For more than three years, Cutler has been distilling vodka, gin, whiskey, and his special Grandma Tommie’s Apple Pie concoction down in the Funk Zone. He was a welcome addition to the scene, as more than 100 bars, restaurants, and retailers now sell his stuff in the Santa Barbara area. A change in California state laws this year allows him to pour one cocktail per visitor, so he fired up a bitters program to add nuance to his hooch.
What are bitters? They’re basically tinctures, alcoholic extracts that are typically botanical in nature. A tincture is a single extract, like vanilla, but bitters combine multiple things. In cocktails, they bring bitterness, which helps balance the sugar but adds a complexity of flavors, as well.
How do you make them? You take the botanical and soak them in alcohol. Most home bitter makers just use 80-proof vodka, but you can extract at any proof you choose to. That’s part of the art — you will get different flavors based on your choice of proof. Also the quantities of botanicals, how long they sit for, what temperature you use — there are a lot of variables that go into crafting the flavor balance of a good bitter.
What have you made? A chocolate bitter, using Twenty-Four Blackbirds chocolate, and more aromatic chocolate bitter with citrus peels. A citrus-chile bitter; I started with pasilla and guajillo, but I plan to use other chiles, too. Pecan bitters, and I’m working on a cherry bitter, but I’m not quite there yet.
What do you add them to? For the chocolate one, I really like adding it to bourbon with a twist of orange and a little bit of maple syrup. It’s a really spirit-forward type of drink, which I like.