Genevieve Brazelton had no intention of making a business of bitters.
With a long background in restaurants and home cooking, Genevieve often buys a product and then says to herself “lets see if the homemade version is better.” So it occurred to her to try making bitters from scratch for her favorite cocktail (Old- Fashioned), to see if it would improve the overall flavor. She was very pleased with the results. Her husband Dan, who Genevieve credits with being “great at seeing further down the road, seeing the bigger picture,” convinced her that they had the makings of a business. “There’s certainly an audience,” Genevieve says. People are returning to classic cocktails, and are conscious about wanting more natural ingredients in what they consume – standard commercial bitters often have artificial flavorings and additives.
As it turned out, Genevieve and Dan are the perfect team: Genevieve starts out with an idea for a flavor profile, or a specific cocktail in mind. Her approach, like with cooking, tends to be more intuitive (“It’s scientific, but it’s still a kitchen.”), but in order to have that all-important consistency in a product, Dan (“the process guy”) helped her develop systems and specific procedures. “Now I have to write everything down,” Genevieve smiles as she says it.
One of the biggest challenges is developing new flavors that have craft and consistency, and that are also scalable. The question becomes whether or not the recipe will hold true when expanded from a one liter test batch to a forty-liter production batch – many bittering agents change in their concentration at different quantities – “It’s not straight multiplication,” says Genevieve. There is also the issue of seasonality. Some things – citrus, for example – can taste different at different times of year, so Genevieve will taste a current batch against “archived” prior batches to be assured the taste is uniform. All this involves a lot of testing. She admits that some of the differences are so slight that most people wouldn’t notice, but feels it’s important to be consistent.
The business has hit a strong momentum. In 2015 their production scaled up five times over the previous year, and shows no signs of slowing. They have recently moved into a larger space, and are working on some new flavors to add to their inventory for 2016. Their bitters are currently on the shelves in several retail locations, and they’re hoping to be able to expand their market to other west coast cities in the future.
Their biggest seller: Cardamom bitters (I’ve tasted it and can see why it’s so popular!).
The Brazeltons are excited to be part of a fun collaboration this April, when House Spirits Distillery celebrates the 10th anniversary of their Aviation American Gin. House Spirits is inviting ten different collaborators to come up with something that is either inspired by, or can be used with their gin. (For the occasion, Genevieve and Dan are working on a special batch of Lime Coriander Bitters.)
Genevieve thinks of bitters mostly as a unifying element to cocktails. “You should never taste the bitters, but you should know if it’s missing.”