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 their 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 since we believe in total transparency, we list every ingredient used in our bitters and are happy to talk about why we’ve chosen each one.
To make this extensive list a bit more manageable I've divided everything into one of three categories - Bittering Agents, Herbs & Spices, and Fruits, Botanicals & Nuts (a general grouping of everything else).
Gentian is the main bitter ingredient we use, but in contrast to quassia (below), it has an extremely earthy flavor. Given that we use it more prominently in our richer bitters, but keep it out of the lighter Grapefruit and Lime Coriander bitters. Found in the mountains of temperate zones, gentian is a striking plant with bright blue flowers. 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.
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 it has an extremely clean, bitter taste. It can provide the bitterness we want while not covering up any of the other flavors we've chosen. Side benefit, it is often used in traditional medicine to treat liver and stomach issues. Yep, that digestion thing again.
Yes! There’s more to the walnut tree than just the delicious nuts we’re accustomed to snacking on and baking with! The leaves of the walnut tree provide their own assortment of health benefits and flavor all sorts of things like teas, tinctures, and yes even cocktail bitters. Some health benefits include everything from aiding diabetes, gout, and anemia to helping curb upset tummies, perspiration, and intestinal parasites. In our Aromatic and Barrel Aged bitters Walnut Leaf brings an earthy, nutty flavor to these predominantly warmly spiced bitters. Walnut leaf is also part of the mix of bitter botanicals used. We don’t use just one bittering agent, instead there’s anywhere from 3-6 different bitter botanicals in each flavor.
Wild Cherry Bark
Similar to Walnut Leaf, Wild Cherry Bark is another ingredient you may have never heard of or even thought of being able to use, but it’s used across the world in everything from teas and syrups to tinctures. It has strong medicinal properties for aiding in digestion, but more popularly it’s used for easing congestion and coughing! You learn something new everyday… It brings a naturally sour, slightly sweet, bitter flavor with an almond-like aroma to our Aromatic and Barrel Aged bitters.
Herbs & Spices
Cardamom is one of those spices that is as beloved as it is unfamiliar. More generously used in South Asian cuisine and Nordic baking it’s slowly but surely made its way to the west where it’s gaining popularity. There are two varieties of Cardamom, Green and Black. We use Green Cardamom in our bitters for its strong, spicy, floral, uniquely aromatic, resinous fragrance. It’s somehow both exotic and comforting and can go in either a sweet or savory direction. While obviously the shining star in our award winning Cardamom Bitters it also brings spicy, floral warmth to our Orange Bitters and a touch of earthiness to our Grapefruit Bitters.
Also known as Jamaica pepper, myrtle pepper, pimenta, or pimento, it’s the dried unripe berry of Pimenta dioica, a mid-canopy tree native to the Greater Antilles, southern Mexico, and Central America. So how did we get the name allspice from all of those listed above? As early as 1621 the English, who valued it as a spice that combined the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, coined the term allspice. And that’s exactly why we use it. It gives a warm baking spice flavor without being overpowering. We love it for its rich flavor and peppery spiciness for bitters such as Orange or Dead Guy Chicory where we specifically didn’t want to overpower with cinnamon or clove. However, in Aromatic and Barrel Aged we included it to add even more depth of flavor.
Did you know that White Pepper comes from the same plant as Black Pepper? The difference between them comes down to how they’re picked and processed - White Pepper berries on the pepper plant, Piper nigrum, are harvested at full ripeness. They are then soaked in water to ferment and then finally the outer layer is peeled back to reveal the seed. That outer layer that’s removed? It holds a lot of flavor and heat, so the fact that it’s removed means White Pepper is more mild than Black Pepper (which still has that outer layer intact, more on that later). The result is an earthy, light peppery spice that gives our Lime Coriander Bitters a more savory flavor.
You may know nutmeg from the sprinkle that’s put on top of holiday eggnog or incorporated in your favorite cookie recipe but in Indonesia, where nutmeg originates, it’s used in recipes including fish, meat, sauces, sausages, vegetables, and even pickling. Ground Nutmeg is made by grinding the seed of the fragrant nutmeg tree (Myristic fragnas) into powder but grating the seeds yourself into your bechamel or on top of your eggnog is an obvious win as the distinctive pungent fragrance that’s warm and slightly sweet is even more present. We buy whole nutmeg and then crush them ourselves just before use so that we get as much spicy sweetness as we can in our Aromatic and Barrel Aged Bitters.
Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia. Cloves are not only used as a spice in baking, but also as a flavoring or fragrance in consumer products like toothpaste, soap, or cosmetics. Despite originating in Indonesia, cloves are used in cuisines all over the world - From Asia and Africa to the Mediterranean and Middle East - cloves lend flavor to meats, curries, and marinades. Here in the States they are more commonly used in baking and spice blends, like pumpkin spice and mulled wine. With cloves a little goes a long way, so we use just a touch to accent the other baking spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, in our Aromatic and Barrel Aged Bitters.
Remember our chat about White vs. Black pepper earlier? Here’s everything you need to know about Black pepper: Black pepper is the world's most traded spice, and is one of the most common spices added to cuisines around the world. From Filipino Adobo, to Italian Cacio e pepe, to salt and black pepper being ubiquitous on the American dining table. Black pepper is produced from the still-green, unripe drupe fruit of the pepper plant. The drupes are cooked briefly in hot water before being dried. Once dry, the spice is called black peppercorn. With a very different type of spice from chilis and a characteristic woody, earthy flavor, we love the unexpected kick that black pepper brings to the finish of our Westward Hazelnut Bitters.
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?
Ceylon is often called true or sweet cinnamon and has a much softer, more delicate and even earthier flavor than cassia. Cinnamomum verum is a small evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka. It is the inner bark that is used either in the form of sticks, chips, or ground. We often combine both Ceylon Cinnamon and Cassia to provide a full spectrum of cinnamon flavor. You can quickly tell the difference between Cassia and Ceylon if you see the sticks or chips. Ceylon is thin, layered and delicate, where Cassia is a much thicker bark that curls into a perfect spiraled stick.
Coriander, a common spice you might find in your kitchen is also known as the seed of cilantro. Didn’t know that? This is just the type of information we love to share. 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.
Fruits, Botanicals & Nuts
You might ask yourself, what are 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, to replace some 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.
Fresh Citrus Peel
Yes, we use fresh peel, not dried, in all our citrus bitters - Orange, Grapefruit, and Lime. And yes, it’s a lot of work to peel all that fruit but to us it’s worth it. That way we can extract all the natural oils for a truly fresh taste and aroma. We only make our citrus bitters during the domestic citrus season, November - April for oranges and grapefruits or May - October for limes. We’re also pretty picky about the fruit we use, only navel oranges and ruby grapefruits for us because they give us exactly the flavor we’re looking for. And what do we do with all the fruit once we peel it? We donate it to other local food producers who turn it into things like shrubs, salsa, and jam.
Fresh ginger is still an underutilized spice in the west - gingerale and ginger snaps are more common in an American kitchen than the fresh ginger root so often used in everything from curries, to chili oils, marinades for meat and veggies, and beyond in the East. It’s also used medicinally to calm aching stomachs - did your mom ever give you a glass of flat gingerale if you felt nauseous? That’s because ginger is believed to speed up the movement of your GI tract while at the same time protecting it. It’s also been proven to relieve menstrual pain, muscle pain, and morning sickness! Along with all of those wonderful benefits - ginger is delicious! Herbaceous, spicy, juicy, sweet - it brings a lot to the table, especially in our Grapefruit, Aromatic and Barrel Aged Bitters.
Dried Bing Cherries
Did you know that Bing Cherries originated in Milwaukie, Oregon (just on the edge of Portland) and are now the most produced variety of sweet cherry in the United States? Rich in antioxidants, vitamin A, calcium, and anti-inflammatory properties, they also have a deep, rich, sweet flavor that brings balance to our Aromatic and Barrel Aged Bitters. We use the dried version so the flavor is even more concentrated and the juice from the cherries doesn’t water down the bitters.
Hazelnuts, or filberts as they’re affectionately called here, are native to the PNW and more specifically Oregon. Oregon provides the United States with 99% of its hazelnuts and is a booming $130 million industry. That’s a lot of hazelnuts… But hazelnuts are grown all over the world and are more often than not being used in confections like Nutella, pralines, cookies, and more for their superior crunch and nutty flavor. In our Hazelnut Bitters, which is a collaboration with Westward Whiskey - a local distillery, we use Oregon grown hazelnuts to pay homage to our home state. Combined with warm baking spices our Hazelnut Bitters are the perfect addition to holiday cocktails and cups of coffee.
Cacao nibs are small pieces of crushed cacao or cocoa beans. They have the characteristic chocolatey flavor, but since there’s no added sugar they can be quite bitter. The cocoa beans are dried after harvesting, then fermented and cracked to produce small, dark bits — or cacao nibs. Though small in size, cacao nibs are packed with an impressive amount of nutrients, boasting health benefits to the heart, blood sugar, immune health, even anti-inflammatory properties, and of course great chocolatey flavor. We use them in our Dead Guy Chicory Bitters for a true, bitter chocolate punch that compliments a rich whiskey and heightens the natural coffee like flavor of roasted chicory.
Did you know that making vanilla extract is incredibly similar to the process of making cocktail bitters? Vanilla extract is a tincture made by macerating and percolating vanilla beans in a solution of ethanol and water, similar to our process of soaking spices, citrus peel, and bittering agents in alcohol to make bitters! Vanilla extract is an essential ingredient in so many desserts, ranging from cakes and cookies to custards and ice creams. Although its primary flavor compound is vanillin, pure vanilla extract contains several hundred additional flavor compounds, which are responsible for its complex, deep flavor. By contrast, artificial vanilla flavor is solely made up of artificially-derived vanillin, which is frequently made from a by-product of the wood pulp industry. We add just a touch of pure vanilla extract to both our Aromatic and Barrel Aged Bitters to give them a creamy richness that adds depth to all your drinks.
Earl Grey Tea
Earl Grey tea is a black tea blend which has been flavored with bergamot oil. The bergamot orange, a small citrus tree, has a fragrant rind that is processed into an oil and is added to black tea to give Earl Grey its unique floral flavor. We chose to add it to our Orange Bitters both for depth of flavor that black tea brings and for the soft floral notes that the bergamot brings.
Roasted Dandelion Root
Another ingredient that boasts a slew of health benefits but most importantly… Roasted Dandelion Root makes for a happy gut by stimulating your liver and supporting its production of bile! I bet you wouldn’t guess that the root of this well known yellow flowered weed tastes most similar to coffee! When roasted, dandelion root looks, smells, and tastes like bitter, rich coffee. Which is why you’ll find it in one very special flavor of bitters, Rogue Dead Guy Chicory bitters!
First grown and cultivated as far back as 5000 years ago in Egypt, Chicory was used as a medicinal plant. While in ancient Rome, Chicory was used as a vegetable in salads. Its first known use as a coffee substitute and additive didn’t take place until the 1800s when France was cut off from their coffee supply thanks to Napoleon. From there on, Chicory became synonymous with coffee for its ability to enhance the flavor of your coffee beans without caffeine and stretch this precious resource. We use chicory in our Dead Guy Chicory bitters alongside Roasted Dandelion Root to give the rich, bitter coffee flavor without the acidity that comes from coffee beans.
We all know and love honey. It’s the sticky, amber colored syrup produced by bees and has strong anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. Have you ever burned your fingers while cooking? Put a dab of honey on your tongue, finger, or wherever there’s a burn and watch as that stinging pain disappears! Honey is also undeniably delicious, with a range of flavors from floral and tart to earthy and nutty depending on what plant the bees collect nectar from. We use honey in only one flavor of our cocktail bitters, and that’s Grapefruit! Why? Because grapefruit has a naturally, admittedly subtle, floral flavor. To amp up that floral quality while bringing sweetness and balance to the bitters we decided to skip our usual organic sugar and go for something a little unexpected: honey! It may be subtle but we think the combination of grapefruit and honey is delectably floral and it’s what makes our grapefruit bitters extra special.
We use all whole, real ingredients in everything we make. And, most importantly, we put flavor first. Shop our full selection of bitters.