For an education on bitters in the Merrimack Valley, one need not look beyond Lowell. Kinsey Rosene, the owner of Crose Nest, an artisan goods boutique, possesses a wealth of herbal knowledge. In her “botanic pharmacopoeia,” she’s set up a workstation with more than 65 herbs to blend into teas, bath soaks, face masks or other creations — including bitters.
Rosene’s interest in herbs is backed by an education from the CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism. “I was inspired to pursue herbal medicine as an alternative to Western medicine,” Rosene says. “My mother was always into holistics. Once I learned more about herbs and their boundless potential, I wanted to make herbalism more accessible to people, more fun and less intimidating.”
Crose Nest also sell kits to customers who want to make their own bitters.
“The kits include a limited-edition jar that comes prepacked with some of my favorite bitter herbs,” Rosene explains. “They include a dandelion root base, a traditional digestive, which can be medicinal but also a throwback to classic cocktail bitters.”
The kits are made on-site and include dandelion root, orange peel, rosemary, star anise, black pepper and clove, as well as instructions and a strainer.
“At the end of the day, bitters are another way to brand tinctures,” Rosene says. “They are herbs soaked in alcohol. There is a science to it, if you want to get specific. Vodka really lets flavors shine because it has a neutral taste. One of my favorite bitters recipes is brandy with damiana rose and cinnamon — herbs that were used in folk traditions to lift the mood and lower blood sugar.”
Just a bit farther down the road in Woburn, Patrick Orlovsky, manager of The Baldwin Bar, uses bitters to boost his bar business.
“I first started messing around with bitters as I was learning classic cocktail recipes,” Orlovsky says. “Drinks like the Old-Fashioned and Manhattan, which were traditionally built with aromatic bitters, took well to the addition of other types of bitters. It was really the early stages of experimenting with cocktails for me.”
Orlovsky credits his friends and the book “Bitters” by Brad Thomas Parsons with fostering his interest in craft cocktails.
The Baldwin Bar makes most of its own bitters. Like any trade, craft cocktail-makers subscribe to the importance of the sharing of skills among colleague through mentor relationships. Orlovsky met and began mentoring Megan Lopez early in her career once both recognized their shared passion for fine food and drink.
Lopez, now the manager at Lowell’s Thirsty First Tavern and Grill, a Prohibition-era throwback, began bartending in 2008 as a side job while attending college. For her, creating fine craft cocktails has become a lifestyle as well as a career path.
“Everything about being behind the bar appealed to me more than finishing school and sinking in debt,” Lopez says. “I’ve never worked in fine dining, but look forward to doing so once I feel I can keep up with guys like Patrick. When I’m not working, I’m sitting at home with my two dogs watching movies and drinking a few beers and reading cocktail books.”
Whether your interest in bitters leads you to classic cocktails, contemporary mixology or ancient herbal traditions, there are numerous places to find the sour in the sweet for those who enjoy the balance and complexity they offer.
Thirsty First Tavern and Grill
The Baldwin Bar