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As the interest around craft cocktails continues to grow, three friends have joined forces to improve on one of the most essential drink ingredients: bitters. Together the partners in Hella Bitter — Jomaree Pinkard, a consultant; Tobin Ludwig, an actor and mixologist; and Eduardo Simeon, senior manager at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia — have created two artisanal, hand-crafted, and meticulously perfected products: a citrus and an aromatic bitters.
In a small space in Long Island City, the trio fills large vats with the bitter elements: alcohol, a bittering agent, water, and large bags of spices, such as star anise, coriander, and cardamom. For the citrus, they also toss in hand-peeled rinds of grapefruits, lemons, and limes that they employ friends and family to help prepare.
Hella Bitter focuses its attention on tincture bitters, or non-potable bitters, meaning not drinkable. These are intense, extract-like substances that will transform a cocktail with only a few drops. In fact, the only difference between tincture bitters and more familiar extracts — like vanilla or coconut — is the addition of a bittering agent, usually gentian root, angelica root, or quinine. This small difference is what gives bitters a strong history as a medicinal product, used to calm the stomachs of sailer and soldiers long ago (and probably still today).
In the video that follows, Pinkard, Ludwig, and Simeon explain the power of bitters and show us how to craft some fantastic cocktails. Be sure to check out the recipes, demonstrated in the video, on the next page.
Adapted by Tobin Ludwig
2 oz Tanqueray gin
3/4 oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
Heaping bar spoon of Maraschino liqueur
3 dashes Hella Bitter Aromatic
Lemon peel, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnish. Stir with ice for 5 to 8 seconds. Pour and garnish.
Rye Old Fashioned
by Tobin Ludwig
1 teaspoon raw sugar
2 dashes Hella Bitter Citrus
2 dashes Hella Bitter Aromatic
2 oz rye whiskey
Orange peel, for garnish
Douse sugar in bitters and let soak. Once soaked through, crush the sugar with a muddle. Add whiskey and stir to combine. Add ice and stir to incorporate. Garnish with a thick wedge of orange peel.