Entries in bitter housewife (12)
I’ve been holding back on posting for two reasons. First I am pregnant again and for a time was looking a job and didn’t want to advertise that fact to prospective employers. Second there is just so much to say I wanted to give everything the attention it deserved by creating individual posts for all the ideas I wanted share. The later is proving to be my downfall as I keep getting further behind trying to decide how I want to approach it all. The first is no longer a relevant concern as there is no hiding my now seven month pregnant figure and I’ve found a part-time freelance gig that’s working for now.
So I’m going to condense the last 5 months into one post to get myself back to square one and a place where I feel I can move forward from, not be daunted by what I haven’t written about.
Turns out I get pregnant very easily. As soon as we tried again, woo hoo there we were pregnant. I believe I conceived the day before we left San Francisco. This time around everything has gone swimmingly. I had mild morning sickness, but nothing a few boxes of Saltines didn’t cure and now at 29 weeks my only complaints are to be expected when you have 2-3 lb parasite growing in your belly. I will write another post entirely about my pregnancy as this is a very surreal experience that I feel is worth sharing.
The Job Hunt
After we got through the holidays I started my job hunt in earnest and it was tough. I went on a lot of interviews, sent out tons of resumes, and nothing worked out. I actually had three separate instances of going to an interview that I thought went well, a few days later receiving an email saying they decided on another candidate, and then seeing the exact same job reposted within a week. I have no idea what that was all about, but it certainly beat me down.
There does seem to be a different job culture here in Portland. A lot more ticking of the boxes and less what do you bring to the team. I also think my age and experience put me in an odd place. I’m not at the director or senior manager level with my experience, but my age puts me there. And then there’s the difference in pay scale too. There’s still a bit of desperation in this market, people willing to sign on for a lot of responsibility for not much pay. Anyway, I just wasn’t able to find a job that fit.
However, I was able to pick up some freelance work for a friend’s company that’s keeping a bit of cash coming in the door while Dan and I work really hard to get The Bitter Housewife going. We are closer than we’ve ever been with three recipes submitted to the TTB awaiting non-beverage status approval, a commercial kitchen secured, and an approved license to be a food processor in Oregon. We currently have a 50 liter batch in production that should net us about 300 bottles in mid-June. And then we really start rolling.
Being a Home Owner
I have really enjoyed settling into our new home and life these past few months, but the financial pressures have weighed heavily on me. So some things have been put off and parts still feel temporary. Plus my energy reserves haven’t been that great so with working on The Bitter Housewife and putting in freelance time I often don’t have the energy to get much else done in a day or a week. The control freak in me in is struggling a bit. But I keep reminding myself there is no deadline, the important stuff will get done, and the money situation is temporary. Something will shake out once I have the baby either with The Bitter Housewife paying me a salary or a full-time job that puts us in a better situation.
So it’s been a roller coaster ride lately, mostly good, peppered with moments of overwhelming stress, but the promise and excitement of both my babies (The Bitter Housewife and our little boy) is keeping me going. It has indeed been a journey and it’s not even close to over.
Being busy has a way of floating the most important tasks to the top of the pile. However it also feels like we hit a stagnant patch as every time we try to move forward on our list of tasks we find that one thing is dependent on another that we didn’t expect.
We put together a pitch to ask some of our friends to help us financially in this early stage. A lot of costs are building up, licensing, ingredients, bottles and label design are just a few. We’ve had a few pitch in, but we’re still looking for more to make our plan work. Not having the cash in the bank has been holding up a few things, but we’re still pushing through on getting the label done.
I’m very excited about the design process. I found an amazing designer who totally got my vision and is great to work with. We’re only in the initial stages, but I see something amazing happening. I promise to share more later about the whole process.
The bottle has been another source of frustration. I asked for some samples back in the end of February and found one I loved. Very different than I expected, but it was distinct, classy, and most importantly cheap. However it was from a clearinghouse and didn’t have caps that went along with it and we would have had to buy at 1500 to start, but it was possible the minimum purchase would have been even more. I looked around to source a cap and found that it was designed to take something called ROPP or roll on pilfer proof. They were easy enough to find, but getting them on takes special equipment that wasn’t really going to fit in our budget, not to mention I don’t like the way they look.
So now we’re back to the drawing board with bottles. We’ll most likely end up going with something a little more versatile and simple in design letting the label do all the work, but we still have to find it and it seems most of the bottles on the market are either boring or really odd. We’re narrowing in, but still nothing solid yet.
I also haven’t sent my bitters sample off to be tested for the non-potable designation because we have to have a commercial kitchen listed on the application. In San Francisco commercial kitchen space is hard to find if you don’t create your own. So I reached out to a few friends in the restaurant community looking for a bar that has kitchen space where I could produce. I’ve got a few leads, but still nothing solid.
Slowly, but surely it will all happen. It may not be as fast as I like, but it does feel like we’re moving forward and more importantly doing things in a way that won’t bite us in the ass further down the road.
I'm going to try to break myself of calling them house bitters, because that doesn't mean anything to anyone but me. Instead I will call them aromatic bitters which hints that they are similar to Angostura and have a nice spicy component to them.
Version 4 of my recipe is infusing as I write this and will be ready to taste in a little over a week. This time around I melded the recipes for versions 2 and 3, throwing out the citrus, but putting dried cherries back in. There's lots of baking spices, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg as well as heavy doses of black walnut leaf, wild cherry bark, and grains of paradise.
The intended result is a spicy, bitter mix with a good dose of woodsy notes. Plenty of depth of character to stand up to bourbon, but a nice round spiciness that will also compliment sweet, nutty drinks.
This time around I'm also testing the difference between using bourbon as a base spirit and a neutral alcohol. Based on whiffs so far it seems the difference will be slight and easily compensated for with a slight adjustment to the recipe, maybe even the addition of a few oak chips.
I'm patiently waiting till it's ready for tasting so that I can decide if I'm ready to stamp a big, fat final formula on the recipe and get on with the licensing process.
Now that I’ve settled into the New Year, I’ve been tackling the big question of “What will it take to get The Bitter Housewife off the ground?” I made a big long list of all the things I could think of that needed to get done and then started to prioritize them based on the most pressing tasks.
The thing that quickly floated to the top was once and for all figuring out what kind of license we needed, what the process was like, and what we needed to have in place to even apply. Figuring out which licensing track to take was quite confusing as there are a few ways to go about it and the licenses themselves don’t state why you would choose one over the other.
In the end we’ve decided to register our bitters as a non-beverage product. This essentially means we’ll be treated as a food product in terms of how and where we can sell and have to follow FDA rules for food safety. This also limits the size bottle we can sell, but I’m fine with smaller bottles if we’re able to sell direct to the customer online and in specialty food stores.
Much like getting a rectifier’s or distiller’s license ( the other paths you could take) we still need to submit a sample of our final product along with our label to make sure that we’re following all the rules of the TTB. So the final formula became the first order of business. I’m still testing recipes and production methods, but I’m getting close.
Then we need to source our base spirit. So far I’ve just been buying from BevMo in large quantities, but that’s not going to cut it cost wise for large-scale production. We also need to find a commercial kitchen space to produce and store the bitters. In San Francisco this might actually prove to be the most challenging task. Commercial space is limited and highly sought, but there are also a lot of kitchens out there not being used all day and who wouldn’t want a little help paying rent in SF? So Dan and I are actively looking.
Lastly we need to get that label designed and make sure we’ve got all the information we need written out the way it’s supposed to be. I’ve heard that the label approval process can be quite trying with a lot of back and forth. I’m thankful I’ve got a few friends who’ve been through it before and are willing to help me make it as easy as possible.
Looks like I’ve got the next 3 or 4 months pretty well tied up. I’m sure there will be lots of stories to tell as we get down to the actual application process. In the meantime there’s going to be a lot of tasting of bitters to nail down the final formulation. Version number 4 is infusing right now.
Now that I've had time to make a number of cocktails with the 3rd version of house bitters and taste it side-by-side with version 2, I feel I'm getting pretty close to a final recipe.
The first cocktails I made were Old Fashioneds of course, but I made the mistake of forgetting the sugar. Both Dan and I took a sip and had the same thought, too harsh and bitter. Once I realized my mistake I added just a little simple syrup and everything changed. While still much more bitter than version 2, version 3 had a great peppery spice that I'd been looking for. I give credit to the grains of paradise. Related to peppercorns, they have a much brighter, almost berry like flavor under the spice.
The deeper level of bitterness also gave the drink much more structure and presence. To me version 2 has a great flavor, but is too light to make an Old Fashioned the sturdy drink that it is. However, I really appreciate the subtly of version 2 for lighter drinks like a dark and stormy or our new found discovery of nocino and bourbon. In both cases the Christmas spices really come out and give the drinks an added depth and warmth.
So then I experimented with mixing equal parts of both versions together and that pretty much nailed it. I need to work to devise the final recipe, but I want to keep the bitterness and spice of version 3 along with the fruit and warmth of version 2.
Soon I believe the master recipe will be ready for more tasting and feedback.