This is a story you might have heard before: hard-working person’s weekend passion project unexpectedly sparks the imagination of thousands, evolves quickly into a full-time, world-changing gig. OK, so perhaps “world-changing” is a bit of a stretch, but the all natural, craft bitters company Hella Bitters is changing something important — the taste of your favorite cocktail. With a small batch approach that favors thoughtful ingredients for a concentrated, mouth-puckering punch of flavor, these bitters can balance out even the biggest of bourbon whiskeys. Yum.
Hella Bitters is currently available in two flavors — the original “Citrus” and “Aromatic” — but a recent visit to the company’s workspace reveals a veritable chemistry lab of potential future tastes, including “Oaxan Chili” and “Sriracha.” The company may only be (officially) a few years old, but they’ve already got a lot for us to look forward to.
So, bitters. Where and how did you get into bitters?
Our friendships predate HB by years and years. Tobin and I met in the high school days. When we were 14, 15, 16 he would come visit a mutual friend of mine for a week or two during the summer. In 2007, Tobin and I both found ourselves living in NYC – bromance at first sight. That was around the time that the first batch of bitters was made.
We met Jomaree around 2007 as well. Very formative time I guess! This was before Jomaree went off to B-School. He was managing his brother’s hip hop career and hired us to produce a music video in Queens. Tobin played an undercover cop and I was on set as a producer. Long story short, the entire cast and crew ended up spending 11 hour in jail together. Charges: trespassing. Talk about a bonding experience! Maybe we can go deeper on that tomorrow.
The exercise of making tinctures and extracts is ancient. It was during the first cocktail renaissance that small batch bitters were as prominent in pharmacies as they were in cocktails. After prohibition only a few brands survived to modernity. Hella Bitter is a premium alternative to those historically mass produced and low grade bitters. Our extracts are all natural and perfectly balanced. It’s this versatility / user friendliness that make them the perfect aromatic ingredient for cocktails and food.
Favorite cocktail recipes to make with Hella Bitters?
Rum Old Fashioned:
- 2 oz Aged Rum
- 2 Dashes Hella Bitter Citrus
- 2 Dashes Hella Bitter Aromatic
- 1 sugar cube or 1 tsp sugar
- Orange Twist for garnish
- In a rocks glass, combine sugar and bitters. Mash up.
- Add aged rum.
- Add ice to top off rum and gently stir until ice has softened slightly or the cocktail is vey cold. This can take 10-30 seconds depending on the size and texture of your ice.
- Stir in orange twist.
Tell me one surprising thing/one thing you especially love about Bitters — it’s been a bartender staple forever, but your average cocktail drinker probably doesn’t know much about it.
It’s great in food!!! While traditionally a bartender staple, it’s just a good if not better as a chef’s staple. After all, bitters is a herb spice concentrate using many of the herbs and spices we all use in cooking. We make a chicken roast marinade to die for using our Citrus bitters and pork rib marinade that is amazing for summer grilling. In addition to meats, bitters are also yummy in soups and salads and is amazing as a substitute for vanilla extract or cinnamon in cookies and cakes.
Is it really just the three of you guys?!
Yep, just the three of us. That’s not to say that we could’ve either got this company up and running or even made it to a sustainable level without the help of a much bigger team of supporters that have lent expertise in fields, ranging from legal to brand design and everything there in between. Hella Bitter has completely been a community-built and supported effort, which is even more so evident by our current Kickstarter.
Right now, you’re raising funds for a Make-Your-Own Bitters Kit. How’d this idea come about?
The dream of a DIY kit actually started out of a conversation we had over 2 years ago. At that time, we as a company weren’t in a place to realize the kit as an actual product so it ended up on the back burner slowly simmering. The inspiration behind it was simple. We loved the idea of giving people the tools and ingredients they’d need to make bitters at home. When we started one of the biggest challenges and time sucks was just finding the tools and ingredients. The trial and error that followed after we’d finally found everything was it’s own set of challenges. Making bitters is relatively easy. Making good bitters however, is really hard. It’s frustrating when at the end of an experimental batch the product isn’t very good. All that time spent for something not really worthy of being used. Now granted, you learn a lot by making mistakes. That’s certainly an intrinsic part of our story. Our bitters are the direct result of trial, error and experimentation so in that way we’ve already done a lot of the work for you.
For the sake of a DIY kit we wanted to let people maximize the experience, and ensure that the end product would have a higher chance of success. In this case, success equals delicious bitters. That’s why we spent months creating the two spice blends that are in the kit. These are foundational ingredients, blended to create a versatile bitters at home. But we still wanted to empower creativity at home so we decided there were two ways people would still be able to make truly unique bitters. One, is by using a base spirit other than vodka. Second, by adding additional ingredients, that in the right quantities would come to the forefront of flavor, the spice blends simply serving as an aromatic base providing backbone and structure.
I love that you include two bitters bottles in each kit — one to keep, and one for a friend. Has community/friends always been an important part of your company mission?
The support of our community, friends, and local retail partners, have been an instrumental part of this company’s progress. One of our goals is to help change the way people think about their beverages and with the help of all of our community stakeholders in having enough curiosity and interest, we’re doing just that. We want people to use our product to make their food and drinks a little bit bitter. Whether that’s a classic cocktail or a tasteful marinade, we think Hella Bitter has the potential to bring much more awareness to the world of bitters.
As things progress and the company grows, we will stay true to our roots and continue to make authentic products that are valuable to a broad audience of cocktail lovers and foodies. Beyond that, there are many direction we’re taking the company all at once. All in the pursuit of the delicious!