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Appetites: Local companies drive bitters trend

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Bitters
Easy & Oskey's Grilled Corn Whiskey Collins is flavored with their cherry vanilla bitters and garnished with Rooibos Kaffir lime bitters Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, from Minneapolis-Saint Paul Magazine, spoke with MPR News' Tom Crann about a sweet trend in drink and food now: bitters. Here's an edited transcript of their conversation:  

TOM CRANN: Many people would be familiar with the old-fashioned bitters that come in a bottle, surrounded by paper. You put a couple of dashes in for a Manhattan, or something like that. First, before we talk about the explosion of bitters, what are they? How are they made?  

DARA MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: Bitters are an ancient tradition. They are a way of getting spices into a liquid form. We're all familiar with the way things dissolve in alcohol: you can put garlic, you can put pepper, you can put orange peel, different barks. A lot of things that we can't really eat because they're too hard, the flavors can be extracted in alcohol. Drain away the solid stuff and that's what bitters are. So, a lot of fragrances. You might have 40 different ingredients in any given jar of bitters.  

CRANN: And what's behind the current explosion? We have dozens of kinds now.  

Bitters
The Martinez is a cocktail featuring Easy & Oskey orange bitters with gin, sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur. Easy & Oskey's Erik Eastman combines the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stirs for 10 seconds and strains into a martini glass Monday, Sept. 9, 2013. The drink is garnished with an orange twist.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: Yes, well, we have a cocktail boom — this artisanal, culinary cocktail thing that's been happening for a couple of years. This is like the echo boom. This is the bitters boom that has followed it.  And we have now three different local bitters companies in Minnesota.  

CRANN: And Bittercube is one of them.  They're in blue little dropper bottles, almost apothecary-like bottles.  

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: These are actually made in Madison, Wis. But I feel that they're local because Nick Kosevich, who's behind the bar at Eat Street Social in South Minneapolis, and he's a part-owner of Bittercube. So you see a lot of Bittercube bitters at Eat Street Social, and just very interesting flavors.  He just did a Door County Hop bitters. So they're using local hops in bitters.  

CRANN: And when I smell it, it smells like a hoppy beer, but more herbs, maybe, I'm getting even a slight floral tinge?  

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: Yes. And you can use this in a vinaigrette (recipe below). You can put them in beer. This is a new thing that's coming, these beer cocktails.  

Bitters
Easy & Oskey Make Your Own Bitters Kits, like this one to make habanero bitters, include directions and ingredients for home bartenders and cooks to make their own small-batch bitters Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

CRANN: Make your beer hoppier.  

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: Yep, take a light beer, make it more intense. You can do all kinds of fancy things, because they're really flavoring agents. You can use them in cocktails, of course, but you can do something like put a drop of a burnt orange bitters in glass of lemonade. It doesn't make it alcoholic because you're using less than a quarter teaspoon, but it does give it a great fragrance. I think you're going to see a lot of this.  

CRANN: So, Dara, what else can they really make better?  

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: OK, my number one thing they make better? Bad bubbly wine. I was bottom-shelf surfing at the liquor store and I got a couple of things that were just terrible. A couple of drops of — I like Dashfire bitters, they're local here. They have a burnt orange. Oh, the burnt orange Dashfire bitters in a glass of not-so-great prosecco? That's a good cocktail. And that's what they did during the Depression. That's the champagne cocktail — it was bitters in bad wine.  

CRANN: Very nice. Dashfire is local?  

Bitters
Easy & Oskey's Erik Eastman garnishes a Grilled Corn Whiskey Collins with his company's Rooibos Kaffir Lime bitters Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: Yes, absolutely. Brand-new, one man band. He [Lee Egbert] has some great flavors. He has lavender, hibiscus. You're going to start seeing these in restaurants, too. You can do something like sear a pork chop, and then take a couple of drops of a black pepper bitters — drop, drop on top — and you'll just get a ton of fragrance, and a very layered approach, but not an alcoholic flavor.  

CRANN: So we're going to start seeing bitters on menus in food as well as in cocktails?  

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: Yes. And there's a great new thing for anyone who wants to do this at home. Another local bitters company, Easy and Oskey — came out with this bitters kit. I'm totally in love with this. They give you little bags of spices, all the things that you make the bitters with. You get to toast it yourself, you get to combine it yourself, you add the alcohol, so you can decide whether the base is tequila or bourbon, for instance. And then you let it steep for six weeks. 

At the end of six weeks you put it in the tiny little bottles, and then you can give it to your friends. You can do your own experiments, too. If you're thinking, "Oh, my garden is full of wonderful lavender," you can make your own lavender bitters using this kit. I love that.  

CRANN: For Friday night, pizza night, I'm thinking pizza bitters. What do you think? Could we do that? A little garlic, oregano — what do you think?  

Bitters
Easy & Oskey makes bitters kits in flavors such as cherry vanilla, habanero, cacao and orange for home cooks and bartenders to make their own bitters.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: Yes! Do not be afraid. I think you could do pizza bitters. I would buy the Tom Crann pizza bitters.  

CRANN: For food and drink.  

MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL: Absolutely.  I would put a little in my bloody Mary. The pizza bloody Mary. I need that.

HOP HONEY VINAIGRETTE
From Three Three Five Restaurant in Green Bay, Wis.
Yield: 1 cup

1 egg white
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/2 oz Bittercube hop bitters
3/4 cup grape seed oil
1 sprig fresh mint, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a small bowl or blender combine honey, vinegar, bitters to combine. Slowly drizzle in oil to combine. Add freshly chopped mint and season to taste with kosher salt.

Bitters
The Martinez is a cocktail featuring Easy & Oskey orange bitters with gin, sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur. Easy & Oskey's Erik Eastman combines the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stirs for 10 seconds and strains into a martini glass Monday, Sept. 9, 2013. The drink is garnished with an orange twist.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

COCKTAIL RECIPES FROM BITTERCUBE

Hopped Up Fashion

2 oz Gamle Ode Dill Aquavit
.25 oz Ledaig Scotch
.25 oz Simple Syrup
2 eyedroppers Bittercube Hops Bitters

Ice: Chunk
Glass: Rocks
Garnish: Grapefruit Peel

Instruction: Stir all ingredients and pour over large piece of ice. Express the Grapefruit peel 6 inches above the glass and then insert peel into cocktail.

Proper Kings

2 oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
.5 oz Cream Sherry
2 eyedroppers Bittercube Hops Bitters

Glass: Mini Rocks
Garnish: Dried Hop Bud

Instruction: Stir gently and strain into chilled mini rocks glass. Float one hop flower atop the cocktail.