Interview with Bar40 Bitters

Bar40 Cocktail Bitters - Umami, Salt, Sour, & Sweet

Bar40 has been making waves with their initial offering of gustatory cocktail bitters. They took the path less followed and instead of adding a specific taste or flavour profile to a drink, they focused more on altering how you perceive the flavors in your drink and balancing the experience of your cocktail as whole entity instead of just being another ingredient in it. Jamie, one of the founders of Bar40 was kind enough to let me interview him:

What’s your name and official title?

My name is Jamie Beurklian and I don’t have an official title. I purposefully do not create official titles with Bar40 Bitters. I think it’s semantically and philosophically limiting of the description of what we do. Perhaps you’ve seen titles like “CFO” meaning Chief financial officer beside people names,  which would mean that person deals with and maintains the finances of a company. Well, something like that is too narrow of a scope for what I do. If you must give me a title, you can call me the CEG; Crazy Everything Guy. I do everything necessary at a high level of execution to maintain, fulfill and progress Bar40 Bitters. This includes things like finances & bookkeeping, marketing, production, development, strategy, storage logistics & fulfillment, networking, stage shows, in-home consultations, cocktail creation, food & drink nerding, wheeling and dealing… everything.
Moreover, I don’t give other people on my team titles because I expect high levels of creativity, execution and a “get shit done well” mentality out of them as well. Imagine when they do all this and how demeaning it would be if I gave them a simple title?  I guess this is a typical ideology of the local small product startup. One day, when Bar40 bitters gets off the ground, and has some of the things that the other bitters companies have like staff and sales teams, and my tasks start to narrow, you can start calling me the “Owner”.  

 

How did you come up with the name Bar40 Bitters?

The word “Bar40” is a bit of an anomaly. It just came out of my mouth one day. I remember years ago making a google spreadsheet that I shared with Robin, who I started Bar40 with. We would brainstorm potential names, I wanted it to alliterated, so it had to start with a “B” and end with Bitters. We whittled it down to 10 potentials, I came up with some quick and dirty logos and did a public poll on my facebook to let the majority decide.  At the end of the poll, Old Bastard Bitters was the winner…I laughed.

Bar40 Bitters Conceptual Logo for Old Bastard Bitters

The “logo” of old bastard bitters that won the public poll.

To be honest, I thought they were all funny, but I didn’t really like any of them to have a somewhat professional sounding name. I just blurted “let’s just name it Bar40 Bitters”.

It had a nice cadence and rolls off the tongue easily. Exhausted, we just went with it. So really, there is no meaning to our name at all. Originally, there was a space between Bar & 40, but when we incorporated the company, the official document showed up without the space, making it the current one word of “Bar40” I just had to roll with it at the time. I now prefer it this way.  

 

You don’t come from a traditional bartender or mixology background,  what inspired you to create your own line of bitters?

I have have worked my ass off my whole life and I currently have what many consider to be the best job in the world for my career. Bar40 is my side passion project and has proved to be my most difficult challenge yet. I am not a bartender or a mixologist because I don’t need to be one. My first few jobs as a young man were in foodservice and hospitality. I realized from a young age that the insanity of hospitality, although fun and I would certainly be good at it, was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean I have to stop learning, or that I can’t possibly know food, drink, cocktails or flavour to a high level. I’m sure many of your readers can drive and navigate a car very well, that doesn’t mean they have to be professional taxicab drivers to magically ascertain the skills to do this.

It’s kind of funny how I started Bar40. Originally, It was a solution to my own problem at my home bar. I wanted something to have readily available to balance flavour instead of sourcing and testing all sorts of crazy ingredients. It just manifested in the form of bitters because we were already making our own bitters (I wasn’t happy with the bitters that were available in stores at the time). At that time,I also had a problem with the lack of single origin specialty coffee available in Toronto, so I used to build my own coffee roasters and roast my own specialty coffee. I was actually planning to start a small coffee roasting company to sell locally. However, the idea of starting a bitter company and selling our bitters as a product just fell into my lap.  I had gotten an email from Robin one morning suggesting that we should produce and sell the gustatory set of bitters that we had created. I said ok, not realizing that it would grow into what it is today and push all my other projects to the side!   

 

Bar40 really stands out in the booming bitters and craft cocktail ingredients market with literally hundreds of different flavour combinations, how did you arrive at the decision to create a line of bitters based on flavour profiles rather than specific flavours themselves?

Really, this concept came from my experience with drinking wine. Sommeliers will talk openly about the gustatory system and its five basic perceptions. When I would drink wine with people who don’t really know how to describe their taste experience,  I would simplify the process for them by making them state if their wine is one or more of these: bitter, sweet, sour, salty or savoury. Although wine can be amazingly complex with flavour, you only get whatever is in the bottle; There is no changing it. That issue got me thinking about cocktails and why we make them. After some thought, my personal conclusion is: The purpose of a cocktail is to mix various ingredients to blend flavour and achieve a more desirable result than each ingredient individually.

Well before I even starting making bitters, I recalled an issue I had mixing a 5 Litre cocktail that I was going to age in a barrel. I mixed most of it together in a large pot, and it was unbalanced and it just plain sucked! In lieu of tossing out all that alcohol, I needed something that could fix the flavour profile of that cocktail. I haven’t added the bitters yet, so I started tasting all the bitters I had on my shelf, trying to figure out which would be the best one to help. That problem would stick in my mind several years later when I started making my own bitters with Robin. We used to make standard flavours similar to what you see in stores now. But one day I pushed towards having specific taste outcomes to balance flavour instead of the standard highlighted ingredient like “orange bitters” or “clove/allspice bitters”. We created a set of bitters based on the five perceptions of the tongue so I could use it at my bar to affect change in flavour and improve my cocktails by this way.
In all practicality, I often like to use both highlighted bitters and gustatory bitters. It all depends on the cocktail at hand, the desired outcome and who is consuming it.

 

With your product being so unique, how have you found both industry and home aficionado’s reactions to it?

Some bartenders absolutely love our concept. However, to be honest, I’ve come across bartenders who don’t really get it or they seem skeptical of it. Maybe they just don’t like my moustache… or maybe it’s just too much of a change from standard bitters. But I don’t blame the ones who are skeptical, I have to remind myself that I’m just one guy pushing this crazy idea/product with no budget when probably 100 other sale reps with large budgets are banging on bartenders doors trying to sell to them. Funny enough, we’re based out of Toronto, yet I am seeing more cocktail programs around the world using Bar40 Bitters than in our home city!

Sometimes, I wonder if people get put off by our price. Yes our price is high, but Bar40 is very potent, our per use cost of say 6 drops (0.25ml) is super low compared to 2 dashes (1.5ml) of some other bitters you might use.

Sometimes I get reports like it’s not bitter enough, or that it’s too simple. to this I blame myself as I don’t think it gets effectively communicated that Bar40 is not supposed to be used like standard bitters. We’ve done something very different here. In lieu of adding a few dashes of bitters just because it taste good, you add Bar40 precisely by the drop to complement the other ingredients and bring the whole cocktail together. Yes, it’s different and yes we all hate change, but I’m brave enough to push through this resistance. I truly believe it’s an effective product.    
Without a doubt, the real rockstars are the home cocktail nerds. The people who put flavour and experience at the highest priority and aren’t sequestered by traditions, managers, contracts, etc. These are the people, very much like myself, that care about providing the best experience to themselves and their guests. These are the people who actively seek out the best products and are willing to play with their recipes without their balls/ovaries on the line. They are the ones who are buying and using Bar40. Its very cool to see. I’ve even developed a whole program around helping home cocktail creators be even better with making cocktails using Bar40. I have phone calls with individuals when they have questions. In fact, when people in Toronto buy a set from our website, I offer to personally come to their home to do a private cocktail seminar for free. I personally want them to make the best cocktails and really understand how to use Bar40 Bitters and this is the level of care I have to take to do this.

 

What’s next for Bar40 bitters? Any new lines planned?

I have lots planned for Bar40, it’s just amazingly difficult to execute them in any good time. I can’t believe how hard it is to create such a unique product!

In order to keep some sense of mystery, I have to be brief in this area.

But to give you something,next year, I plan on launching a small sample set of our bitters to make it even easier for home bartenders to play.

And what’s more, We’re going to launch some new flavours next year that will specifically make things much easier.

I highly suggest joining the Bar40 email team to stay updated. It’s not really a newsletter as we don’t spam the shit out of you. It’s more for any new product releases, special edition bitters or free stuff as they come. Moreover, you get a free pdf manual of how to use Bar40 bitters, tasting notes and recipes.  

 

Where can people purchase Bar40 Bitters? 

I encourage people to purchase a whole set as its meant to be a set of tools. So on our website, we sell them in a whole set and I can ship them globally. However, if you want to purchase just individual bottles, check out your local Barware Store or gift shop. If they don’t have Bar40, please tell them that you want it and they should start selling it or just refer them to this article.

Some of my favourite retail stores that carry Bar40 are BYOB Cocktail Emporium in Toronto, or Alambika in Montreal. They are just awesome stores dedicated to bar tools for next level cocktail creation. It’s like going to the cocktail hardware store. There are retail stores like this all over the world that sell Bar40 bitters which is pretty cool to see.

 

Thanks so much Jamie for taking the time to answer my questions. If you haven’t already, go check out my previous introduction and explanation of Bar40’s bitters and give them a follow on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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