Ian Cutler
Paul Wellman

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.

Paul Wellman

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.


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