Interview – with Sol Sours and Manuel Weisskopf of Dr. Sours – Mexico City, MX

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Flavors  Produced to Date

All Sours ~ Cafe De Olla ~ Nopal ~ Janis ~ Orange ~ Bloody Maria ~ 3 Chiles ~ Manganero ~ Quina ~ Xoco Tea ~ Dia De Muertos ~ Epazote ~ Papa Moi ~ Aromex ~ Lavanda ~ Bavarian Hop

Plus they have a Mini-Kit of 14 different small-bottle samples and a Micro-Kit of 6 small-bottle samples

They also produce their own Mezcal – MZCL

Website – http://www.DrSours.de

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The Cinco de Mayo Interview

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

Dr. Sours – When we first started out, you couldn’t really find Bitters on the Mexican market. Most bartenders would bring their favorites from the US. Not even Angostura was legally for sale here so we thought, why not create a truly Mexican line of Bitters, with Mezcal as the basis spirit and with the objective of putting Mexican flavors in a small bottle for the world to know. And there is still a lot more to discover…

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

DS – Manuel has been working behind the bar as well as restaurants for more than 18 years. He’s a passionate cook and bartender, barista and has managed several bars and restaurants. This experience combined with Sol’s roots of Mexican culture, her obsession with Mezcal, Mexican cuisine and it’s enormous botanical heritage turned out to be the perfect combination that just needed a few dashes of our “essential remedies” to become what is now Dr. Sours.

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

DS – The supply and demand is going well and we are currently planning to increase our annual production in order to explore other markets, since currently we are mainly found in Mexico and Germany. There’s always room for improvement and this year our focus is to improve our sales channels in the rest of Europe and introduce our bitters to the States.

BH – Knowing that bitters is for the most part, a small-batch artisanal endeavor, is there a possibility or interest for larger productions, or is there not quite a need for that at this point, are you already there, or do you like to keep your biz at a certain size that you can more comfortably control ?

DS – Our top priority is always maintaining the quality of our products and even though we’re a small batch producer we’re always looking for ways to optimize production. We are scaling up the volume this year without sacrificing the artisanal process.

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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?

DS – We find that most bartenders and chefs are very curious about the exotic flavors we offer and once they’ve tasted them, they’re super excited to try them out with their own creations or just trying something new with a classic cocktail or recipe. The cocktail bar scene in Mexico is getting bigger and better each year, and bartenders are willing to experiment and substitute the mainstream brands with local brands that use native ingredients and bring totally different flavors to their creations.

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 ?

DS – After three years of hard work, we can say we’re pioneers when it comes to the Bitters history in Mexico. We work very close and hand by hand with the bar, restaurant and hotel scene. We are proud to say that there are a few hotels that use our Bitters not only at the bar but also in the kitchen, for example, the Four Seasons Mexico City, where we’ve had a lot of support from the PR, the bar staff from Fifty Mils and the chef of Zanaya. It’s always good to talk with bartenders and chefs in order to get their feedback.

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

DS – Mostly all of our flavors take approximately 2 months in the macerations process.

BH – What is the facility like in which you create your various bitters and flavors, and where in the city is it located exactly ?

DS – We started out in a small kind of lab/experimental kitchen in Mexico City, but because of the series of earthquakes we had in September of last year, we’ve been forced to look for another facility.

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

DS – We did quite some research before choosing our suppliers in order to get the best quality of ingredients we could possibly find and ended up working with all kinds of interesting people. From local organic farmers, urban gardeners, “maestros mezcaleros”  to experts in “herbolaria”, which is Mexican traditional medicine. More than 90% of our ingredients come from local, small producers that care deeply about the environment. We do a lot of seasonal work. For example, with our #14 Día de Muertos, we only get the organic flowers for a couple of months each year, so we are only able to produce a small batch of this flavor per year.

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

DS – Best storage should be in a dark room with an approximate temperature of 20 degrees Celsius.

BH – Is all your bottling and labeling done in-house ? And by the way, I love that you got your cat involved on the label, with the handlebar mustache and bow tie no less. It looks like a good fit ! MEOW !!

DS – Until now, we’ve been doing bottling and labeling of every single bottle of Dr. Sours Bitters out there and every bottle is hand signed by us! This is a perfect example of what we want to optimize, so we won’t be doing bottling and labelling ourselves anymore, just because it takes so much time we would rather invest in experimenting with different flavors or other projects. We will still be doing the signature ourselves once its approved by the doctor himself, our cat, who is the logo behind our brand because of his love for aromatic herbs and spices.

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 ?

DS – We wanted to get an old apothecary look, using an amber colored bottle that protects the liquid inside from the light and goes well with our whole concept. In our opinion, the dropper has more of a precise measurement and aesthetically goes very well with our whole brand image. People ask us a lot for atomizers, so we just give them as an extra item.

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BH – How do you determine the best bottle sizes to use – 1oz., 2oz., 4oz ?

DS – Our standard bottle is 125ml, a bit more than 4oz. which works best for use in bars and restaurants but we offer smaller bottles in our Mini and Micro Kits, which are a great size to try out the different flavors, experiment and then decide which ones are your favorites. The kits make a really cool gift, by the way!

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

DS – You don’t need a special license to produce in Mexico but you do need a special license to export. We use more than 90% Mexican ingredients so we have the “Hecho en México” certificate. We’ve been certified by the Max Planck Institute in Germany, which gives us entry to Europe. In Mexico, we work with a food lab and periodically perform microbiological tests just to keep an eye in the quality control and to have a complete reading of allergens in each flavor.

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

DS – Costs vary and depend on many external factors.

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?

DS – Let’s just say that Mexico has a lot to offer, so the inspiration to create goes on and will probably result in something new to taste.

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BH – Overall, what’s the feedback been like since the launch of your many flavored line of bitters from three years ago? . . . and what was your debut flavor ?

DS – We started out with 10 different flavors and ended up with 16 that are currently available. Some needed improvement, some were too experimental to stay and too hard to maintain quality wise. We find that people really love our brand and depending on the country and use, our clients have certain favorites. We currently offer six different categories: citrus, floral, herbal, Mexican, spicy and sweet & smoky.

BH –  Personally, I love all of the flavors you’ve come out with so far.  They are so completely unique and cultural cuisine-driven, which makes your line that much more fascinating to get into the history of. It seems like you’ve both really done your homework. When I saw the names of Nopal, Epazote and Papa Moi, I was curious about what type of flavor profiles they would be, and your descriptive detail with each of your flavors on your website is excellent, the best I’ve ever read. Can you talk with us a little about how the essence and spirit of those three amazing flavor combinations came about?

DS – Nopal is an endemic plant which is regularly consumed as a vegetable. It´s super rich in protein and therefore is widely used as a fresh juice, topping on tacos, salad or even main dish. The well known “ensalada de nopal” was a true inspiration for us when creating our #4 Nopal Bitter, which has a fresh, revitalizing and kind of sweetness to it.

Epazote, or Mexican tea, is also native to Mexico and is a key aromatic and medicinal herb used in mostly every street food stand, whether it is in esquites (=mais snack made of toasted or boiled corn, chiles, lemon mayonnaise and epazote), quesadillas or stews such as pozole or birria.

Papa Moi is made of tobacco that comes from Veracruz. Once we got to know the amazing aroma of these leaves, we knew we had to make a bitter in honor to both our fathers, who were serious cigar and pipe smokers. So this one is a tribute to them.

BH – Do you have any barrel-aged bitters in your line?, and do you use your MZCL with any of your bitters flavors ?

DS – We’re already experimenting with a barrel aged flavor. It’s not quite ready yet.

Mezcal is the base of all of our bitters.

BH – Is gentian your main bittering component with your line of bitters, or do you use a couple others where the variety works better for you?  I’ve noticed in reading about other brands where I noticed black walnut leaves are used with a certain flavor.  Just curious as to how the decision process goes.

DS – Initially, our first tests involved tasting several bitter agents separately so as to know the difference between them. Then we went through a long trial and error process to get the combination of flavor and aroma we were looking for until we got the right balance.

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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 ?

DS – With so many flavors, 16 in total, you can imagine the amount of trial and error we went through…just to mention one example, we made about twenty something tests of our #17 Aromex, our most aromatic bitter.

BH – We need to get these bitters of yours available in the States. Have you contacted Ian at Napa Valley Distillery to see if he’d like to stock your line in is multi-brand online inventory?

DS – We definitely want to be in the States, it’s one of our purposes this year, so thanks for the tip! We will contact him ASAP!

BH –  I like the bitters sample kits you have. Do you find that the mini-bottles really help people get into the bitters world a little easier?

DS – We find the kits are a great way to get to taste a wider variety of flavors and experiment at home. People love the presentation even if they don’t know anything about bitters but once you explain their use, they’re really interested and enthusiastic to try them out.

BH – Since we’re here, can you tell us a little bit about your Mezcal brand ?

DS – MZCL is the brand we created for our own line of mezcals, which include several varieties of agave species. MZCL stands for mezcal, no E as in Exploitation, no A as in Artificiality. We truly believe this spirit to be a precious beverage and therefore, work only fair trade with maestros mezcaleros that believe the same as we do. Sustainability is a big issue when you talk about mezcal and we encourage people to learn more about the uniqueness of this wonderful plant, the time they take to grow, the very tough harvest, the fermentation, cooking and finally, distilling processes. We deeply respect each step of the process and wish that everybody who tastes mezcal, does it with the same respect and joy as we do.

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BH – You have your Team Mexico that handles production, development and sales. Can you tell us about your Team Germany that takes care of administration, accounting and legal support, and why and how this two-country duo works for you?

DS – The cooperation between Germany/Mexico is quite obvious when you consider that the very heart and soul of Dr. Sours, Manuel, is German. From the very start, we knew our first export destination would be Germany, therefore we gathered up a small team that could deal with the legal and administrative issues. We have an important number of customers in Germany that is continuously growing and showing more and more interest in our products.

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 Sir Derek Jacobi. Aside from him being the village crime-solver, he’s also a talented herbalist who goes wildcrafting in the hills, valleys and waterways to create medicinal tinctures for helping people with cures for their various ills. I found it fascinating with a warmth of his character in a time like that. 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 and connection of past herbal history with what you do and how you think in terms of creating your bitters. Can you talk a little about the fact that Mexico goes way back as well?

DS – Mexico has a herbal medicinal tradition that goes way back to prehispanic times. These herbal remedies are usually taken as curative teas and are widely used. Almost every market in Mexico has a stand that sells all kinds of healing herbs that can cure anything from a simple tooth ache to a serious liver disease. Of course, there’s a big number of charlatans out there but there’s also a fair amount of people with a deep knowledge of their use. Even mezcal mixed with some special herbs is taken in some communities as a cure it all remedy.

BH – Sol and Manual, 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 Dr. Sours and to get a glimpse into what it takes to be the multi-task master of your own brand. Cheers !

DS – Muchisimas gracias Kyle for the great opportunity.

Saludos amargos desde México, Sol&Manu

“You can’t change the world, but you can make it bitter.”

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Website – http://www.DrSours.de

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Author: Kyle Branche

I am a bartender in Los Angeles

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