We chatted with the “bitter boys” of Hella Cocktail Co. (that’s Jomaree Pinkard, Tobin Ludwig, and Eddie Simeon) to talk all-things bitters and got schooled—in a good way! Take a gander at their process and get inspired by their commitment to making their flavors accessible to all, a kind of Bitters for the People, without compromising their flavors (which, by the way, is always all natural—none of the fake stuff).
WM: Can you talk a little about the what goes into your bitters and what makes them different than some of the other varieties out there in the market?
Bitter Boys: Hella Cocktail Co. is special because we focus on making flavors that are accessible to normal folks who love cocktails and food. It’s important to us that our products are approachable. Versatility and user-friendliness make them the perfect aromatic ingredient for cocktails and food. That’s why we focus so much on core flavors. While people’s taste in bitters vary with each unique palette and preference, we believe the best bitters are those made with real ingredients like whole spices and fresh fruit.
Our process and ingredients are all natural: only real sugar and real alcohol. Our Hella Bitters are a premium alternative to mass-produced and low-grade bitters; our extracts are all natural and perfectly balanced.
WM: What are some bitters you’d recommend the home bartender/novice mixologist?
Bitter Boys: Start with Aromatic and Citrus They’re the first two flavor enhancers that you’re going to have, like the first two spices that a chef would have would be salt and pepper. Aromatic and Citrus are really versatile, and most old recipes call for those specifically.
For example, Noorman’s Kil in Williamsburg, an incredible whiskey library, exclusively carries Hella’s bitters and go through Aromatic vs Citrus three to two. They use it in their classic Manhattan because it can stand up to the sweet richness of bourbon and remain spicy and nuanced.
Citrus is what you might call an awesome sipping bitters. It’s your go-to for a basic bitters and seltzer. It’s extremely versatile and can be used in place of any orange or aromatic bitters. Generally, we lead with Citrus when educating people about bitters because it’s simply less bitter than Aromatic.
WM: What inspires the flavors you create? Why have you chosen to do the flavors you have thus far?
Bitter Boys: Hella Cocktail Co. is all about accessibility. We want our flavor to be appealing and useful to all cocktail and food-loving humans. That’s why our flavor concepts are simple and not too niche. Each of our five flavors is designed to pair particularly well with one of the primary spirit categories. We chose this approach because it makes education that much simpler.
If we know you love whiskey, you’ll probably love our Aromatic bitters that mixed beautifully in dark spirits.
WM: Can you suggest drinks that benefit from each flavor of Bitters?
Bitter Boys: We love showing people how a little bitters can bring new dimension to recipes that are familiar and simple. Take a Gin & Tonic for example. Rarely is there any variation on this mixed drinks staple, but by adding some Citrus bitters, fresh lime and seltzer to cut down on the sweetness of the tonic, you have something unique yet approachable by any home bartender.
Similar thinking can be applied to lemonade—a beloved refreshment in dryer times. Homestyle lemonade, Citrus bitters, and a splash of seltzer are surprising to the palate yet very easy to understand.
Of course, Hella’s bitters also stand out in more involved cocktail recipes. Leading up to the autumnal season, Aromatic plays particularly well with apple based flavors. We make a rendition on a rye Old Fashioned that calls for boiled cider (apple cider that is slowly reduced to be a rich syrup) in place of a sugar cube.
Here’s the Bitter Boys Rye Old Fashioned Recipe:
- 2oz rye whiskey
- 3 dashes Hella Aromatic Bitters
- 1 tsp boiled cider syrup
- thick orange twist for garnish
- Steps: In a rocks glass, combine rye, syrup, and bitters. Stir gently until the ice has softened (20 seconds). Spritz the orange oils from the large orange twist over the drink before serving.
WM: You suggest using Hella Bitters for marinades. What does it add to those?
Bitter Boys: At its most basic level, bitters is a baking spice extract, similar to natural vanilla or almond extracts. So by adding it to food recipes accordingly, you can use it as a single ingredient to bring up the spicy and exotic notes of cardamom, coriander, anise, cinnamon, and more.
The bitterness also plays super well with sweets. Baked goods like cookies and pies are awesome with bitters in place of powdered cinnamon. Also, try folding in a few dashes into whipping cream for dolloping on top of your desserts.
Another one of our secret weapon recipes is Candied Bitter Bacon. It’s a bacon confection made with Aromatic Bitters:
Here’s the Bitter Boyts Candied Bitter Bacon Recipe:
- 1 pack or 8 – 10 strips bacon
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp Hella Aromatic Bitters
- pinch of Salt
- Steps: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, add sugar, salt and bitters. Stir with fingers until moist. Add uncooked bacon strips and mix with fingers until sugar is completely absorbed. Lay bacon strips flat and separately on baking sheet and place in oven until caramel brown (about 15 minutes). Remove strips promptly from sheet and place on dry surface to cool. Cut dry candied strips into bite sized pieces and serve things like popcorn, peanuts and beer.
WM: In addition to the bitters, we also carry Hella’s cocktail syrups. Talk a little about those?
Bitter Boys: When you order a coke at a restaurant, it usually comes out of a soda gun. The gun is connected to a hose and the hose to a bag. In that bag is a syrup concentrate and in the syrup is a bunch of junk. Hella’s Tonic and Hibiscus Cocktail Soda Syrups are a premium alternative to regular carbonated tonic water and cola syrups. They are much less sweet – rather dry and bitter – but do not actually contain our bitters. Instead, we use cinchona bark (the organic source of quinine) as a bittering agent. The process for making them is also a maceration but instead of alcohol, we use filtered water and cane sugar brought to temperature. Our 72-hour infusion of bark, fruit peel, and whole spices result in not too sweet and perfectly bitter syrups that make an excellent dry soda or a light and refreshing mixed drink or cocktail.
Bonus Bitter Boys Cold Brew Manhattan Recipe:
This cold brew Manhattan featuring Grady’s Cold Brew and Hella Cocktail Co.’s Aromatic and Citrus Bitters is everything you need to warm you up on a brisk fall day. We’ve been serving our bitters with cold brew for years, but it took the forward-thinking folks at Grady’s to add Bourbon and sweet vermouth to the mix. We just sent them a carrier pigeon with a thank you note (it was short flight).