Better Bitters For Your Cocktails

In cocktails, every drop counts. Especially the bitters. When everything else in your drink is hand-made, maybe even local, even a dash of commercially flavored liquid will dilute the works, or at least their cachet. Benjamin Ahr Harrison started making his own bitters out of kitchen curiosity, and, one wildly successful Kickstarter campaign later, sells Hella Bitters around New York at a couple bars, at Whisk, a kitchen-supply store in Brooklyn, and The Meadow, in Manhattan and Portland, OR. Now he's planning on taking his bitters—and his personal favorite concoction, bitters and soda—on the road with, what else, a food cart. Check out his new campaign, and help make the world a more bitter place.

When did you start making bitters?

I've always gotten bitters-and-soda at a bar to stretch the night out. I like doing little projects like this, and I found some recipes maybe 5 or 6 years ago. Right when all those highfalutin cocktail bars started up. There were two ways to do it. One was: Here are a bunch of weird ingredients, put them in a mason jar of booze and leave it under the sink for a month. Then other people, like booze chemists, would infuse each root or herb in a different liquor and add them together, drop by drop.

So how did you do it?

We made around two hundred bottles. We had two 24-liter, restaurant-grade buckets and we filled them with several handles of vodka and whisky. Tons of citrus — I spent $70 on citrus alone. Then the back-up singers, stuff like gentian root and angelica root. I used to get the stuff at a little store in the West Village, but I was ordering by the pound this time, so I ordered it all through Amazon. One innovation my friend thought of was to take the dry ingredients and individually wrap them in cheese cloth, like tea bags, so stronger flavors like cardamom and cinnamon can come out out of the mix sooner.

What's the difference between citrus bitters and aromatic bitters? Why'd you go with citrus?

Angostura is called an aromatic bitter. That's traditional in old fashioneds and bitters and sodas. But it's not, like, the flavor of something. Citrus is what I've been doing for a long time. I felt like I was good at it. We made some wormwood aromatic bitters, which were really successful. We have a lot of demand for those. The star of the batch was vanilla kumquat bitters. It's great with vodka and tequila. Stupidly, we made the least of it.

Pierce Street Cocktail Recipe

  • 1.5 oz blanco rum
  • 1 oz coconut water
  • .5 oz ginger syrup*
  • .5 oz lime juice
  • 2 dashes of Hella Bitter Citrus

Shake and serve up.

*Ginger Syrup

  • 1 cup fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups water

Place ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour. Strain ginger and let the syrup cool.

Ever used bitters in a cocktail. Do tell, in the comment, s'il vous plaît.