Bitters have a history as digestif and cocktail element dating back to the 1800’s. They have been gaining appeal among upstart alchemists across the country. Oregon boasts three who are handcrafting a new generation of small batch bitters for the 21st century artisanal cocktail boom. They are finding the charm in “everything old is new again”. If you fancy yourself a mixologist, here’s a guide to bitters that should be on your radar.
The Bitter Housewife
“I can’t say we have a philosophy so much as we have a general attitude that cocktails should be fun. Anyone should be able to make a drink that tastes great,” says founder of The Bitter Housewife, Genevieve Brazelton. “We give people the building blocks, both knowledge and ingredients, to do this at home. Our bitters are made to blend seamlessly into cocktails and highlight whatever spirit you’ve chosen as your base.”
The inspiration behind the whole company started as a joke, according to Brazelton.
“I had been tinkering with making bitters at home, as I’m generally of the mind that making things from scratch produces better results than store bought, and was on a quest to make the perfect bitters for an Old Fashioned,” she explains. “When I finally nailed it, my husband Dan asked if I thought we could actually make a living selling cocktail bitters. ‘We’ll call it The Bitter Housewife,’ I responded. He registered the url on the spot.”
She says her business’s name and its packaging are what drives customers to her product first. “Then we get them to taste and they love our flavors,” she adds. “Often we’re giving people the first taste of bitters they’ve ever had…We encourage folks to play and find out what they like best. You’ll notice most of our recipes give a range for the number of dashes of bitters, some people are more sensitive to bitter flavors than others.”
Brazelton sources ingredients from Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene. One can find The Bitter Housewife’s products, such as their cardamom (winner of a 2018 Good Food Award), lime coriander, and grapefruit flavors, at retail outlets across Oregon. Her current favorite is Orange Bitters, which she recently peeled for a new batch, making her kitchen a citrus wonderland.
Cascadia Nectar Syrups & Bitters
A love for botany inspired Cecilia Story, owner of Cascadia Nectar Bitters & Syrups, to explore the world of bitters, eventually launching her line of cocktail enhancers, digestifs, and syrup infusions.
“I love wildcrafting and physiology, but making the medicine is the magic part to me,” she says. “The philosophy is secretly about quality medicinal extractions and incorporating herbs into everyday life in a delicious way. What excites me most is to actually make the maceration. I am always renewed in my amazement of terpenes (fragrant oils), aromatics, and flavors when an herb is ready for straining. The smells are intoxicating and powerful.”
Story says her preferred grain alcohol originates from grapes, which unlock the best part of each herb she uses. “I macerate each herb individually,” she says, “using the best ratio of alcohol to water for that particular root, bark, or flower to pull out the highest constituent. Then I blend my profile flavors.”
She suggests that to get the best use out of her products, try them as a digestive aid, coffee addition, in baking, and, of course, in a cocktail. “Bitters are the last thing to float on the top of the beverage and the first aromatic to hit the nose and palate,” she says.
A few other flavor combinations she suggests are chocolate rose bitters and tangerine chamomile. Her line of bitters flavors also includes celery, peppermint, and cherry. Thinking Tree Distillery and Meiji are her favorite places to enjoy a cocktail in Eugene.
Portland Bitters Project
“We’re making layered flavors that aren’t trying to be something else. We take traditional notions and push the edge of what we can create,” says owner of Portland Bitters Project, Cindy Capparelli. “I love pairing, arranging, mixing. When I found myself enthralled by classic cocktails, I had to know what bitters were. I looked into how they were made and that sounded fun, so I tried it. Eventually, I had something I wanted to give to friends and bartenders, and from that risk, I got good feedback.”
Response to her products has been better than good. In fact, it’s glowing. Her trial and error with flavors has produced infusions of lavender, dark cacao, and super spice bitters. In the imminent future she hopes to integrate more “farm-fresh” ingredients.
Capparelli challenges her customers to use her products in more than classic cocktails. “Try them in the kitchen, in your coffee, in some sparkling wine,” she suggests. “Think of them as a seasoning super-charged with the power to transform whatever you’re making.”
Editor’s notes: Cascadia Nectar and The Bitter Housewife also create culinary-mixology syrups. Organic botanicals sourced from Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene, OR. and grain alcohol sourced from Alchemical Solutions in Ashland, OR.