If you've been paying attention to the local brewers market lately, you'll see things are looking up for both breweries and distilleries. Just this week, both Beehive Distilling and Sugar House Distillery were approved for tours and sampling at their locations, bringing us just a step further toward being as grown-up as other parts of the U.S. With the libations comes the mixers, and so with that come the growing industry of bitters makers, who are adding flavorful tastes to your booze. Today, we chat with the duo behind Bitters Lab about the transformation their company went through to where it is today, the flavors they offer and more. (All pictures courtesy of Bitters Lab.
Andrea Latimer & Jesse Coss
Gavin: Hey Andrea and Jesse! First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Besides making bitters and Jesse’s photography, we are a super outdoorsy couple. We love mountain biking, camping and snowboarding. And we have a super awesome dog that goes pretty much everywhere with us!
Gavin: When did the two of you first meet each other and eventually got married?
We met in 2004 in college, and we have been basically married ever since–but we made it “official” last autumn.
Gavin: Jesse, aside from this business, you run your own photography studio. How has that been going for you?
It has been amazing! Photography has always been a huge part of my life. I enjoy traveling for work just as much as I do shooting in studio. Every day I am extremely grateful to do what I love! I work with tons of great companies and have made a lot of great friends along the way.
Gavin: When did the two of you first start taking an interest in cocktails, specifically toward bitters?
Jesse first got into collecting whiskey about five or six years ago, and from there he also got into the craft cocktail movement, which lead him to start experimenting with using (and collecting) bitters. Then, because of the lack of availability of good (by good, meaning: interesting flavors made well with quality ingredients) bitters on the market, he researched everything he possibly could and started making his own. I didn’t get fully into it until about two years ago, when I started using the bitters Jesse was making in my cakes and pastries, which is how bittersweet was born, actually.
Gavin: What made you decide to form a business and make your own bitters?
I created Bittersweet last year as a way to sort of help introduce bitters to Utah. I used Jesse’s house-made bitters in all of our dessert items, and also in all the beverages or “mocktails” I made. I really wanted to show Utah that there were other ways you could use bitters besides cocktails. I wasn’t trying to take away from the fact that bitters are what made the craft cocktail what it is today, but I really wanted more people to be aware of how amazing it could be if they incorporate them into their cooking and baking.
Gavin: Originally, you started Bittersweet and were selling items at the Farmer's Market. How did that go for you at the start?
Initially, it was a little confusing to people. We did a lot of educating, which is honestly what I expected we would be doing. And it was actually quite great; I was very happy to help educate people about bitters, and show them they didn’t have to be afraid just because they were made using alcohol. We did have a few people who knew what bitters were, and only that they were either for cocktails or for digestion, but when they saw it used with food it really clicked for a lot of people. As the summer started to wind down and everyone started to realize we weren’t going to be around during the winter, we were constantly asked, “So, when can I buy your bitters?” People really wanted to start experimenting with our unique bitters, and it was so great to see!
Gavin: When and how did the decision come about to drop the sweets and go strictly for Bitters Lab?
The decision came after the summer was over. We decided to take the winter and re-group, and figure out if we could really make this dream of producing our bitters in a larger scale, bottling and selling them, a reality. Not to mention we really started to see a need for bitters locally. Also, we dropped the sweets because having a shelf-stable product was a lot easier than doing a prepared food business, and more people can use our product that way, too. Bittersweet is gone for now, but probably not forever. Food (baking in particular) is my passion after all, and I would love to continue to incorporate our bitters into food!
Gavin: What was it like learning the process and creating your own flavors?
Jesse has been so great at this, all of his research has truly paid off as we have some really fantastic flavors that we have released, and also that are in the works. The process is long, though, and not every batch turns out the way you imagined the first go around. It can take many attempts before getting it right, sometimes. But the education portion behind the process is so fun! We love learning about all of the different roots, herbs and spices and their unique flavor profiles!
Gavin: Speaking to the process, what kind of work goes into making a vial of bitters?
The process of making a batch is long. There is a lot of waiting, and sometimes flavor profiles work, and sometimes they don’t. We spend a lot of time in “the lab” researching and mixing and creating until we get it perfect. Each batch, once all of the testing phases are done and we’ve developed a recipe we really love, takes 30 days from start to finish before it’s ready to sell.
Gavin: What was it like getting everything required to start mass-producing?
Last winter, after Bittersweet, we researched everything we possibly could, from bottles to ingredients to permitting and finding a commercial kitchen. We spent a lot of time finding just the right bottle and reducer, which was probably the hardest part, because we had a certain look and style we were going for. Since Jesse works in the advertising/photography industry, he has a lot of great resources for design help. His friend Natty Coleman designed our logo and bottles, and we couldn’t be happier with how they’ve turned out. We really wanted to go with a more modern look. So far we are one of the only companies that are
not using that old fashioned, bespoke, vintage design. I think that really sets us apart, in addition to the unique flavor profiles we have.
Gavin: What flavors did you decide to launch with and why?
We decided to start with two, as to not overwhelm potential customers, and also ourselves. We didn’t really have any idea what to expect from Utah after last summer, so we wanted to keep it simple. We launched with Aromatic, and Charred Cedar & Currant. These are the two Jesse first made, and the ones he had spent the most time developing, plus these were our personal favorites and the favorite of our friends too. Then in August we released Habanero Lime, which is such a fun flavor. If you’ve ever wondered what a habanero actually tastes like, not the intense heat, but the actual flavor of the pepper, these bitters really showcase that. The many layers of ingredients that go into that flavor really help balance out the heat, and the flavor of the habanero comes through so nicely. It does pack a bit of a punch though too! Our goal is to have seasonal flavors as well, that we release once a year, and when they’re gone we won’t make them again until the next year. So in October we released two seasonal flavors. Apple Ginger is made with 100% local apples, picked up at the farmer's market from Pyne Farms. They use an organic growing method and don’t spray their apples, which is very important to us. Our other seasonal flavor, Apricot Vanilla is so fun. I really love apricot, it’s such a great flavor with Bourbon and for baking! And I couldn’t believe that no one was making an apricot bitters. This was the flavor I really had in mind for ages, but it took some time developing. We have a ton of flavors we’ve developed that we feel are amazing, but we are taking our time releasing those. We want to be strategic about it, and not overwhelm ourselves, and we might not even release them all. Our goal is to create unique bitters with flavor profiles that haven’t been done before. Like our Charred Cedar & Currant bitters, we are the only company making that flavor, so it’s definitely unique in that aspect, but it’s also a really interesting flavor combination. It is definitely our favorite to use during the winter, for sure!
Gavin: How much of a difference does it make in production and taste using all-natural ingredients rather than taking the processed route?
It makes all the difference! We can’t stress this enough, actually. This is the main reason Jesse started making his own bitters at home; the stuff available at the time was full of artificial flavorings, colorings and weren’t even using real alcohol as the base. And you could tell. It just was crazy to us that people were using such bad ingredients, and calling them bitters. Those are not bitters. Bitters are an infusion of roots, barks, botanicals, citrus herbs and spices. These are key
ingredients that you can’t leave out, and why you would ever think of covering these up or masking them with artificial flavorings and colorings was a mystery to us. Not to mention making bitters is a very old process, full of tradition. How can you mess with that? Every batch we make is made with 100% real ingredients. Real herbs, spices, roots and barks, fruits and botanicals collected from the land, and we obtain these from trusted sources and most of the time they are organic as well. If it’s available organic, we use that over conventional.
Gavin: How has the past year been for you guys since starting the new company, and what has the feedback been like?
This past year has been incredible, we are so blown away, and just so grateful to all the people we have met along the way who have really been a huge support, and who have provided us guidance! We could never have imagined the response we have gotten! We set out to do the farmers market again, for the same reason as last year, to educate and to get people talking, and it worked! We are smack in the middle of a bitters resurrection nationwide, and we are so lucky to be a part of that!
Gavin: Are you working on any new flavors at the moment, or just working with what you have for now?
Yes, the ideas just don’t stop and we have some fun stuff in the works! We are also working with some local companies on collaborations, too. We can’t give away too many details right now, because we are still in the production phases. But we can tell you these companies are so on board with the bitters movement, and are very excited about our products, as we are theirs! Doing these collaborations have been a great learning process in addition to being super fun, so we can’t wait to see where this goes.
Gavin: Are you currently being used by any local establishments yet? Are there any shops besides your online store people can purchase them at?
Caputo's Market carries our stuff, as does Boozetique. There are
also a handful of bars and restaurants using our bitters as well; there is a list on our website. We also just signed with a local distributor, A Priori. This has been so exciting for us and something we could have never dreamed of, so early in the game. We are so excited to have the A Priori team spreading the Bitters Lab love not just locally but nationwide because they are just as excited about this bitters movement as we are and it’s fantastic! We will also be launching our web store through our website in November, and we can’t wait for that!
Gavin: What can we expect from both of you and Bitters Lab over the rest of 2015?
Bitters Lab has a lot of great ideas for the future. For the rest of 2015 we don’t have plans to release any new flavors, but we are working on a 3-piece gift pack, and will hopefully have that in time for the holidays, so that will be fun. We do have a few new flavors slated for release in 2016 in addition to these collaborations we are working on. We also have some super exciting things (besides new flavors) planned for 2016 as well. We like keeping people in suspense about what we’re up to, it’s more fun that way! So definitely stay connected with us on social media to find out all the Bitters Lab news and happenings!