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SB meets… Lauren Mote, Bittered Sling

Canadian entrepreneur Lauren Mote talks her cocktail bitters line Bittered Sling, and the important role bitters play in the world of mixology.

After taking home the Best International Bar Mentor award at Tales of the Cocktail 2022, Mote sat down with SB to discuss how she established her internationally-acclaimed cocktail bitters line Bittered Sling with her husband and chef Jonathan Chovancek in 2012.

Why did you choose to launch bitters and not a spirit or other consumer ingredient?

We were presented with an opportunity in the North American drinks industry in the late 2000’s to add a Canadian expression of cocktail bitters, coinciding with the re-birth and popularisation of classic cocktail culture. As such, Jonathan and I revamped a bitters program that I had created at a local Vancouver bar I was running, and adjusted the recipes for commercial sale.

From 2008 to 2012 we focused on flavour creation, based on our own experience as well as the flavours we found bartenders to be most in need of. We then worked with the Canadian government to make Bittered Sling bitters available across Canada, as well as for international export as a non-duty paid alcohol-based food product, which helped with pricing, access and shipping.

By focusing on bitters, we become a non-conflict complement to any portfolio and any brand. This gave our ‘Bitter Babes’ (Bittered Sling-loving bartenders from across the globe) the freedom to work with whichever brands and products they wanted to, with full support from Bittered Sling. This is a true expression of Canadian craftsmanship, as well as stories of a rich and diverse landscape of international flavours, that have become part of the Canadian cultural identity.

How have you gone about educating the general consumer about the use of bitters in cocktails to ensure it’s not seen as just ‘a bartender ingredient’?

Jonathan and I often use the analogy of bitters being the salt and pepper of the drinks world, which seems fitting given our careers as a chef and bartender, but I truly believe that they are. You add salt and pepper to food to bloom and enhance flavours, and bitters are used in exactly the same way. Whether you’re making a complex cocktail, such as an Old Fashioned or Manhattan, or simply adding a twist to a Gin and Tonic, the right proportion of bitters added per drink will work to bring out the best flavours from the other ingredients, every time.

What makes Bittered Sling unique to other bitters brands?

Bittered Sling expressions are balanced and powerful, which allow the other elements that make up the drink to really shine. The bitters themselves are made from a combination of British Columbia spring water, whole botanicals (10-25 in each expression) and the highest quality Canadian spirit.

Sling bitters are different to most bitters on the market, especially to the original examples from the 1800s. Some of the more traditional bitters include lots of added sugar, artificial colouring and artificial preservatives. Bittered Sling has none of these in the bottle, which is one of the many reasons it is so unique.

What does each bottle in the collection contribute in terms of flavour to cocktails? Does each one have a place on a menu?

All of the expressions in the Bittered Sling portfolio are the same strength, so users can decide which flavour adventure they’d like to take the drinker on. For example, our citrus expressions – Bittered Sling Lem-Marrakech, which was created with the journey to Moroccan spice markets and the aroma of roasted lemons in mind, or Bittered Sling Grapefruit & Hops (which is herbaceous and evergreen) works with light spirits, aromatised wines like vermouths, and beers, as well as non- alcoholic or other low-proof ingredients really nicely.

The nostalgic flavours like Bittered Sling Moondog Latin, a Mexican expression of chillies and smoked black pepper, or Bittered Sling Plum & Rootbeer, made with barks, roots and spices inspired by North American soda culture, both work exceptionally well as an alternative to standard aromatic bitters in classic drinks.

If feeling truly inspired, our nostalgic expressions are also great for creating anything with agave spirits (Tequila or mezcal), as well as any oak-matured spirits (Scotch, Bourbon, rum).

Lastly, the Bittered Sling Malagasy Chocolate, with hints of dry-roasted Madagascar cacao, and Bittered Sling Kensington Aromatic (Canadian aromatic bitters) inspire new ways to create classic drinks, such as an Old Fashioned, Manhattan or a Whisky Sour. Basically, anywhere a classic aromatic bitters is called for, these flavours will work wonders.

That’s not all though, Bittered Sling’s unique flavour profiles allow the user the opportunity to mix and match. Our suggested measurement to add to a standard drink is two dashes (2ml) of bitters, which is ideal when adding one flavour, or a combo of two complementary flavours – such as Bittered Sling Lem-Marrakech and Bittered Sling Kensington for a Manhattan, or Bittered Sling Malagasy Chocolate and Bittered Sling Moondog Latin for a ‘mole’ flavour sensation in a Oaxacan Old Fashioned. The possibilities are endless.

Bittered Sling’s range of cocktail bitters bring the ‘flavours of Canada’ to the glass

What part has bitters played in the cocktail renaissance we have experienced over the past decade?

The very existence of the ‘bittered sling’ – a combination of bitters, spirit, water and sugar – is not only the first written account of the word ‘cock-tail’ from 1806, but it’s also our namesake.

We are essentially paying homage and holding dear the techniques, stories, recipes and bartenders of the past to help inform our future, not just as bartenders, but as guests sitting at a bar or making drinks at home.

Each time someone picks up a bottle of Bittered Sling bitters and adds dashes to their Old Fashioned, they’re carrying on a tradition that started over 200 years ago. Bitters are a ubiquitous part of a cocktail, and one of the major flavour sensations to achieve ‘balance’ on the palate and kick-start our appetite. Bitters are more important than a flash in the pan ingredient.

How important is it to have a unique and varied range of bitters for classic cocktails – can one expression work across a variety of serves?

Having one bitters expression can work for a wide range of classics, especially if you’re changing the base spirit. Take the recipe for an Old Fashioned, for which you might choose to use a range of oak-matured spirits as the base (trying a different one each time) with bitters and sugar. By adding Bittered Sling Kensington Aromatic each time this drink is made, the cocktail
will transform.

We always recommend trying one dash of a citrus expression (great in Highballs and long drinks), alongside one dash of one of our nostalgic flavours (which are great in Sours and stirred drinks), and finally one dash of an aromatic profile (which work really well in all classic oak-matured spirit drinks) from the Bittered Sling bitters range to start your journey.

Then, as you become more comfortable, add the remaining flavours for some additional inspiration and variety.

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