"I always create the cocktail around the bitters, not the other way around."
Local and seasonal: you hear it all the time these days in restaurants and at markets around the city, but how often do you hear it at the bar? Louis Smeby takes that philosophy and bottles it. (Literally.)
His small-batch bitters are made in Brooklyn using local ingredents, inspired by what is fresh and available at any given time of year. As of now, the bitters are only available at some of the city's higher-end cocktail spots and restaurants with creative beverage lists, including White Star, PDT, and Buttermilk Channel—but it's worth tracking them down across the city.
Name: Louis Smeby
Location: South Slope, Brooklyn
Occupation: Owner, A.B. Smeby Bittering Company
What is your mixology background and how did you decide you wanted
to make bitters? I believe that humans need to live seasonally. Thus, Seasonal Bitters is the concept of the company. I wanted to create as many of my own ingredients as possible (I've made pretty much everything but distilled my own alcohol), and most of my sixteen-year career in the hospitality industry has centered around flavor profiles and combinations thereof.
What makes your bitters so unique? Once I experimented with the production of bitters and researched what was currently available, I concluded that it was time to take bitters in a natural direction. The product itself has none of the synthetic coloring, sweetening adjuncts, or additives that so many producers add to their bitters. Since quite a few of the flavors incorporate fresh ingredients, the bitters themselves are distributed in bottles no larger than 60 Ml (2 oz) so as to preserve flavor, color and aroma. I create about 20 different flavors; some are in series that are only available during a particular season. A few at this point are available year round.
Describe the process of creating a new variety of bitters. I first consider whether the market be interested in the product. That is to say, there are quite a few batches that I made in the early stages of my extractions and recipe development that I don't think would necessarily be the most popular, but they were indeed important to the process of experimentation and advancement of future batches.
The final goal in the process of Seasonal Bitters is to create a well balanced end product through the correct organization of these spices, roots, flowers, and herbs. Each flavor is created not as an all-purpose flavoring to a cocktail but with cocktail flavors in mind—I always create the cocktail around the bitters, not the other way around.
What have you made so far and where can Serious Eaters taste them? A listing of all of the current and past creations can be found at www.ABSmebyBitteringCo.com which will be launching later this week. They are currently not on store shelves. As far as distribution to accounts within New York City, there are about 30 bars and restaurants that currently use or have used the bitters.
You're making a custom bitters for The Vanderbilt—tell us about them. After discussing a few ideas and testing out cocktails with several types of bitters, we came to a conclusion as to what Floyd (the bar manager) thought was ideal to his style of beverage program. They should be released later this month. Spiced with underlying floral citrus notes. I'm also developing an amaro-type bitters for use.
If you could put together a three course meal with dishes from any NYC restaurants, what would they be? Tarte flambé from the Modern; bread from BLT market; razor clams from Casa Mono; burnt end baked beans from Fette Sau; Brussels sprouts from the Vanderbilt; chocolate cake from the Good Fork. I know that's more than three, but aren't we in the age of "small plates"?
What are your favorite local hangouts or places you might be considered a regular? Quarter Bar in South Slope, Beer Table, and
Franny's. They're all run by honest and sharp-minded individuals that believe in great product.
Favorite pizza and burger in NYC? For pizza, Toby's Public House speck and arugula pizza and Motorino's brussels sprout pie. As for burgers, I have a burger on average once every 48 hours. Anthos's Lamb burger and the Dram Shop's burger—reminds my of my childhood when I used to go to A&W drive-ins.
What is in your fridge that you'd be embarrassed to tell us about? I make most of my own condiments—however, there is this mustard called Sweet Hot Mister Mustard that I just can't get enough of. It's produced in Passaic, New Jersey.