House Made: Bitters and Boozy Bites
This week I caught up with Janice Mansfield to chat with her about her housemade bitters, tiki syrups and other booze based treats. As Homer Simpson once said `To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.`
You’re a woman of many talents, a chef, a co founder of the wonderful event Breathe Now and creator of House Made, making cocktail bitters and other extraordinary delights. Tell us about House Made, the who what, when, where, why!
House Made is the side of me and my business that produces small batch,artisanal cocktail bitters. It really began a few years ago as I was trying to source unusual bitters to make cocktails with an finding a dearth of product here in Canada — entirely self-interested! As I began sharing samples of some of my latest batches of bitters, it turned out other people wanted to use them too! So I kind of fell into the whole thing.
What are the extraordinary delights?
I produce cocktail syrups under the House Made brand — syrups for tiki drinks such as Falernum (a spicy, ginger-ey, lim-ey syrup), ginger syrup, and cinnmamon syrup. also the real-deal Grenadine — made with lots of pomegranate and a touch of hibiscus flowers. I’ve also been venturing into the world of booz-ey marshmallows, using interesting bases such as Green Chartreuse, Campari and Fernet Branca (the Green Chartreuse marshmallows are AWESOME on top of tequila-spiked hot chocolate!)
How many bitters do you currently produce and what are your current flavours?
I currently have about 8 flavours of bitters in production, and continue to make seasonal flavours depending on what strikes my fancy at the greengrocers. The regular lineup includes: lavender, grapefruit, sundried tomato, chocolate, coffee, apricot, cherry and chai tea
I see that you make your bitters in a style similar to the late 1800s, can you elaborate?
Bitters back in the pre-prohibition era were common, and there were many variations available – originally as medicines and later incorporated into cocktails. Famous bartenders of the day, such as Jerry Thomas, would have their own signature concoctions brewing on their back bar, so they were often made in small batches, with high-proof alcohol as the base, and proprietary combinations of bitter herbs and flavourful ingredients. The magic behind these bitters lay in the proportions of the ingredients, and the time they spent macerating together. Its a pretty low-tech production method, but it works today just as well as it did 150 years ago.
Do you make custom bitters, should a person request it?
I have made one batch of custom bitters for Niagara grocery using their Mile 0 Coffee. If someone is interested, give me a shout!
Your cocktail recipes are divine. What’s your personal favourite?
Why thank you! this summer, I’ve been concocting a lot of tiki drinks at home. I’m particularly partial right now to a tiki drink I came with earlier this year using Fernet Branca called “the Misfits” — its looks all wrong, but the components just come together and balance each other perfectly!
Where can we purchase bitters and do you supply any local establishments?
Where’s your favourite place to go for cocktails?
In Victoria — Clive’s Classic Lounge is one of my favourites! Great cocktails, great bartenders and servers with an awesome knowledge about the cocktail program! Shawn Soole has carved out a leading-edge cocktail program here in our little city!
If you could have a cocktail with absolutely anyone, who would it be?
I would love to sit down over drinks with Gary Regan and just shoot the breeze. He was one of the driving forces behind the cocktail rennaisance we are enjoying today, and produced one of the first Orange bitters back on the market after prohibition! A close second would be Ada Coleman – she was the head bartender at the Savoy Hotel bar in the early 1900′s and the creator of the Hanky Panky cocktail.
What’s your cocktail accompaniment, do you do nibbles?
For me, cocktails are usually a standalone affair, either before dinner or after! After a couple of cocktails though I do enjoy a nice plate of charcuterie or a healthy portion of poutine.
And what about buying used, what’s been your best ever find?
Almost all of my classic barware has been purchased used! To get the authentic stuff, you need to keep your eyes and ears open! My best score to date is a set of old decanters with hand painted cartoons of bar scenes – one labelled Scotch, one labelled Gin, and one labelled Rye.