Interview – with Genevieve Brazelton of The Bitter Housewife – Portland, OR

bitter housewife 2

Flavors Produced to Date

Aromatic – Bull Run Barrel-Aged – Cardamom – Lime Coriander – Grapefruit – Orange

They also have a variety of botanical and essential syrups, cocktail kits and collections

BITTER HOUSEWIFE

Bitters Hub – What was it that motivated you to get started in the world of bitters production ?

Genevieve Brazelton – I have always been motivated to try making things at home, the results are usually worth it. And as a lover of classic cocktails, I had to see what bitters were all about. After tasting my first batch, I was on a mission to create the perfect bitters for an Old Fashioned. It was my husband who asked, “Do you think we could make a business selling bitters?”

BH –  What experience do you have in the culinary field, or another field, that gave you inspiration to enter into this product ?

GB – I grew up in restaurant kitchens. My mother was a professional chef throughout my childhood and my father opened his own restaurant when I was in high school. Besides working in his kitchen, I worked in a handful of others, waited tables, and even managed a bar. However, after college I pursued a career in marketing and public relations, but I stuck with what I knew best – food and drink. Ten years ago, I never could have told you I would be making my own food/beverage product but looking back the path is pretty clear.

BH –  How is the supply and demand going so far with your bitters, and what could be improved, if anything ?

GB – We’ve had a great response to our bitters and syrups. People love the branding and the flavors. We’ve seen continued growth and are just barely keeping our production ahead of demand. However, there’s always room for improvement in any business. We still struggle to keep the amount of back stock on hand to feel truly confident that we won’t sell out. I also don’t have as much time to work on new flavors as I’d like.

BH –  Knowing that bitters is for the most part, a small-batch artisanal endeavor, is there a possibility or interest for larger productions on a regular basis, or is there not quite a need for that at this point, or are you already there ?

GB – We are always looking at ways to improve our production and scale up without sacrificing quality. A single batch for us now is about 5 times the size we started with just under 4 years ago. However, we are still making 2-3 batches a month to keep up with demand and sometimes bottling in order to complete orders, so yes even larger scale is definitely on the horizon. That said, we are still considered small-batch by pretty much everyone’s definition and will remain so for quite some time.

BH –  What kind of feedback do you get from professional bartenders, and do you wish that more bartenders would get involved in regards to upping their game with a wider range of bitters usage ?

GB – Generally the feedback we’ve gotten from bartenders has been great. They love the flavors and the consistent quality we’re able to provide.

bitter housewife 9

BH –  Have you ever thought about a way to reach bar/restaurant/hotel owners, bar managers, GM’s, F & B Directors in regards to getting them involved with more understanding of the immense value of bitters for their establishments, since they’re mainly the buyers and decision-makers ?

GB – Every bar and bartender has their favorite and their style of drink. Many craft bars make their own bitters or want to cultivate a large collection. Some places we’re a perfect fit, others we’re not. It’s not our goal to be a part of a collection, we want to be used, both by bars and consumers. That said we love educating folks both in the industry and using our bitters at home, so if they’re open to listening we’ve got a lot to say on how and why to use what we make.

BH –  What is the longest maceration process for any of the flavors you’ve produced to date ?

GB – Generally we macerate for about a month, but seasonally some flavors take up to 3 months before we’re ready to bottle.

BH –  What is the facility like in which you create your various bitters and flavors ?

GB – We have our own FDA inspected kitchen space that we share with two other beverage companies. It’s essentially a large warehouse with a lot of pallet shelving to store finished product, empty glass, and cases, as well as multiple tanks for making the bitters. Our production area is a big open space with a lot of stainless steel, easy to wipe down and hose off. I also have a small R&D station and a photo studio tucked in the corner. It’s not particularly sexy, but it does have a loading dock which makes accepting pallets of glass and totes of alcohol a breeze.

BH –  How and where do you go about sourcing the ingredients you use for your bitters ?

GB – We get all of our citrus from a local produce company that is great about telling when the first of the season is coming in and how things are looking. We get all our herbs, spices, and botanicals from either Mountain Rose or Starwest. They are consistently the best quality for organic or wildharvested. When it comes to our syrups we buy as much farm direct as possible. For example we get our rosemary from a Portland area farm that grows it for us.

BH –  What are your storage and temperature necessities that you feel equate to the best results for your products ?

GB – Bitters are extremely stable and our warehouse is pretty consistently between 60 and 80 degrees, so we’ve never had any issues with temperature.

bitter housewife 8

BH –  Is all your bottling and labeling done in-house ?

GB – Yes, and by hand. Flat bottles don’t take kindly to machines.

BH –  How do you decide on which bottles and tops to use when it comes to eyedroppers, atomizers, dasher tops, woozy, Boston round, flask-style etc ?

GB – We choose the flask in the beginning because it was different, now it’s so much a part of our brand we’d never switch. Although we do offer a woozy, similar to the Angostura bottle, for bars because it dashes more consistently and is a more economical size. We went with a dasher top because we felt a dropper put forth a message that our bitters were precious and to be used sparingly. That isn’t our belief at all, instead we encourage everyone to use often and generously.

BH –  How do you determine the best bottle sizes to use – 1oz., 2oz., 4oz ?  I notice yours are 100ml, so that’s roughly 3.4 ounces, correct ?

GB – Yes, we use 100 ml bottles. We originally thought we would use 200 ml bottles, but once we saw them and started to work with them, they were just too big. The 100 ml look and feel great.

BH –  Are the legal requirements and approvals strict and/or lengthy for producing bitters in Oregon ?, or Portland more specifically, and do you need some special license and/or certification, how does that all go in your state ?

GB – We are a FDA inspected facility and get annual inspections.  It took some time and lots of communication, but we settled on a permitting structure with the OLCC that they agreed to.  Initially they said we needed a distiller’s license, but looking deeply in the code found that we did not.

BH –  What are the costs/fees/expenses involved, and are there facility inspections ?

GB – Yes

bitter housewife 11

BH –  Do you have any new flavors coming up in the near future that you can tell us about, or is it still a secret at this point ?

GB – I’m always working on new flavors, but right now nothing is close enough to launch to talk about.

BH –  Overall, what’s the feedback been like since the launch of your many flavored line of bitters some seven years ago ? . . . what was your debut flavor and when was it released ?

GB – We started the business 5 years ago and have been on the market just under 4 years. In that time we’ve received great feedback and have grown exponentially every year. We launched with the Old Fashioned Aromatic bitters in October 2014.

BH –   Personally, I love all of the flavors you’ve come out with so far.  When I saw the flavor name of Bull Run, I was curious about what type of flavor profile that would be, and then read where it’s essentially a barrel-aged version of your Aromatic bitters. Can you talk with us a little about how the essence and spirit of that idea came about to expand on it, and how many barrels do you use ?

GB – Bull Run Distilling has been a supporter and collaborator since the very beginning. We were having a “what if” conversation with owner/distiller Lee Medoff and we started talking about making bitters in an oak barrel. So we did. We only make one batch a time and start a new batch every 3-4 months.

BH –  What are the most samples and least samples of trial and error testing you had to go through to get the flavor profile you wanted with a couple of your releases ?

GB –  The Old Fashioned Aromatic took the most tests, maybe because it was my first or maybe because it’s such a complex flavor. Regardless I believe I made about 8 different recipes before I decided on the final.

BH –  What is Bull Run Basin water, in regards to it being used in your syrups line?

GB – Portland gets its water from the Bull Run Basin Watershed at the base of Mt. Hood. It’s a source of pride for the region as it provides about a quarter of the state with drinking water.  The biggest part of what makes it special is that it is not chlorinated.

bitter housewife 3

BH –  I like the cocktail kits and the names you have created for them. Is the Portland Pony kit still available, or is that more a seasonal offering ?

GB –  Portland Pony is currently available. It’s not seasonal, but some flavors did go out of stock over the holidays. The kits sold much faster than we expected.

BH –  Has the company merging of Raft syrups and Bitter Housewife bitters proven to be a good move ?

GB – Yes, having the combination of bitters and syrups allows us to essentially present concentrated cocktail mixers that people can adjust to their liking. All you really need is syrup, bitters, spirit and a splash of soda to make a great tasting, all natural, craft cocktail at home.

BH – There was a show on PBS in the mid-90’s called Cadfael, a series of 13 historical murder mysteries set in the first half of the 12th century in Shrewsbury, western England, with the main character being a Welsh Benedictine Monk living at the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul in his 40’s after being a soldier and sailor, played by Derek Jacobi. Aside from him being the village crime-solver, he’s also a talented herbalist who often goes wildcrafting to create medicinal tinctures for helping people with cures for their various ills. I watched the entire series about eight years ago and found it fascinating with a warmth of his character in a time like that. I noticed on your bitters page that you open up with a paragraph based on bitters being patent medicines. I love how they created a more palatable way to use them as syrups, and even turning them into the many European liqueurs that are so popular today. There seems to be a shared enjoyment of past herbal history with what you do and how you think in terms of creating your bitters. Can you talk a little about that ?

GB – Bitters have a long history. It’s fascinating how something that began as traditional medicine, moved to literally snake oil salesmen, to becoming a standard ingredient in recreational drinking. However, our approach has always been on flavor and how to use bitters, not the history. I’m not a historian or an herbalist so I focus on what I know, flavor. I look at my role more like a chef – creating flavor that accents, supports, and delights. It’s very freeing, in that I’m not trying to meet anyone’s expectations except my own.

BH – Genevieve, thank you so much for taking the time with this insightful interview into your bitters world. I’m sure the visitors here on Bitters Hub will appreciate you sharing your knowledge on how things go in creating The Bitter Housewife and to get a glimpse into what it takes to be the multi-task master of your own brand. Cheers !

GB – Thank you Kyle for letting me share. It’s been a delight.

Website – http://www.TheBitterHousewife.com

bitter housewife 10

 

Advertisements