Bitters. Potentially the most shrugged about ingredient in your cocktail this summer. If, like us, you've checked out a fancy drinks menu and scratched your head about an unknown ingredient, chances are it was the bitters. But three guys in Brooklyn are bringing the artisanal ingredient into the mainstream, and hoping to deliver a tasty education in the process.
The shorthand on what a bitter is centers around a very simple formula. It's alcohol infused with "bittering agents" and "flavoring agents," and primarily used to flavor other cocktails.
"The exercise of making tinctures and extracts is ancient," says Eduardo Simeon, one of the three co-founders of Hella Bitter in Brooklyn. "During the first cocktail renaissance small-batch bitters were as prominent in pharmacies as they were in cocktails, but they became mass-produced and low-grade."
Seeing a disparity between the mass-produced, low-quality bitters and the super high-end mixtures being put together by master bartenders, Eduardo and his two fun-loving friends Tobin Ludwig and Jomaree Pinkard started Hella Bitter to help out their fellow drinkers and create a delicious, more accessible cocktail additive. Simply put, Hella Bitter is on a noble mission to make NYC's drinks the best ever.
It would seem, then, an odd choice to only produce two kinds of bitters—Citrus and Aromatic. But the boys just want to make sure that the products they produce are meeting their exacting standards. Their extracts are all natural and perfectly balanced, and it's their versatility and user friendliness that makes them the perfect aromatic ingredient for cocktails and food.
"We focus on making flavors that are accessible to normal folk,s who love cocktails and food," says Eduardo. "Our Citrus and Aromatic flavors are kind of the salt and pepper of the bar if you will."
Their citrus bitter, with its bright and rich in flavor, can be used in any cocktail recipe that calls for bitters. The guys recommend it in an Old Fashioned, pink gin, or simply by itself in seltzer. Hella Bitter's Aromatic is a more accretive bitter. With several "bittering agents," including wormwood, it is in fact hella bitter. That well-balanced spice really punches through darker spirits such as whiskey or dark rum.
"We're just out to help sophisticate the American palette," says Eduardo. "We’re starting small, and we’re dreaming big." And we'll be following them all the way.