When you’re making tomato soup, you add basil to finish the soup. It makes the tomato taste a little sweeter and adds that finishing touch. The soup is not about the basil, but if it wasn't there you'd feel something were missing. Bitters are just as necessary to any cocktail, as basil is to tomato soup. Bitters add an essential depth of flavor, and because of this, we put a ton of thought into the ingredients that make up our bitters.
With the exception of cocktail nerds, the truth is that most people don’t know a ton about the ingredients used in our favorite cocktails. Cocktail ingredients like bitters can have varying flavor profiles with an array of ingredient possibilities. The recipes for bitters are often highly guarded, but in the spirit of transparency, we list every ingredient used in our bitters and are happy to talk about why we’ve chosen each one.
Here are a few key ingredients we use in our bitters, many of which you may not have heard of: quassia, sarsaparilla, grains of paradise, cassia, gentian, coriander, and hops.
You might have heard of sarsaparilla? It was originally used as an ingredient in root beer. Most brands now use artificial flavors to mimic the sarsaparilla taste, but in the 1800s it was a popular medicinal soft drink you could readily order at the bar. The real stuff comes from the Smilax ornata vine which is native to Mexico and Central America. And it has been used for centuries as an herbal medicine with numerous benefits; including treatment for psoriasis, arthritis, and syphilis. If you’re a fan of the sarsaparilla flavor, you might like our Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters where sarsaparilla brings hints of wintergreen, vanilla, and licorice or that “root beer” flavor.
Grains of Paradise
Grains of paradise doesn’t have anything to do with the beautiful flower, Bird of Paradise, but it is a member of the ginger family. The grain, which strongly resembles pepper in both appearance and flavor is also closely related to cardamom. That’s a lot of different flavors, right? Ginger, pepper, and cardamom. That’s why we love using this grain in our bitters.
In traditional West African medicine, where the plant originates, it was thought to have digestive properties. Which as you might have noticed is a theme amongst many of the ingredients that make up traditional aromatic bitters. Grains of paradise is used in our award-winning Cardamom Bitters, to bring a bright, but subtle pepper spice.
Cassia, or Cinnamomum cassia is a type of cinnamon commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine. Compared to Ceylon “sweet” cinnamon, cassia has more of the “red hot” flavor. It is known to have properties beneficial to the management of blood sugar levels for those who have diabetes. We use it in our bitters’ recipe specifically for the warm, spicy, cinnamon aromatics it provides to our bitters, but we also balance the sharpness of cassia with a healthy dose of Ceylon cinnamon to make sure you experience the full spectrum of cinnamon. Doesn’t it make you want to cozy up to a fire with a hot toddy with a splash of our Barrel Aged Bitters?
Quassia is a lovely flowering plant found in South America known for its bitter taste and medicinal properties. While the whole plant can be used, the most common part is the woody stem. We’ve chosen quassia as one of our main bittering agents because of it’s extremely clean, bitter taste. Side benefit, it is often used in traditional medicine to treat liver and stomach issues. Yep, that digestion thing again.
Gentian is the other main bitter ingredient we use, but in contrast to quassia, it has a much earthier flavor. Given that we use it more prominently in our richer bitters, but keep it out of the lighter Grapefruit and Lime Coriander bitters. Gentian also happens to be another striking flowering plant, but this one is found in the mountains of temperate regions. The woody roots are used to flavor many distilled beverages from Europe generally consumed before or after a meal to help stimulate digestion, think Suze, Aperol, and Underberg.
Coriander, a common spice you might find in your kitchen is also known as the seed of cilantro. Didn’t know that, did you? The seed has a somewhat citrusy flavor, but also a savory element, both of which we love for our Lime Coriander Bitters. These bright, zesty bitters are a great addition to summery cocktails like a margarita or gin and tonic, but will also bring a bloody mary to a whole new level.
Do you think cilantro tastes like soap? Don’t worry! For those of you who have the soapy cilantro gene the seed provides a completely different flavor experience, so don’t be deterred.
And finally, our special and somewhat non-traditional ingredient we use in our bitters: hops. You might ask yourself, what is hops doing in bitters? If you thought it was just an ingredient in beer, think again. Hops are bitter, so we use them in our lighter bitters, Grapefruit and Lime Coriander, in place of the earthy gentian. Hops also bring a lovely floral note to both these bitters we couldn’t get otherwise.
Did you know, just like beer, we’ve selected specific hops for each the bitters that use them? For Grapefruit, we use a classic Cascade Hops because it’s soft, floral, and full of round citrus flavor. But for our Lime Coriander bitters, we use Simcoe Hops which bring a sharper, piney flavor that goes perfectly with the fresh lime peel.We use real ingredients in everything we make. And, most importantly, we put flavor first. To shop our selection of bitters, head to our online store.