Mixologist and founder Miles Thomas AKA “Scrappy” is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Scrappy’s Bitters. Thomas has brought us 10 years of amazing flavors and a cocktail revolution. To further celebrate the occasion, they are releasing a limited edition Bergamot bitters to tickle your taste buds.
Thomas took a few minutes to talk about the company, his adventures, Top Chef and even provide us with the cocktail recipes that were served at the party (so you can celebrate at home).
Earle Dutton (ED): What prompted you to start Scrappy’s Bitters?
Miles Thomas (MT): Back in around 2005, the cocktail revolution in Seattle was just in its infancy and the atmosphere was collaborative, but also competitive, so I took it upon myself to start experimenting with making my own bitters among a slew of other essential cocktail ingredients such as syrups, liqueurs, and vermouths so I could have some special moves behind my bar, not only to give my customers a unique drink experience that they couldn’t get elsewhere, but also to one-up my fellow barmen friends. As I dove deeper into that world I came to understand that the level of quality of bitters represented by the selections available on the market left much to be desired in my opinion.
In my mind it became a bit of a faux pas to take a spirit that was perfected over generations, and combine it with syrups made from scratch, or other fresh seasonal ingredients, only to then add a product full of chemicals, dyes, or artificial flavors. It kind of destroyed all the goodness of the drink for me. This ideal however, became secondary to the realization that the use of quality ingredients resulted in the best tasting and performing product as well.
ED: How did you come up with the name?
MT: “Scrappy” was actually my nickname back in the day. Admittedly I used to be a little bit of a hot head in my youth, and I would get into a few bar fights here and there, so people just ended up calling me Scrappy. It was a happy accident I suppose that the name was so befitting for the product because with bitters, it’s such a small amount of liquid that needs to be bold and punchy and fight to stand out in cocktail where the volumes of the other ingredients are so much larger, and they all have their own distinct flavors to compete with (or compliment). The bitters need to be “scrappy” too.
ED: In your previous life as a bartender, what was your biggest challenge with achieving the flavors you wanted in cocktails?
MT: Maybe not necessarily the biggest challenge but what I found to be the most important thing that a cocktail needs is balance, and achieving that is something you really only learn through repetition. That’s why I gravitated towards bitters as an ingredient, because aside from imparting a particular flavor, their primary purpose is to achieve balance. Bitterness is often a forgotten element in taste, whether you’re talking about cocktails or even food.
ED: Why do you think so many people think there is just one type of bitters for everything?
MT: Angustora. It’s been around forever and before the cocktail renaissance a little over 10 years ago or so, it was the only bitters that most bars had if they even carried any bitters at all. Maybe if it was a bar really ahead of its time they had Peychaud or Regans too, but aside from a lack of understanding bitters, there just wasn’t much else out there in the market. At the time I started the company in 2008 there was only 4 brands of bitters available. Now there, are over 100.
ED: What basic bitters flavors do you think everyone should have before inviting guests over for cocktails?
MT: An aromatic and an orange for sure. They’re both arguable the most versatile flavors, and most classics that call for bitters use one or the other. There are so many options now though, and really no rules as far as which bitters to use in certain applications – it’s all about experimentation and having fun. That’s why the bitters mini-sets we offer are so popular. You get 4 different varieties of bitters in half-ounce bottles so that way you can familiarize yourself with which flavors you enjoy and do some experimentation at a lower barrier to entry than committing to 5 ounces of one flavor, which can go a very long way.
ED: What is one (or more) great bitters cocktail to surprise guests with?
MT: There are so many amazing recipes to choose from, and aside from the classics folks are coming up with new and exciting cocktails every day using bitters. I would say an easy way to start is using bitters to modify a cocktail you already know and love. If you like manhattans, try doing one with chocolate bitters. If you like Negronis try doing one with grapefruit bitters, and so on and so forth – you really can’t go wrong. Our Instagram page is also an amazing resource for cocktail recipes. Our audience is super engaged and creative and it’s really one of the best parts of what we do, getting to see all the amazing things our consumers come up with.
ED: What are a couple of your favorite cocktails with bitters? I am sure they change but for now.
MT: Some of my favorite cocktails with bitters are ones that don’t originally call for them. I love a Negroni with grapefruit or chocolate bitters, A Mezcal Last Word with Black Lemon, A Paloma with Celery or Lime. But of course you can never go wrong with an Old Fashioned. I use both Aromatic and Orange in mine.
ED: What are a couple of surprising things people have come up with using your bitters?
MT: As far as cocktails go, the list is endless and there’s just too much to choose from, but some of the more non-traditional applications of bitters that are fun to see are how people use it in cooking. We’ve seen folks make stocks with bitters, fold it into pastry dough like vanilla extract, use it to make frosting, as a seasoning in a marinade, and we’ve especially been seeing some really amazing non-alcoholic applications with coffee and tea. We just recently celebrated our 10 year anniversary and we had an amazing local baker make us a beautiful and delicious “old fashioned” cake using bourbon and our orange bitters in the cake batter, and our aromatic bitters in the frosting.
ED: What was it like to be on Top Chef?
MT: It was a really interesting experience. Aside from the idiosyncrasies of reality TV, it was a super fun and obviously a big moment for us as a company. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any control over how our products were used and some of the applications weren’t as good as you would hope, but it’s a really tough competition and the chefs are asked to do a lot with very little.
ED: Would you do another show or contest like that?
MT: I’ve definitely been involved in a lot of more localized contests as a judge, cocktail competitions and such. I haven’t been asked to participate in any TV shows recently but I’m always open to those opportunities and anything that can really help educate and bring awareness to the entire bitters category at large, not just Scrappy’s.
ED: What made you decide to come up with Bergamot as your anniversary limited edition bitters?
MT: Bergamot is a flavor I’ve always been kind of obsessed with and in the beginning it was just too cost prohibitive for us when we were first starting out as a small company with no outside funding. But now that we’re a major global supplier, it just made sense that I would use the occasion of our 10 years as a company, and the subsequent success we’ve enjoyed, to do something I was never able to do before. I’m really happy with how it turned out and I can’t wait for people to get their hands on it and try it.
ED: Could you tell me a bit about the flavor and how you would use it?
MT: Bergamot’s are a very floral and perfumey flavor. It is very delicate and very complex at the same time. I think for a cocktail with this bitters, simplicity is key. That’s why for the featured cocktail recipe we have on each bottle, we created The Decade, which is for all intents and purposes a classic gin Martini with Scrappy’s Bergamot Bitters. It really lets the bergamot shine. Our favorite way to make it is with a London Dry Gin and Mancino Bianco vermouth.
ED: What does it mean to you to celebrate 10 years of Scrappy’s Bitters?
MT:It’s really tremendous to celebrate 10 years of making a living out of my passion. I’m so happy to have made it this far and there’s no end in sight. I am immensely thankful to all the people and mentors that have helped me along the way, and of course my staff and the cocktail community at large. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Scrappy’s Bitters 10th Anniversary Cocktail Recipes
The Decade Martini (by Scrappy’s Bitters)
2 1/4 oz Tanqueray Gin
3/4 oz Mancino Bianco Vermouth
3-4 dashes Scrappy’s Bergamot Bitters
B-Side (by Jermaine Whitehead)
1 oz Lustau Amontillado
1 oz Banhez Mezcal
.25 oz ginger syrup
.25 oz Velvet Falernum
2 dashes Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters
2 dashes Scrappy’s Lime Bitters
Directions: Stir, big cube orange peel.
The Bitter Lake Sour (by Erik Hakkinen)
Trinidad Sour with Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters
3/4 oz Woodinville Rye Whiskey
1 oz Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters
1 oz Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Orgeat
Black Lemon Daiquiri (by Jay Kuehner)
1 1/2 oz Rum
3/4 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Black Lemon Cordial Syrup/water for dilution
2 dashes Scrappy’s Black Lemon Bitters
Garnish with Fernet Branca ‘Mist’