Our friend and collaborator Rob Easter (Workhorse Rye) makes some of the best bitters in the bay. Here, he lets us in on a few of his secrets and how the Salted Cacao bitters came to be.
I never wanted to make chocolate bitters. I have made drinks with molé and other chocolate bitters for years, and didn’t feel like I needed to contribute much to that world so I ignored chocolate (in a bitters context, not an eating context, please) for quite some time. As I started becoming more familiar with Dandelion Chocolate bars, a totally new flavor profile appeared in my mind: cacao bitters. Not chocolate bitters. That sounds silly but it is a totally different beast—a bright, fruity, yet savory beast.
I pitched the idea to Cynthia and Greg after their chocolate class at Four Barrel, and asked them for some cacao husk and nibs, separately. I knew the husk would contribute something bitter and tannic, but wasn’t sure exactly what. I put rye on husk and rye on nibs, agitated them for a month and then tasted. It is ridiculous how fantastically good cacao and quality alcohol taste when married for a month. It tastes like wine. Alcohol is a fantastic solvent of course, and it easily extracts the fats and proteins of the cacao. To compliment those savory and bright tones that our rye took from the cacao, we selected as counterparts cardamom, cinnamon, and super cool Piran salt by Bitterman Salt Co. We added some extra bitterness via dandelion root too.
After that, it was a simply a matter of dialing it in. After a year and a half, the recipe has evolved, and now we put whole beans (with husk, no separation from nib) through our grain mill the same as we would before making mash for rye whiskey. We use an extra dash of husk too—these are bitters after all, and a pleasant but unique bitterness is what we are after.
I like using entire plants as much as possible. Roots, bark, fruit, peel, husk, nib. Not because it sounds wizardlike and “one-with-all” (that’s cool too, I suppose) but because a plant expresses itself in so many ways, and there is core personality in many of those parts. To make a silky chocolate bar, the husk needs to be separated from the nib. It is usually valued as prized compost, aiding in soil aeration, but lately it’s moved to center stage and is more appreciated for what it is: bitter. We rejoice in the name of cacao husk; who would have thought? I don’t yet know what cacao root or leaves tastes like, but I foresee that changing for both us and Cacao Bitters lovers.
You can find Rob’s bitters on the Workhorse Rye website, or in our Valencia Street factory. To start, try a few sleeves with 2 oz mezcal and 1/4 oz Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao. Or, stir up a dry Manhattan with rye, dry vermouth, and 3 sleeves Salted Cacao Bitters.