shanghai Rhubarb, Suius Cherry, Western Haskap, and Zingiber Crabapple. These bitters don’t just come in intriguing flavors, they are packaged in attractive apothecary-style bottles that will look fantastic on your bar.
The history of Fee Brothers can be traced all the way back to 1847. The family-owned company began producing their famed bitters in the 1950s, over a century after Owen Fee and his wife Margaret opened a butcher shop in New York. Those with well-stocked home bars are probably familiar with Fee Brothers Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters. However, Fee Brothers has an extensive line of bitters flavors: Molasses, Rhubarb, West Indian Orange, Black Walnut, Aztec Chocolate, Cardamom, Plum, Mint, Cranberry, Peach, Lemon, Celery, Cherry, Grapefruit, Whiskey Barrel-Aged, and Gin Barrel-Aged Orange.
Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck, bartenders from Munich, Germany, came up with the idea for The Bitter Truth during a visit to London in 2006. As with many excellent ideas, The Bitter Truth was founded because of Berg’s and Hauck’s need for high-quality bitters. Berg, it turns out, is a specialist in the area of bitters: he owns a large collection of bitters, some of which haven’t been produced for decades. These award-winning bitters come in Aromatic, Orange, Lemon, Celery, Jerry Thomas, Creole, Chocolate, Grapefruit, Peach, Tonic, and Cucumber.
The story of Bittermens is the story of Avery and Janet Glasser, San Francisco and New Orleans. It was in San Francisco in 2007 that the Glassers came up with the prototype for their unique Xocolatl Mole Bitters. Jump to 2010 and the rebirth of Bittermens which has seen them relocate to the Big Easy. They are proudly made in America, can be found on just about every single continent (they’re working on making Bittermens available in Antarctica), and are available in their famous Xocolatl Mole, Grapefruit, ‘Elemakule Tiki, Boston Bittahs, and Burlesque flavors. Keep an eye out for their experimental releases.
Known best, perhaps, for their whiskey, Wigle is a family owned and operated distillery located in Pennsylvania. However, Wigle also makes cocktail bitters from scratch in Pittsburgh. They’re small batch and made with Organic Wigle Wheat Whiskey infused organic botanicals free of artificial ingredients, glycerin or dyes. Organic Wigle Whiskey Bitters come in Aromatic, Rosemary Lavender, Mole, and Pomander Orange flavors.
The founder of DRAM Apothecary, Shae Whitney, has a background in food science, ecological agriculture, and botany. Whitney also has several years’ experience as a bartender. Combining all of this experience resulted in the founding of DRAM Apothecary. Their specialty bitters are crafted with organic and wild Colorado herbs that DRAM Apothecary forages themselves, and they are free of synthetic ingredients. The flavors DRAM produces are as unique as the company itself: Hair of the Dog, Black, Citrus Medica, Palo Santo, and Lavender Lemon Balm. Wild Mountain Sage is, at the time of this publishing, sold out.
Known for their distinctive aromas and complex flavors, The Bitter End bitters are known for their intense twists on standard bitters. Every batch of The Bitter End is made by hand, from the mixing to the infusing. No extract, preservatives or artificial flavors are used when crafting these bitters, which are meant to be the building blocks of bold cocktails. The Bitter End bitters come in Chesapeake Bay, Curry, Jamaican Jerk, Memphis Barbeque, Mexican Mole, Moroccan, and Thai flavors.
It takes weeks to create each of the 8 varieties of artisanal bitters produced by Bittercube. The brainchild of Nicholas Kosevich (Town Talk Diner, Minneapolis) and Ira Koplowitz (The Violet Hour, Chicago), Bittercube Bitters produces each style of their bitters via different methods. Because they oversee and are involved with every aspect of production, Kosevich and Koplowitz are able to ensure that their bitters are of the highest quality. The 8 styles of bitters available from Bittercube are Blackstrap, Jamaican #1 and #2, Orange, Cherry Bark Vanilla, Bolivar, Corazón, and Trinity.