I was working as a hostess when I started learning about bartending. I would work during the day and watch the bartenders make drinks and chat with the people. It was so glamorous. They made Mojitos, Cosmopolitans, and Bloody Mary’s that were like nothing I had ever seen before. I was about 19 at this time and my exposure to alcohol was raiding my parent’s liquor cabinet, or finding someone with a fake ID to buy vodka that we would then mix with lemonade and sugar.
About a week before my 21st birthday, I helped cater an event at the famous, old Sweetwater in downtown Mill Valley. A week later I was a bartender. I will never forget my first day. The bar smelled of old hippies and dark wood. It was the most fantastic smell to ever enter my young nose. The large, bearded man behind the bar could have crushed me with one swoop. He picked up a bottle, turned it upside down and said, “this is how you bartend.”
I can actually remember the first time I ever made a drink with bitters. I worked the day shifts at the Sweetwater from the time I was 21 until it closed a few years later. As my skills developed from making scotch and sodas and pouring pints, I started to expand my horizons. I’m not sure whether it was expanding or pure boredom, but I picked up a cocktail book and opened it up to a page.
2 oz. Whiskey
1 oz. Dry Vermouth
.25 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
.5 oz. Grenadine
2 Dashes of Orange Bitters
I’m pretty sure the Sweetwater didn’t even have a bottle of Angostura. A friend had to run down to the market to grab a bottle of Reagan’s Orange Bitters.
And it was a good drink. Even then, before I knew anything about alcohol, bitters, or life, I knew that I could make a good drink. And I knew what a good drink tasted like. This moment remains very present in my mind. I never made a Scofflaw again at the Sweetwater, but I always remembered the recipe and I always remembered how good it was and the complexity of the different flavors that I could feel on my tongue.
Of course, it was years later before I ever truly appreciated that moment, and that drink, and those bitters.
Back in late 2013, I was asked to do a cocktail for a competition. The requirements were that you had to use Charbay Flavored Vodka and a Perfect Puree. My idea required making bitters. I was going to use the perfect puree as the sweetener in the bitters process. I ended up not doing the competition, they aren’t really my thing, but I did make the bitters. And then I kept making them. From there they took on a life of their own. I wish I could pinpoint when the name came to me, but at this point, it feels like it just was. I was Bitter Girl Bitters.