Interview – with Katie Schneberg and Anthony Martino of Bear Root – Jackson Hole, WY

56862435_2272515572967137_3435927859175096320_n

Flavors Produced to Date

Old Fashioned Aromatic ~ Lemon Y Snicket ~ Black Cherry ~ Cacao Coffee ~ Habanero Ginger ~ Orange ~ Teton Lavender

They also have a mini 5-bottle sample pack

Founded – 2018

BittersPicKatieOnTablesaw

Katie

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

Katie Schneberg – The birth of Bear Root Bitters was unexpectedly organic. I had been wildcrafting bitter gentian and angelica roots from the Teton area for a while. One Christmas I was planning on selling bitters for our community at a local fair. Anthony was excited about the idea, and wanted to make the label and help me perfect the recipes so they tastes good while maintaining the medicinal benefits. It was received really well in our community and basically just grew from there.

BH – What experience do you have in the culinary field, or another field of study, that gave inspiration to delve into the now-popular craft of bitters products?

KS – Anthony has been crafting cocktails at home for years. The combination of his developed taste and my herbalism and wildcrafting experience made a great combination. A lot of people don’t know that cocktail bitters are digestive remedies as well, so it’s fun to share that.

BH – Where are you both originally from?

KS – Chicago suburbs. Neither of us have lived there since growing up though.

BH – Did you decide to settle in Jackson Hole, WY because of what you could gather with wildcrafting in the Tetons and Yellowstone, or near where you live in the Jackson area, as far as sourcing the ingredients needed to produce the flavors of bitters you had in mind for the Bear Root brand?

KS – We’re snowboarders and nature lovers. That’s why we moved to Jackson Hole. Bear Root Bitters came to us naturally. We incidentally fell in love with bitters making and loved the idea of incorporating herbalism and medicine with cocktail making.

Bear Root

BH – I love the write-up on your website about the Grizzly Bears and their behavior, and that you use many of the same roots and botanicals the bears use, as you say, to quote “to kick start their digestion after coming out of hibernation”. Can you talk about the special capabilities the Grizzlies have and what they hunger for in their more active months?

KS – Oh wow yes. Glad you asked this. Bears are natural herbalists and botanists. Native American people learned so much about food and medicine from the bears, and we can still learn so much from them. Bear also eat a lot less meat than I think most people realize. They bulk of their diet is from plants.

In the fall, bears find fiber rich barks to prepare for winter. They don’t defecate at all during this time. When they wake in spring, they search for bitter and carminative herbs to relax and promote natural digestion and gastric movement. Gentian and Angelica are some of the plants that they look for since they contain those properties. Upon waking from winter, they also eat a lot of animals that didn’t survive the winter.

Bears eat a lot of roots, and berries throughout the spring and summer months. Nuts, berries and moths in fall. They use plants for food and medicine. Like I said, humans have learned so much from bears about local foods and medicines. We can learn so much about the useful plants on our landscape by watching the behavior of bears.

37880783_10156445582109547_8791166102014001152_o

BH – How is the supply and demand going so far with your bitters, and what could be improved, if anything, knowing that bitters is for the most part, a small-batch artisanal endeavor?

KS – Yes, good question. We have had a lot of discussion about our wild crafting impact as we expand. Our company is growing really fast. Faster than we expected. In order to compensate for this, we started to support our bitter root use with organic roots grown on sustainable herb farms. We get a lot of our roots from Oshala Herb Farm and Pacific Botanicals.

The discussion of responsible wildcrafting is very deep and probably beyond the scope of this interview. In short, human interaction with natural plants is a sensitive but essential relationship. The plants benefit from a certain amount of human interaction, but exploitation or poaching of plants is extremely destructive. We prioritize maintaining healthy native plant population and ethical wildcrafting.

BH – Managers of restaurants, owners of bars, and hotel F & B directors. How do we open them up to our amazing world of bitters and their usage behind the bar, so bartenders eager to experiment (for the betterment of the establishment) don’t have to face such an uphill battle with gaining easier acceptance bringing them in?

KS – A lot of people don’t realize how much better the cocktail can be when high quality ingredients are used! I guess more bartenders need to try out good bitters and incorporate them into their bar.

BH – How do you go about handling the various tasks of the job description when it comes to getting things done so it all comes together?  Do you both have help?

KS – We have meetings every week and keep quality notes and calendars. I don’t know. We really love what we do, so it hasn’t been a struggle. I recently moved to Ashland, OR to do an extensive herbalism course, so now we’re both finding some local help.

BH – What is it like and what do you see from your perspective hanging out in your city/community in regards to support with your various products? And do you have pretty good reach so far with sales from your online presence?

KS – In both locations, people are really excited about having small batch, high quality bitters. Since we just expanded to having two locations, we haven’t spent as much time trying to increase our online sales. We still get multiple orders a week from people who have met us at markets and want to re-order.

46429133_2212863522321454_1199330644874756096_o

BH – What is the longest maceration for any of the bitters flavors you’ve produced to date?  Can you help us understand your production process?

KS – Our longest maceration is over a month. That is mostly for the bitter roots, fresh and wildcrafted. We percolate a portion of our botanicals because it extracts a better flavor. We basically tincture the bitter roots with a variety of organic botanicals, then add in different ratios of percolated botanicals, depending on which flavor we’re talking about.

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

KS – It’s a regular commercial kitchen that we rent from a friend. Some other local companies use the same kitchen so sometimes we get to hang out with our neighbors. All in all, nothing to write home about on this account.

BH – Are the legal requirements and approvals strict and/or lengthy for producing bitters in Wyoming?  Do you need some special license and/or certification, how does that all go for you?

KS – Because the bitters are extracts and meant as an additive, we don’t need a liquor license. We work with the TTB and local government for some pretty standard permits. Originally, the business portion was a learning curve for us, because neither of us had a background in this. With a lot of help from the local college, and government agencies, we’ve got it all worked out and it’s not hard anymore.

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

KS – Dark and cool, but not freezing, areas. We make sure our bitters stay temperature stable, out of the sunlight and in the amber glass to maintain the best flavor.

36909264_2098687930349903_2498107181564428288_o

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

KS – Yes

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.?

KS – Boston rounds are standard and easy to find. The amber glass in to prevent UV damage. The dropper tops on the smaller sizes are preferred by home bartenders and medicinal bitters users. Our 4oz have orifice reducers, because working bartenders prefer this for a faster pour.

BH – How did you determine the best bottle sizes to use for your brand?

KS – At first we only sold 1oz, because we were making the bitters in quart size jars! After expanding and truly establishing a company, we ask people at market what they would prefer and also base our decisions on the data of what sells.

BH – I love your overall label design with the Grizzly at the center of it all, along with the main off white tan to go nicely with the amber bottles you use, and then followed by those side colors that I’m guessing somewhat match the color of the bitter flavors in the bottle?  It’s very attractive I must say!

KS – Thank you. Anthony is an amazing artist. I’m thankful to have him as a friend and business partner.

BH – What were the deciding factors in your flavor choices of bitters to produce?

KS – Ah, this was so hard! There are still so many flavors I want to bring into the line. Again, we asked people what they wanted and basically made a huge list of all the potential flavors we were interested in and then narrowed it down.

35480972_2076720115880018_3274613337123454976_o

BH – I love all of the flavors you’ve come out with so far. Not only is that Habanero Ginger combination a possible first in the current bitters world, but there is always room for a real authentic, clean Orange bitters without a bunch of other take-away flavors added into it to make it more complex. I’m not against that at all, as I have a couple of those myself, but it would be nice if there were an orange out there that was primarily just that, nothing else. You know what I mean?

KS – Totally, it’s surprisingly hard to find a good orange bitter! We’re really happy with ours because it is so straight forward and high quality. Some of the leading brands of orange taste so fake and sweet.

And yeah thanks. Our habanero-ginger is a big hit. I love hot spice of the habanero plus the unique spice of the ginger. This flavor makes it easy to add spice to a drink without the forethought of infusing a bottle. It also allows for people to make cocktails for guests and give them the options of spice of not. Not everyone can handle the heat!

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 bitters releases ?

KS – Hah, honestly the hardest one to nail was lavender. All of the flavors have gone through at least 10 variations before a final agreement, but the lavender took at least 40 tries. We tried mixing it with hibiscus, multiple types of citrus peels, different bitter roots etc. Not to mention playing with the different varieties of lavender grown at our local lavender farm (Jackpine lavender in WY, and English Lavender Farm in OR)! You would be amazed with how many lavender varieties there are and how they vary. All in all, we settled on long infusion of a simple combination of orange peel, angelica, and lavender. The least amount of variations we went through was 10. That was with habanero-ginger. These were mainly ratio combinations.

38754353_2127495200802509_4132899544058822656_n

BH – I’ve hinted to Beam Suntory over the years when asked about new flavor ideas, for them to consider creating a special or limited edition whiskey with say, your Old Fashioned Aromatic, others like Smoked Apple, Charred Cedar with Cherry, Toasted Oak and Orange, or a host of other possible bitters flavors. And they’ve yet to explore the potential. What do you think about doing this with bottled spirits in the future?

KS – Oh yeah, we’re totally open to that idea. I’ve had some barrel aged bitters before and they’re amazing. We’ve been talking a bit with Wyoming Whiskey about potentially creating a barrel aged cherry, but don’t tell anyone about that! It’s still in the works.

BH – Any other flavors you’re thinking about creating/producing down the road?

KS – Absolutely. We don’t want to spoil any surprises, but our next flavor will probably be some type of walnut mixture.

BH – Katie and Anthony, 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 Bear Root and to get a glimpse into what it takes to be the multi-task masters of your own brand. Cheers!

KS – Thank you for having us! Cheers!

Website  – http://www.bearrootbitters.com

14333841_10154507126120960_4485511536015966460_n

Anthony

35547727_2077713169114046_2169519570417614848_n

10396293_10152973165245948_5827727693600877938_n

Katie