The Bitters Truth

Bar-CodeNo trip to Tales of the Cocktail would be complete without smuggling home an unlabeled bottle or two of someone’s pet project. Of the many Las Vegas bartenders tinkering with tinctures, three are making a mad dash (pun intended) to market with their original bitters, those potent elixirs of herbs, spices and aromatics that put the fashion in your Old Fashioned and the “Oh!” and in your Pisco Sour.

John Hogan & Tobin Ellis’ Lavender Spice Organic Aromatic Bitters by Bar Code

Winners in the spice category of the 2009 Tru Spirits Barmade Bitters Challenge, Hogan and Ellis of BarMagic of Las Vegas are at once modern and traditional in their approach to their bitters: an exciting, modern flavor combination presented in a traditional, venerated product. The prize? Hogan & Ellis’ bitters will be distributed through the GreenBar Collective (, $20). Naturally, “it likes to be with gin,” Ellis says. But the wild lavender, English cucumber and chamomile flavors and aromas “also give vodka some botanicals and depth vodka doesn’t normally have.”

D.M. Kelly’s Fine Bitters and Fancy Syrups

An apprenticeship at Tales of the Cocktail two years ago “re-sparked my passion for cocktails,” says Wynn bartender Darby Kelly (a.k.a. “the Bitter Barman”—he loves his bitters!). But, finding today’s bitters too bitter or, alternately, too saccharine sweet, he set about creating a happy medium, not to mention a unique bottle design (you’ll just have to see it). Kelly has just submitted for federal approval four of his 10 formulas: goji, elderflower, orange and pomegranate. “Clove, you’ll find with almost all of my bitters, will sneak into the picture,” he says. Kelly’s entire bitters line as well as his syrups (one with zero calories!) will be available through (under construction) as soon as spring.

Six Sense by Alex Velez

The Las Vegas-based head mixologist for Heritage Hotels & Resorts’ Plaza Real (Santa Fe, N.M.), Velez is inspired—dare we say, obsessed?—with flavor, aroma and texture as is evidenced by his Six Sense bitters and coordinating line of infused agave nectars and soda waters: Pistachio Pie, Bamboo, Aztec Fire, Lavendula, Smoked Salmon and Bangkok Lemongrass. Says Velez, “There are no flavors like it on the market.” Likely arriving with the new year, Six Sense will be available through for $25.