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Stephan Berg: bitterly magnificent

Had Stephan pictured his bitters making it across the globe nine years ago, into the world’s finest cocktail bars, he would have probably ended up creating a cocktail in honor of such a wild dream. Not because it wasn’t possible, but because up until then, the only thing this German mixologist had ever done with bitters was pour them into those liquid potions we call cocktails; he also collected them in their most vintage versions, becoming an expert connoisseur of the flavors inside each one of those bottles. However, having so much knowledge eventually became frustrating because what he had read about wasn’t available to him. Worse still, everything that did live up to his standards stayed in the US or London, without getting anywhere near his hometown of Munich. “I read vintage books and engaged in conversations with bartenders overseas. I suddenly thought, ‘Why don’t we have that? Why is it gone if it was the essence of the cocktail?’ So I started making my own and my bartender friends started to show interest in them.”

According to Stephan, the ingredients in bitters are not just those of its ‘bitterness’ but also those which contribute to the ‘overall flavor’. “As in the orange bitters: you have the zesty and the bitter part but you need to go beyond to make it more complex. It is more complicated than just putting something into alcohol and waiting a couple of days.” When Stephan began his work in this ‘bitter world’, there was only Angostura and Angostura Orange, “which is too spicy for me. It is good but I like having more orange flavor,” and Fee Brothers, “but they use a lot of glycerin which I hate.” So the void in the market was open for him—and his business partner, Alexander Hauck—to fill in with whatever popped into their creative minds. And they took advantage of it. They now have 11 bitters on offer (plus several special editions). All their products are the result of a natural production process that takes time. “You can always take shortcuts to make it cheaper but our purpose is to just have a great product, no matter the price.”

They’ve also started experimenting with liqueurs. In fact, Stephan recently discovered the best way to drink them. “A girl approached me and told me she loved drinking shots of our Falernum with our aromatic bitters. I thought it was impossible to mix the two. Not only because of the alcohol content but also because their flavors clash. But I got home, tried it, and it was actually perfect. Just perfect.” Still on the subject of impossible combinations, we ask him about tapas and bitters. Are they meant to be? “Try putting a couple of celery bitter drops onto some Padrón peppers.There’s your answer.” (

© Diego Martínez