• Posted by Califia Suntree on March 30th, 2011, 10:25 AM

    Taylor Brittenham is the “Ms.” behind Ms. and His, cooking up handcrafted, small-batch cocktail bitters in Highland Park, California. Her line, Bitter Tears, features an impressive array of flavor profiles, for those ready to update their Old Fashioned with a hint of blood orange and ginger, or up the Tropicalia of their Mojito with hibiscus.

    The bitters market used to be cornered by Angostura and Peychaud’s, but artistanal bitters have hit the scene in a big way, with flavors ranging from celery to rhubarb. And our collective cocktails are that much better for it.

    Q: What exactly are bitters?

    A: Bitters were originally used as medicinal tonics, mainly to aid in digestion. Now bitters are a common bar ingredient used to give a cocktail an extra kick or add an extra dimension of flavor. Bitters recipes are often secret, but ingredients usually include herbs, spices, fruits and roots.

    Q: What got you interested in making your own?

    A: My boyfriend and I have a great appreciation for classic cocktails and many of those recipes include bitters. So I decided to do a little research and use my creativity to concoct new flavors to put a twist on the classics. It’s been a really fun project!

    Q: How are bitters made? Could anyone try it or do you need special skills and equipment?

    A: Anyone can make their own bitters! It just takes a good recipe and some patience. Basically, bitters are made by infusing bitter roots, herbs, fruit and other natural flavors in a base alcohol over a period of time. The base alcohol is high-proof grain alcohol or Everclear. The higher the proof, the better it will extract flavors. You can use a high-proof whiskey or rum, but it may interfere with your flavor profile. If you can’t get Everclear, a high-proof vodka is the next best bet because it has little or no flavor of its own.

    There are many resources available on the web. [Ed: I found this tutorial helpful.] That’s how I started, and after researching and a lot of experimenting with different methods, I found what worked for me.

    Q: What are the differences among bitters? What creates the different flavor profiles, in big-brand and handcrafted ones?

    A: The biggest differences between bitters is the emphasis on ingredients. Some put the emphasis on herbal flavors (which can come from gentian root, wormwood, different barks, etc.) and some showcase other flavors, typically fruit (orange being one of the oldest and most common). Now with handcrafted bitters in the mix, more variations of ingredients are popping up, including floral and other specialty flavors. This sets them apart from the more traditional recipes the big brands typically produce.

    Q: How would you characterize Bitter Tears?

    A: Each [flavor] is completely unique and has many dimensions. Bitter Tears are bold in flavor without being overwhelming, and are versatile and unexpected.

    Q: How do you recommend using bitters?

    A: Bitters are non-potable which means they are to be used in dashes and not “neat” or on the rocks. You can add a few drops to your favorite cocktail, soft drink, or even cook with them!

    Bitter Tears are available at Bar Keeper in Silverlake, California, or through the Ms. and His website, where you can also inquire about pop-up-bar and event services.

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