If you want to become a tiki cocktail master, stocking your bar properly is a number one priority. Tools like the swizzle stick and glass bottles filled with falernum and orgeat are no brainers, but there’s one small bottle that is often forgotten: tiki bitters.
Bittermens first created their ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters in 2008. Inspired by both the Eastern (Polynesia) and Western (Caribbean) schools of tropical cocktails, the complex bitters are somehow always able to add that tiki edge to any cocktail. But how could anyone distill the essence of tiki into one tiny bottle? We turned to the source and asked Avery and Janet Glasser, co-founders of Bittermens, to break down some of the mystery surrounding their bitters.
Supercall: Why did you decide to make tiki bitters?
Avery and Janet Glasser: We originally made these bitters as a gift to a friend, Brian Miller, who was opening a bar with a strong tiki program for a restaurant in New York City. The chatter about the bitters during the friends and family preview for the restaurant was so positive, we decided to bring them into our permanent rotation. Miller called himself the “old man” of the bartending world, which is where the name ‘Elemakule came from (it’s Hawaiian for "Old Man").
The flavor combination came from a variety of sources, mostly from classic tiki botanicals, which we expanded on to make a much more robust formula with lots of different spice and citrus components. As tiki drinks are typically sweeter with larger amounts of juices, nectars and syrups than traditional classic cocktails, we needed to figure out a blend that could be a great supporting bitter—something that poked through the cocktail without dominating it.
SC: Was there a lot of trial and error during the development of the tiki bitters?
A&J G: Honestly, no. The ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters haven’t changed since our first test batch (aside from improving the filtration). I guess it says something about how much tiki we were drinking seven years ago because the flavors sort of came together very naturally for this blend.
SC: Your site lists cinnamon and allspice as two of the main components in your tiki bitters. What are some of the other flavors that go into the recipe?
A&J G: Ginger, citrus peel and lots of cardamom. We think a lot about how cuisine influences our flavors. Ginger/cinnamon/cardamom/allspice is a very common blend throughout the Caribbean and in India. If the flavors have a strong connection in the culinary world, they usually work together extremely well as a core for bitters.
SC: What is your favorite cocktail to make with your tiki bitters?
A&J G: Here’s a current favorite from Aaron Polsky, head bartender at Harvard & Stone in Los Angeles.
Maks Vacation Part 2
.5 oz Plymouth Gin
1.5 oz Rhum Clement Mahina Coco
4 oz East Imperial Ginger Ale
6 drops Bittermens ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters
Build in an ice-filled Collins glass. Stir to combine. Garnish with a lime wheel.