Tobin Ludwig, Eduardo Simeon and Jomaree Pinkard are old friends who share a love for tinkering around behind a bar. Hella Bitter was founded in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – but its heart is in the Bay Area where a few of them grew up. Bitters brewing started out as a weekend hobby for Eduardo and his roommate and old friend, Benjamin Harrison; but, inspired by the rise of American cocktail culture, they dove into the small-batch bitters business.
They launched a Kickstarter campaign to make a 50-bottle batch; it raised twice as much as the goal. Even better, they started to spot bottles of their bitters at top-notch bars and restaurants in New York, Washington D.C. and the Bay Area.
The current team produces the bitters at Hot Bread Kitchen's incubator space in Harlem. Spices and roots (that's what makes bitters "bitter") are "cold macerated" in a high proof spirit, like 160 proof vodka. The higher the alcohol content, the more efficient it'll be in pulling out the flavors of the ingredients. Super strong spices like green cardamom or cinnamon stick need to be controlled carefully; the team bundles them in cheesecloth so they can be removed easily before overpowering the recipe. Nature is variable – they really go by taste and not precise timing during maceration. But in general, Citrus takes about one month and Aromatic, about 2 weeks.
Sugar is then caramelized, adding essential sweetness, another rich layer of flavor, and that handsome dark brown color. Finally, there is the filtration process – also time-consuming but results in beautiful color and clarity. It's worth observing that many other bitters come in dark bottles but Hella is proud to show off everything in clear glass (and a cool label, too, we might add).
The team is constantly re-evaluating their production methods as they scale, determined to sell bitters to everyone who wants them without compromising quality. Recently, they upgraded from 30-gallon barrels to 550-gallon containers for maceration.
Hella Bitter wants people to use their product to make their drinks a little bit bitter. And they're eager to educate how bitters can be used creatively in food preparation, too. As they put it, "We’re starting small, and we’re dreaming big."