Ice Cube Confidential – Why the Science of Clean, Clear Ice matters to Beverages and your Health

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Consider buying fresh bags of clear, clean ice cubes at the store from now on in place of using the freezer cubes from your refrigerator. Here’s why.

For those who use the ice cubes from the refrigerator freezer that happen to be cloudy white and not clear, don’t forget to change your water filter every six months or sooner, depending on frequency of usage. Many factors are involved with keeping the water clean from rust, sediment, bad odors and other impurities such as sodium (salty cubes) that after melting/diluting in your drinks and killing carbonation, can cause health issues like weight gain, high blood pressure or hypertension, water retention and heart strain over time, all from not making ourselves more aware of these little, yet important parts that end up in our diet. Easy to overlook.

Cloudy ice cubes also melt up to 5x faster than clear ice cubes because the pure ice cube is harder frozen. Also, quick-rinse your ice cubes so you don’t have any freezer frost in your drink. It’s also the water you drink from the refrigerator tap as well. Same thing, just liquid not frozen. Dissolved air and dissolved minerals cause the white cube as it freezes from the outside-in, concentrating to the center. Clear ice cubes are from special ice machines that freeze the ice in layers from the inside-out. There are also the differences between filtered water > distilled water > and boiled water = more clear, clean and pure ice cubes.

If you have a frig with a single evaporator, that means air moves between the fresh food and freezer compartments, and carries odors with it that gets in the ice cubes if not cleaned and kept up with baking soda boxes in both areas. A dual-evaporator refrigerator are compartment-dedicated so no air passes between the two spaces.

Cubes not forming the way they normally should? The water line may be slowly getting clogged without the normal run of water making it into the cube trays.. Dissolved gases, mainly nitrogen and oxygen, can get trapped and forced into micro-bubbles during the freezing process. Dissolved minerals, generally calcium and magnesium, can be present in the form of bicarbonates and/or sulfate.

Contaminates. A high level of TDS – Total Dissolved Solids –  can cause misshapen ice, resulting in a freeze up of the machine. Water high in dissolved sodium can taint your beverages. A high concentration of iron in the water can cause slime and bacteria that also gets on the ice. If there is chlorine in your city’s water system, the ice can give off a swimming pool taste and odor, and as it melts in the drink, the chlorine is released, therefore ingested during the consuming of a beverage.

Hard water states like Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Texas and Colorado end up using treatment systems in their homes, such as sodium chloride (salt) water softeners, potassium chloride salt-free systems, or filtration systems that remove the chlorides from softened water.

But this water is throughout the house – you drink it, you cube it, you water your plants and garden vegetables with it, you cook with it, you coffee and tea with it, glassware out of the dishwasher is spotty and filmy, you wash your hands and shower with it where you end up having a slimy feeling on your skin, the water comes out of the faucet or shower head too bubbly, as though in a carbonated state to save water, regardless of the temperature.

And then turn around and wash clothes with it, where after a stint in the dryer, they don’t feel soft. It’s all tainted with salt of the soft-water system. There may be no way to get around it in these states mentioned, unless of course you have the money to install a complete clean, clear fresh water system throughout the entire house.

I’ve worked parties in a few private homes here in Los Angeles that have such a system in place, where the shower water is just as identically clean and pure as the drinking water out of the faucet. It’s costly in one direction, but saves on your plumbing and house water fixtures in another, not to mention your health.

Until then, maybe that filter-less shower water is part causation for your hair-thinning and graying over years of the same usage. Dry or irritated skin maybe? Thoughts to consider.

This is not all there is to learn about the science of ice, more importantly, clean water for clear cubes, and general usage of water throughout the house. If interested, go online for further information to read up on in whatever specific areas you’re concerned with.

And by the way, there are plenty of How-To make clear ice cube videos on YouTube. I only put a couple of them here in this post as quick examples, but I would seriously suggest checking a variety of them out to choose the favorites that help you the most. Some are 5 minutes in length, some are 15 minutes.

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Interview – with Mario Castillo, Research Scientist of Token Bitters – Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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Flavors Produced to Date

Strathcona Orange ~ Ritchie Cherry ~ Calder Chai ~ Whyte Lavender ~ Garneau Grapefruit ~ Meadowlark Mocha ~ Montreal Maple ~ Saskatoon’s Berry ~ Cloverdale Cedar ~ Stampede Caesar ~ Hawk’s Ridge Hops & Hemp ~ Muskoka Smoke

They also have an original sampler set of 4, a new flavours of Canada sampler set of 4, and an Orange, Spice & Everything Nice set

Founded – 2016

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Bitters Hub – What was it that motivated you, along with Cam, Keenan and Jamie to get started in the world of bitters production?

Mario Castillo – I’ve always been fascinated by the different flavours, textures, and colours in foods and drinks that detonate a series of sensations in your body. And bitters aren’t an exception! Bitters bring food and drinks to a whole new level. Average consumers and bartenders at home don’t get that full experience by mixing rum and coke, and that’s a shame because with a few drops of Ritchie Cherry bitters you can get pretty close to a drink made at a high-end cocktail bar.

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?

MC – I’ve been cooking at home since I was a child -and by cooking I mean experimenting in a playful way- so being in the kitchen has been my favorite hobby from childhood. It’s not surprising that I ended up studying 2 additional years of a 4-year bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science in University. I was done with my program but I felt the need to learn more about food engineering, sensory science, consumer science, functional foods and nutraceuticals, and making bitters requires me to utilize the knowledge and skills I obtained in school.

BH – Are you originally from the Edmonton, Alberta area?

MC – I’m originally from Mexico City actually. I was born and raised there and I moved to Edmonton 11 years ago to get married, to have a family, and to study -in that particular order haha- but that’s a whole other story!

BH – Can you tell us a little about your process of maceration?

MC – The maceration process is very straight forward. I steep the desired biomass in high proof ethanol at different temperatures, some of our recipes have a maceration process in cold (between 32-50°F) and others at room temp ( 68-77°F). Temperature plays an important role in our process because it has a significant impact in colour and taste of our bitters as it aids with the selective extraction of tannins, anthocyanins, polyphenols, and terpenes, naturally present in the biomass.

BH – I love how you’ve named all of your bitters flavours after Edmonton neighborhoods and streets as a nod to your great city. Are all of you guy’s idea masters as a collective and who came up with that one?

MC – That was a brilliant idea that Jamie had. We collectively matched the flavour profiles with the neighborhoods’ vibes to represent them accurately.

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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?

MC – The demand is large and growing, however, the nature of bitters in the beverage industry imposes a lot of challenges to meet the demand with the current supply. Cocktail bars, mixologists, and bartenders at home are becoming more popular than ever due to a cocktail ‘renaissance’, but the general consumers don’t know what bitters are or how to use them, hence bitters are not the best sellers in conventional liquor stores which discourages distributors to add bitters to their portfolio. Despite that, our sales continue growing organically, more local businesses are requesting more custom flavors, and the popularity of our craft bitters in international markets keeps on growing and growing.

BH – Do you mainly use organic gentian as your bittering agent, or do you use others as well?

MC – Yes, that’s correct. We use organic gentian root as the main bittering agent in our recipes.

BH – In regards to handling the various tasks of the job when it comes to getting things done so it all comes together, who does what exactly in department?

MC – Keenan steers the ship as our CEO, Cam has taken an advisory position in the company so he is not actively involved in the operations for the moment, Jamie is our business developer/ public relations/ support staff whenever we need him, Richelle is our community manager/sales manager, and I’m the product developer/ head of production/ QA, QC/ and export manager. We have a lot of flexibility and fluidity in the company that allows us to fill in for each other when needed.

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?

MC – That’s a very interesting question! I used to see the city and the community completely different before bitters came into my life. I always loved the city and its people, but I never had the chance to connect with business owners that are known for their contributions to the city and their exceptional products/services. Now I’m connecting with them at a level I never thought would be even possible. For example, since I moved to Edmonton in 2018, I always admired the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald for its beautiful architecture and history. And it was until I joined this project that I had the opportunity to go inside the historical building and get to know the people dedicated to keeping the place running like 100 years ago. It was an incredible experience to go behind the curtain to get all the insights and the inspiration that later translated into a bitter flavour .

-Ohh what a nice transition! I didn’t see that the next question was about the Fairmont hotel-.

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BH – I noticed your brand has partnered with the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel Macdonald located in your area. How many bars and bartenders do they have there? Did the bar staff get into the usage of your bitters in a serious way?

I ask this because the industry as a whole from a standpoint of GM’s, Beverage Managers and Bar Managers in various establishments, especially hotels, bitters brand owners have had a bit of a time convincing the culinary importance and word-of-mouth benefit that can be gained from the bar and staff mastering the practice with having a large array of bitters flavors behind the bar to essentially game-up all cocktails across the board. How is it all working with them so far?

MC – It’s been great! They had been using our bitters in their menu for a while before we started working with them but I didn’t know that. When I met with the general manager and he mentioned that they were using Token Bitters in their bars, it was a no brainer to offer them a custom flavour which then sparked the idea of giving their menu a ‘facelift’ with the new custom flavours. I work directly with their general manager, their bar manager who is also the head bartender, and their other two bartenders. The flavours I made for them were inspired by the history of the building, my admiration for the place, the bartenders’ needs, and the consumers’ experiences.

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

MC – Well, in the beginning we shared the space with Hansen Distillery but as we both grew, the operations got complicated to coordinate in the facility. Then I started experimenting with different extraction technologies at the Bio Processing Innovation Centre (BPIC, a government research center in Edmonton) with small batches before moving into our current facility, the Mercer Warehouse (can find more about the building  here ) The office space is on the second floor and the production area is the basement of the building and has the layout and settings of an industrial kitchen with lots of extraction vessels, beakers, graduated cylinders and jars. The facility is not visually impressive but what goes down in there is for sure!

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

MC – Yes, there are legal requirements and approvals we need to go through to produce bitters. First, we need to obtain a federal and provincial alcohol user’s license that permits us to buy high proof ethanol in bulk, store it, and use it in our production process. Second, the ethanol we purchase with those licenses can only be used in approved formulations. Every single recipe (flavor) must be tested by a government lab to ensure that the ethanol present in our end products is denatured (chemical analysis) and tastes gross enough so people wouldn’t drink it on its own (sensory analysis). This represents a challenge for me in the process of formulation because the bitter must taste strong and bitter by itself, and it must taste great when diluted in drinks.

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

MC – Room temperature is suggested. Even though the temperature during the extraction step varies from recipe to recipe, the product should be stored in a dry, away-from light, space at room temperature. The flavor should continue its maturation with time but it’s very unlikely that you will notice that difference in flavor because you will finish that bottle before it significantly changes in flavor.

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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.?

MC – We test sample bottles that suppliers send us, we pay more attention to functionality rather than looks. For clients in bars and restaurants we use dasher tops since bartenders have a better notion of dashes as a metric unit and can leave bottles uncapped on their counter tops , while for the general consumers we use graduated droppers that make it easier to measure drops or mL when they are following cocktail recipes in a book. The bottle must be amber to filter light that can induce and propagate photo-degradation of sensitive flavor compounds.

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

MC – We gather feedback from customers. Some people prefer to purchase 4-15 ml bottles of different flavors (sampler sets) over a 100 ml bottle of just one flavor, they want to try as many possible. We also had to switch to 100 ml bottle size because we were getting a lot of suggestions from people who wanted to take bitters in their carry-on bags.

BH – I love your bottle label design and packaging. Such a colorful, yet solid look to them. Who’s in charge of that creative endeavor?

MC – That’s the work of Lauren Berkman, our marketing director on the other side of the company (Token Naturals).

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

MC – Requests from clients and formula approvals. I have formulations that are not commercialized, and I make for friends and myself.

BH – I love all of the flavors you’ve come out with so far. I recently received your sample sets, and that Muskoka Smoke is an incredible blend – what is that, like a Charred, Mesquite, Barbeque, Hickory combo? Just amazing!!! I love the woodsy stuff too so, looking to get a bottle of your Cloverdale Cedar as well.

MC – I’m glad to hear that! The first test batch of smoke tasted so much like well-edged whisky and I knew it wouldn’t be approved because it tasted so good, so I had to get creative in extracting all the smoke notes from hickory wood. The wood was treated with heat at different temperatures and times to achieve those rich charred notes that resemble mesquite and other more subtle vanillin notes as well.

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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 bitter’s releases?

MC – Three samples is the most I’ve gone through. Saskatoon berry took me three trials to get the right flavor profile, it was hard to balance the sweetness of the fruit with the spiciness of the caraway seeds and the bitterness of gentian. Some recipes like grapefruit have been the easier ones that get approved with the first trial.

BH – When you retire a flavor, what all goes into the decision-making for that consideration?

MC – Production cost is the bottom line. If the flavor is not selling very well and its production cost is high, the decision is very simple. However, we have retired flavors for other strategic reasons and the decision is hard to make because people constantly ask “Why did you retire that flavor? I loved it”.

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

MC –I just finished the formulation of an umami bitters for our biggest client in Japan, and it was quite a long and challenging process. I’d like to take a break or least not think of creating a new flavor for now. When the time comes, it will happen in the most natural way without even thinking.

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 bitters usage?

MC – The most common question I get from bartenders is “Do you have any flavor like Angostura bitters?”, which is sad for me to hear because that indicates that they learned their cocktails in a very generic way, just memorizing old recipes that call for Angostura bitters. When I get that kind of question, I have to do a little bit of explanation that the cocktail-making process shouldn’t be like that. It should have a base or backbone from which you can build off with different ingredients and techniques, and the bartender’s voice should also be present. Often bitters are the medium for that voice.

I wish that bartenders would approach the cocktail-making process differently, instead of being told what to use and how much to use, they should find those answers on their own by testing and tasting!

BH – Mario, 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 Token and to get a glimpse into what it takes to be a multi-task master of your brand. Cheers!

MC – Thank you, Kyle, for showing your interest in finding out more about the work that goes into making bitters (an ancient practice) in this modern era, and for sharing this interview with your followers.

Website – http://www.tokenbitters.com

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Token 5

Interview – with Seth Benhaim of Infuse Spirits – Santa Monica, CA

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Flavors Produced to Date

Aromatic Bourbon ~ Cassia Bark ~ Cardamom ~ Clove ~ Ginger ~ Lemon Pepper ~ Sassafras ~ Szechuan Spice ~ Tres Amigos

They also have a Master Set and the Artisan Collection 

Founded – 2016

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

Seth BenhaimAfter joining the craft spirits industry with Infuse Spirits (vodka) in 2013, I began spending a considerable amount of time in bars and liquor stores, and saw first hand the increase in bitters brands showing up. I felt that the Infuse Spirits process would lend itself beautifully to bitters, so it was a natural next step for us.

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?   

SBMy first and only foray into alcohol/spirits was with Infuse Spirits at the age of 24. I had just moved back home from Tucson, Arizona after moving there for college. I spend 2012-2016 building our national vodka brand with Infuse Spirits, so when the opportunity to diversify with Infuse Bitters came up, I was already 4+ years into spirits production and had spent countless hours working with spices and herbs to develop flavors. 

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BH – Are you a California native?

SBYes, born and raised.

BH – Can you tell us about your process of using the roots and spices that are actually left in every bottle, maybe as far as measuring is concerned?

SB –  We aim to fill approximately 15-20% of the volume of each 4oz bottle with real ingredients for the various recipes. Some more, some less. This makes for a powerful and flavorful punch with each bitter

BH – What is the average infusion time for each bottle before they’re ready for sale?

SBWhile the time varies due to heat, light, and a few other factors (such as which bitter/recipe we’re talking about), an average of 14 days. Once they’ve hit a certain color, smell, and taste, we know the bitters are ready for use.

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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? 

SBOur bitters business is much stronger than we anticipated. We didn’t have wild expectations when we set out to launch bitters, but now our bitters sell to over 35+ states across the country. 

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 have help?

SBYes, we hired Jez Nguyen, our resident Bitters Specialist. Since Fall 2018, she’s taken over the entire bitters program for the company. She has helped perfect our process, increase our capacity, develop the brand, run its social media, and connect us with the broader cocktail and bitters world. She is the heart and soul of our bitters program and an expert on craft cocktails. 

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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 good reach so far with sales from your online presence?  

SBOur online sales (www.infusebitters.com) are growing and serve as a great tool for those who cannot purchase our bitters in their local shops. We also sell on Amazon.com. We sell to local Los Angeles based shops as well, such as BarKeeper in Silverlake and Fireside Cellars in Santa Monica. 

BH – From what I’ve gathered, you also produce Vodka and Whiskey. When you entered into the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, what product did you compete with to win your Best-in-Show and Double-Gold?

SB – We are best known for our vodka, and our Cinnamon Apple vodka did win the Double-Gold / Best in Show when the company was only 3-months in business. We have also recently won a Double Gold for our upcoming “Isle of Peat” American Whiskey – a part of the upcoming fall release Single Oak Series. 

BH – Do they have a Bitters category in the competition yet?

SBI just checked, and yes, they do. We will be entering our most popular flavors: Ginger, Cardamom, Tres Amigos, Sassafras, and all new Bourbon Aromatic.

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BH – Your lab and office is called The Infusery. Is it a multi-purpose/use facility with event space given the fact that it’s 3,000 sqft.? 

SBThe event space / tasting room is 3,000 sqft. The distillery portion in the rear of the building is another 650 sqft. Between the two are the Infuse Spirits offices, and our HQ, which is 3,000 sqft. We will be distilling spirits, producing bitters, aging whiskey, and holding private events by Q4 of 2019.

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

SBYes, you do need a lot of various licenses, insurances, and other credentials to produce bitters. Los Angeles county is not the cheapest place to make liquor products, but the juice is worth the squeeze!

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

SB We have not tested cold storage, knowing that heat is a catalyst for a chemical reaction. It’s best to either store room temperature (which is what we do) or in a warmer environment. For all of our products, we rely on room temperatures to gauge our lead times to know when infusions are complete.

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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.? 

For my bitters kit for example, I use droppers and the atomizer spray caps that you also have available, of which I love because it helps with drink prep pace during busy hours, not to mention that guests love it because it looks cool!

SBI am a massive fan of the atomizer spray tops. I know that droppers are very precise ways to control the addition of bitters to exact a recipe. My personal preference will always be for spray top. As for the Boston rounds, we like having access to an ample supply, and it’s a bottle that we can find anywhere should we find a supplier runs out. We don’t like to keep customers waiting, and we also like to keep our costs reasonable. Unlike most bitters companies, we sell mostly wholesale, so we have to account for distributor margins as well. 

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

SBWe went with the industry standard 4oz bottle size so that customers can make an easier comparison of price/value between our bitters and other brands.

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BH – I like your clear bottle usage and labels. Who designed them?

SB –  My wife, Rachel Many (www.inkandosprey.com) is an incredibly talented designer and has her own studio in Los Angeles. She does all of our brand packaging. 

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

SBWe looked first at flavors that went with a wide array of classic and traditional cocktails – Ginger, Tres Amigos, Cardamom. Then we got creative and found recipes such as Lemon Pepper, Szechuan, and Aromatic Bourbon because we thought that these niche flavors would be fan favorites among more advanced bartenders looking for edgier and savory flavor profiles. 

BH – I love all of the flavors you’ve come out with so far. Looking forward to getting some soon. Any other flavors you’re thinking about creating/producing down the road?

SBWe are developing two more bitters this year – an Orange Bitters as well as a Hops Bitters. Both will offer two very distinct profiles. We are excited to have these out before the holidays.

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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 bitters releases ? 

SBA great example for us right now would be the development of our orange bitters. We’ve made over 40 different samples, and Jez has been experimenting with a variety of different oranges, from whole dried to candied to just peels. We test and taste for months to see the effects of time on the various ingredients to make sure the profiles hold up. 

BH – I’ve atomized/sprayed certain bitters flavors over the top of an apple pie before in my food experimentation, mainly toasted oak, Bourbon barrel-aged orange, and holiday spice. Have you worked a bitters with a pie flavor?  

SBWe have not made any pies here at our office (yet) but we imagine our Cassia Bark (cinnamon) bitters would be a welcomed addition to most baked treats!

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

SBThank you for your time as well!

Website – http://www.infusebitters.com

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Interview – with Kylan Liesy of Messina Bitters – Portland, OR

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Flavors Produced to Date

CBD-Infused Aromatic ~ CBD-Infused Grapefruit ~ CBD-Infused Orange Blossom

Retired – CBD-Infused Cardamom ~ CBD-Infused Coco

Founded – 2015

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

Kylan Liesy – I’ve always been fascinated and enjoyed bitters, Angostura bitters was always the go to whether a cocktail or  a little hangover cure in some tonic water, a trick shown to me by an Irish bartender friend. In regards to the CBD aspect we wanted to do something different and bringing together two elements of products that have historically been used for medicinal benefits. We saw a lot of synergy in this approach and seeing a booming interest in CBD market reinforced or thoughts around this.

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? Have you worked in a bar or restaurant before?

KL – One of our partners Phil Boyle from Ireland has worked in bars from the age of 12 always a big advocate for bitters. Being in Oregon is a unique place to be a craft centric market and consumer, if we found a place in the market here we felt it would translate into other markets.

BH – Are you from Portland originally?  If not, how did you end up in Portland?

KL – I’m originally from Portland, a rare breed at this stage, my other partners, John and Phil are both from Ireland.

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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?

KL – We have received great feedback on the product. We felt it key, to position partnerships with people in both the Cannabis space and alcohol space. Educating the consumers, bartenders and sellers alike. Like any business improvements will always be made to improve, we take pride in what we do but also understand we don’t know everything so our own education is also a key factor.

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?

KL – Normalization! Educating them on what is bitters, what is CBD, giving them the tools to play and use the products in an everyday scenario. When we give them this education and confidence using the CBD bitters they themselves will become advocates of this product.

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 have help?

KL – Working as a team. We all have our day jobs. Carving out time from our work and personal lives to make the time to do our project can be difficult. We also see our family as partners who help give us the time and support to continue on this venture. We create a central database of products, processes, inventory and tasks we all have access to and assign tasks, we all have our strengths and we try to play to them.

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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?

KL –  Portland is incredible melting pot of new emerging products industries and discerning consumer from people all across the country as well as a great supportive community, We have enjoyed working with people in our industry and other industries, on how best to not only get out to our customers but different consumer segments. Being a CBD infused bitters, we are seeing an overlapping of interested customers, from alcohol, Cannabis and Wellness.

BH – Do you sell from your online website? I noticed prices next to your products, but no Cart or anything. And what’s your situation with getting your brand selling outside of Oregon, or do you just prefer to remain local?

KL – Our main focus at the moment is our local market, working with local partners from local retailers, liquor stores and farmers markets. We will be rolling out an online platform to get our product out to a more wide reaching market.

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

KL – We work a local community kitchen that works great for us.

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

KL – We closely with our regulatory partners and DOA to ensure our product met all the requirements. We can speak to difficulty in comparison to other counties or states.

BH – Being closely related to Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is it therefore also high-inducing or no?

KL – Our products have no THC, the intoxicating element from Cannabis.

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

KL – Yes we do all our own bottling and labeling. Usually a great time for us to converse and discuss plans and enjoy this part.

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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?

KL – We went with classic brown Boston round. For our 4 oz bottles typically geared to bars and the more consistent user while using droppers for our variety pack of 3 flavors of .5 oz

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

KL – Looking at the market and talking to people in the industry and consumers.

BH – I like your label design with the use of the amber-colored bottles. Who’s in charge of the design creation and does it represent anything in particular? And what does “The Virgin” mean on your label?

KL – We no longer carry the Virgin line a non-Cannabis version. The label represents simplicity, good branding on front and contrasts the brown bottles nicely.

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

KL –   We went with Grapefruit, Orange Blossom and Aromatic to give people the best options on usability. Classic plays well, Grapefruit delightful in a margarita, IPA, Orange Blossom for Old Fashioned, Mimosa or Champagne and Aromatic to play on the original plays seen for the classic cocktail approach but to be also approachable to just be added to any soda or tonic with a wedge and enjoy.

BH – Do you still host the pop-up dinners in Portland? How long did you do that? There was a lot of that happening here in L.A. for a while to the point where there was an article in a local online publication about it, even though it’s not supposed to get coverage quite like that.

KL – We love to work with pop up events usually a showcase of a new concept or business. We recently paired up with Coalition Brewing based in Portland who are pioneering CBD beer in the nation! We partnered on a CBD infused Beer pairing dinner.

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

KL – You’re welcome, and thank you for including us in your interview series.

Website – http://www.messinabitters.com

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Anthony

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Katie

Interview – with Joshua Cockle of Winship’s – Oklahoma City, OK

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Flavors Produced to Date

Old Fashioned Aromatic ~ Cucumber ~ Blood Orange ~ Dynamic Lime ~ Wormwood ~ Hibiscus ~ Barrel-Aged Aromatic ~ Tobacco ~ Cafe y Chicory

Founded – 2013

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

Josh Cockle – I was bartending at a cocktail bar called “ Ludivine” in Oklahoma City when the craft cocktail boom caught up there.  There was not a lot of quality bitters available in our market and as new cocktail bars were popping up the supply diminished even more.  We decided to begin making our own bitters for the cocktail program at Ludivine. After 2 years I was approached to help develop bitters for a new company.  That company never came to fruition, and as I had already developed multiple products I decided to start my own brand.

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

JC – My craft cocktail and culinary experience really took shape at Ludivine.  It was one of the first high quality farm-to-table restaurants in OKC and I learned so much there from chef Johnathen Stranger.  We were provided a very liberating opportunity there to be creative with cocktails and fresh, interesting ingredients and were encouraged to experiment.

BH – Are you originally from Oklahoma?  If not, how did you end up there?

JC – I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and moved to Oklahoma when I was 11 because my step father was in the oil pipeline business.

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?

JC – The demand for our products in Oklahoma City has gone up every year, and we are now getting a lot of national and even some international support.  Last July we moved to a new facility so that we can up the production accordingly. Our new facility has given the ability to produce a lot more bitters, but we expect to move again in the next year or so to keep up with our rapidly increasing demands.

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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?

JC – I believe education and inclusion are the best tools we have to help get bitters into a more mainstream and accessible position.  The cocktail craze has become something huge beyond just craft bars and speakeasy culture. The mainstream public has embraced cocktails and bitters and have a desire for them.  Educating guests, bar owners, and distribution companies about the ways to use bitters and the history of cocktail culture and bitters will only break down the barriers that exist for a “niche” product like bitters.  Inclusion is the other thing I speak about a lot when referring to this topic. The overwhelming nature of cocktail lists and exotic ingredients has become normal in our industry with bartenders looking for more interesting and dynamic ingredients for our creations.  Making guests feel more comfortable and less intimidated by products and processes they do not understand yet is key to helping our craft explosion reach its potential.

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 have help?

JC – I have a few great people who help me and I owe so much to them.  A lot of what we do is in between work hours and on weekends and late nights so It takes the right people to adhere to such a schedule on top of their full time jobs.  I utilize their help when I can and ultimately I go about personally making sure it all comes together. With our next expansion we hope to employ 4-8 people full time in addition to myself.

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?

JC –  We have a very good, loyal local presence here.  Oklahoma City is an amazing city of unbelievably supportive people.  I have been a bartender here for 20 years and people are always very enthusiastic about our bitters and supporting me.  It makes me very proud to be in Oklahoma and having my company here. Our online presence is relatively small. With our latest expansion and sales spiking we hope to be able to attack the online market aggressively this year.

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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?

JC – We macerate everything initially for 2 weeks to begin.  The different flavors have some differences in production but we strain the 190 proof out after 2 weeks. We then boil the solids that were strained out in water and let that sit for 3-5 days before filtering and blending.  We filter everything at least 4 times throughout the process, and add distilled water at the end to get to our final 42% abv

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

JC – We share our current facility with a few other food producers, as we have since we started.  The new industrial kitchen was built last year and has a lot of space, however we intend to get our own private facility up and running in the next year.  Our plans are to increase production 300% in 2019.

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

JC – The liquor laws in Oklahoma went through major changes last October. This affected us in multiple different facets of the production and distribution process.  We moved facilities and changed distributors over the last 6 months, which ended up proving to be a challenge with licensing (ABLE) that had changed and inspections of new facility from health department.  We are now back in full production.

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

JC – We source as many organic ingredients as we can locally and our fruits generally come from Freshpoint. Our Kaffir limes are sourced directly from Kirkpatrick Farms in Central California. The most difficult ingredients for us to attain locally are the Gentian, Cinchona, and Wormwood, which we order and get shipped from Frontier Co-Op.

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

JC – We always suggest that our bitters be stored between 55 degrees and 89 degrees Fahrenheit.   We have never encountered any problems to date with quality changing due to temp.

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

JC – Yes, we still hand bottle and hand label every Winship’s product in-house.

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?

JC – We originally started with 5 oz. woozy with dashers because our primary target was bartenders and bars.  We are now offering 1 oz. droppers designed more for home users. We are currently looking at some more, different options for new products and markets.

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

JC – I feel like different consumer bases will use different sizes, and having a wider selection will give the user more ability to get what they need due to volume and application.

BH – I love your overall label design with color usage of bright and pastels. And the logo being a Ship’s wheel or the helm, does the inspiration stem from the life of your direct descendant, a noted English brew-master and distiller in the 1600’s named Albert Edward Winship?

JC – Yes, the logo was definitely inspired from Albert Edward Winship and his journey from Europe to America. We really liked the imagery of the “Sea Captain” and the idea of clipper ships and mermaids, etc.  Phillip Danner is a local graphic designer and artist, and I asked him to help visualize our concepts. We thought the captain’s wheel was a very identifiable symbol and it went well with the classic sound of the name Winship’s.  Most of the design was Phil’s vision, including the cocktail swords, color schemes, etc. It was primarily his genius.

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

JC – Our flavors have come about from many different places. The Blood Orange was the original, made out of necessity.  The Dynamic Lime was a result experimentation because I had some rare Kaffir limes and it just worked. The Hibiscus was a bit of an accident, due to developing something else.  The Tobacco was a request. Our flavors have come about very organically, or they have been things I have personally wanted to do or have been asked to try. I also try to make bitters that are accessible and able to be used for multiple applications. We always try to be unique and different, and that plays a role as well.  I do not want to try to reproduce existing products or flavors that others are already doing well. We want Winship’s Bitters to stand alone as a product that is incomparable to others.

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BH – I love all of the flavors you’ve come out with so far. When I got a hold of a bottle of your Dynamic Lime, I was thrilled with the flavor profile from my nose anyway, being a delightful combination of fresh lime with a little floral and cucumber tailing behind. It was perfect for me to use with variations of the Southside cocktail and other drinks with vodka, gin and tequila. Am I correct or at least close with what my culinary senses are telling me?

JC – Yes, you are pretty close.  The floral notes you are getting are primarily from the Kaffir lime peel.  There is also lemongrass and ginger, as well as some other things. This is my favorite bitters in our line and I use it in drinks with most  any lighter liquor application. I have also found it to add a new dimension to classic citrus cocktails. I like to make a people a classic daiquiri and have them taste it, then put 2 dashes of Dynamic Lime on top and taste again.  It is a great way to show how bitters can take a great drink to new amazing levels.

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 ?

JC – The Blood Orange and Dynamic Lime came about relatively easily, we only had a handful of trials for those.  Some of the others have taken up to 20 or so experiments.

BH – You’re one of only eight brands out of 140 that produce a wormwood bitters? Is there a special process of maceration with wormwood or is it not too different from all the other flavors produced today?

JC – We macerate the Wormwood the same as the other flavors.  We wanted to get the bitter qualities of wormwood, and complement that with fall spices, etc

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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?

JC –  I have always had a desire for this and I would welcome the opportunity to do so with great enthusiasm!  When I was initially developing the first flavors of bitters, we were also going to do a series of barrel aged cocktails bottled for home use.  I even went as far as to design packaging, began sourcing ingredients, and worked up a target for marketing. When I moved into starting the company by myself these dreams sadly drifted to the back of the stove.  Any opportunity to work with an amazing company like Beam Suntory would be incredible. We are always open to collaborating with other companies and their visions.

BH – Any other flavors you’re thinking about creating/producing for the future?

JC –  We do have a few new things in the works. I would prefer to keep them a surprise due to having had some of my ideas “borrowed” in the past. Although imitation is the most sincere form of flattery,  we like to maintain our unique portfolio and want our loyal supporters to be able to use products that do not exist elsewhere as much as possible.

BH – When it comes to ordering your bitters through your website, I noticed you have samples that can be requested, as well as ordering all flavors by case only via  5 oz. bottles that come 12 to a case or 1 oz. bottles that come 48 in a case. What is the benefit of doing business and creating sales in this very different way compared to other brands selling any amounts online? Does it have something to do with a law limitation in your state of Oklahoma?

JC –   Some of this has to do with our expansion and move last summer, in addition to the laws changing in the fall.   We were out of production for almost 6 months and our distribution deal was changing, so we only made online sales available in bulk until we had things sorted out.  In the very near future you will see the ability to order the 5 oz. bottles in any quantity online, as well as our dropper bottle gift packs. We also plan to expand our online sales through other outlets as well.

BH – Josh, 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 Winship’s and to get a glimpse into what it takes to be the multi-task master of your own brand. Cheers!

JC – Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about our company.  I really appreciate this series, it is people like yourself who are at the forefront of getting things like bitters out there in the world so thank you again!!   We are hoping to have our best year to date in 2019! Any other inquiries anyone may have can be explored on our website and messages will be answered promptly. We are always happy to send excited users samples of all our products.  Cheers!

Website – http://www.winshipsbitters.com

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Interview – with Michael Fair of Black Ink – Detroit, MI

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Flavors Produced to Date

Orange ~ Smoked Apple Chicory ~ Mint Hibiscus ~ Citrus Twist ~ Vanilla Coffee

Seasonal – Blueberry Vanilla ~ Coconut Raspberry

They also have a 5-bottle core pack available

Founded – September 29th, 2016 the first experimental batch made

Founded – October 22nd, 2016 BIB name was made

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

Michael Fair – After being hired in at the English Inn as a bartender, I became instantly intrigued in the craft. I researched with my mentor, Eric Nelson various fields of wine, beer, and spirits. The field that caught my eye the most, was bitters. Quickly after finding out the history of bitters, I realized that Michigan did not have a brand. This was a big endeavor because I had no connections or mentors in the bitters field. I had to go with what I had in the bartending world. After trying a few experimental batches and messing around with different flavoring agents, I finally felt more confident to follow through. I wanted to be the first bitters company in Michigan and make my mark on the industry.

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

MF – My only experience was working at the English Inn and American Fifth Spirits in the Greater Lansing Area. Those two establishments not only gave me hands-on experience with flavors and cocktail making, but also knowledgeable mentors in their field.

BH – Are you originally from East Lansing?  If not, how did you end up there?

MF – I am originally from Troy, Michigan. I moved to East Lansing because I attended Michigan State University. I am currently living in Midland, Michigan. Currently looking into warehouse space in Detroit, Michigan for expansion purposes.

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

MF – The supply and demand are quickly growing, especially with customers from the South East region of Michigan. We have only shipped under 50 orders outside of Michigan. I believe that we can improve with more coverage to all of Michigan, especially the upper region near Traverse City. We are seeking more exposure for our brand to develop more partnerships with other big companies in the cocktail industry.

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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?

MF – I do agree that it is an ongoing uphill battle and I have been seeing better results that are more indirect. What I mean by that is that I notice that more bars and restaurants are eager to accept our brand when their own customers are knowledgeable about bitters and our product. How have we done it? For example, by selling our bitters to the individual at home bartenders, we have expanded the knowledge to the general public. Those same people have dropped our name, asked for bitters and shown attention to our brand. This has then intrigued bartenders and owners to use more bitters and our brand. Indirectly spiking interest by starting with the customers first.

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 have help?

MF – Currently I work alone on production and sales, but my associate and cousin, Victoria Shappow works on the graphic design and label designs. She was the one who made Black Ink Bitters come to life on the bottle and I am very grateful to have her on my team.

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?

MF –  Tons of support from the community, but we are still working on our reach with our sales online. We currently use Facebook and Instagram to help with broadening our sales and exposure.

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?

MF –  3 weeks in the longest maceration period and it is identical for all of the flavors. Using a high proof vodka, rum or whiskey, we combine our flavoring agents and bittering agents inside its storage container. We do agitate the container daily to help with flavor absorption. We then filter the batches carefully and then immediately bottle the flavors. Caps and seals are put on promptly and then put into our stock.

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

MF – Currently, a new facility and space we are developing in Detroit is around 5,000 sq. feet. Very simple kitchen set up. Lots of space for cutting, peeling and dry storage area for keeping fresh ingredients.

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

MF – We source directly from Michigan farms. We can get 90% of our ingredients from the area and the rest are specially ordered through Amazon (rare spices or herbs). We are considered Michigan Made and have a strong connection with the regions.

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

MF – Room temperature, dry storage, no sunlight.

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

MF – All of our bottling and labeling is done in-house. Makes everything very easy for production and sales.

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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? I really like that specialty volcanic black Boston round bottle that you use. I think it’s the first time I’ve come across it. Is it glass as well?

MF – We decided on the volcanic black for our branding, but decided eye droppers were more common/preferred among the cocktail community. At-home bartenders wanted precise measurements, but also something cool to add to their at home bar.

BH – How did you determine the best bottle size to use at 1 oz. for your brand?

MF – It is what people wanted. 95% of people on our survey wanted that size. Dash bottles were not popular to our customers.

BH – I love your overall label design. It’s a real beauty, so clean and yet so artful, and seems to go very well with the volcanic black. May I ask what the inspiration was?

MF – I wanted to introduce a dark and modern brand to the state of Michigan. Dark and robust flavors are my specialty when creating flavors. I wanted the brand to have a modern sleek look utilizing black and gold. The Kraken came into play when thinking of “ink” droplets. Black Ink and black bottles went together. I then created the gold Kraken to be the gold trip on our brand.

BH – Are your flavor choices of bitters produced in consideration to work with food and drink in equal footing?

MF – Yes, flavor choices and batches were made to not only push the limits of flavor design but usage in both food and drink.

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BH – What is your relationship with Williams Sonoma?

MF – I currently sell all 5 flavors and seasonal edition inside Williams Sonoma. We are still currently in their Troy location but plan on expanding. Everything depends on sales and exposed to the brand. Williams Sonoma has an interesting relationship with us as well because we plan and work events together. For example, Forbes and Williams Sonoma worked with us to make drinks and sales at the Detroit Cocktail Classic(the biggest cocktail event in Michigan). We love working with them!

BH – I love all of the flavors you’ve come out with so far. When I saw Mint Hibiscus, it made me wonder how that tastes. Can you elaborate on how the process of maceration went with the mint leaves knowing they’re a bit delicate? The reason I ask is there isn’t much attempt out there with other brands to get the mint stable for a bitters. But I don’t know if that’s a problem, or not.

MF – Just like making a mojito or mint drink, you don’t want to destroy/rip the leaves. We can extract more flavor out of the mint by slapping or bruising the leaves before putting them in their batches. With our brand pushing the limits on flavors, I am not surprised that other brands still do not even attempt mint. It is difficult!

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?

MF – The Smoked Apple Chicory went through 7 long trials which totals out to 10 weeks worth of waiting! It is more frustrating because it is time-consuming vs. a money investment.

BH – Where does the smoky aftertaste come from in your orange bitters?

MF – We use smoked chicory root and smoked orange rinds. It is very faint, but it is there. We do not advertise the orange as a smokey flavor, because our smoke lovers lean towards the Smoked Apple Chicory more.

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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 Smoked Apple, or Charred Cedar with Cherry, or 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?

MF –  Smoked Apple is a great flavor profile in general, and it would be great for a bottled spirit brand to flavor their brand naturally. Quality whiskey companies usually stay away from fruity flavors, but it would definitely be an interesting avenue to explore.

BH – How did you work the chicory and smoke so it wouldn’t completely take over the apple, of which I’m guessing you may want at the forefront on the nose?

MF –  This was a difficult battle! With many batches and trials, it came down to smoking the rinds, the chicory and smoking the container itself. The amount of smoke from the smoking gun and also wood used all came into play. We are very happy with the current flavor profile!

BH – Any other flavors you’re thinking about creating/producing for the future?

MF –  We have created two experimental batches, but not available to the public yet. Smoked Chocolate and another is Maple Nut. We wanted to introduce a sweeter and also a smokier flavor. These would fall under seasonal flavors.

BH – Michael, 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 Black Ink and to get a glimpse into what it takes to be the multi-task master of your own brand. Cheers!

MF – Thank you, Kyle! It has been a pleasure. It is an honor to be included!

Website – http://www.blackinkbitters.com

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