Spicing up cocktails

Jesse Smith

Starting with a passion for herbs, 33-year-old Jesse Smith has begun making herbal cocktail bitters with his new, month-old business, Five by Five Tonics. Smith produces, bottles and distributes his modern-day bitters recipes with support from his family and friends. He is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist who grew up in Chico, got his masters in Chinese medicine and is now dedicated to building his business in a community he loves. Jesse can be reached for more information at jesse@fivebyfivetonics.com or you can visit www.fivebyfivetonics.com.

What are cocktail bitters?

Before they were used in drinks, they had a medicinal purpose, and then when Prohibition came around the bitters were used to mask the taste of bootleg and illicit alcohol. But nowadays there is a booming craft spirits industry, so it only makes sense that the bitters should complement those spirits, not cover them up. They are a portion of the cocktail, a very small percentage, that adds a really strong flavor component. It’s like the spice of a cocktail.

What led you to start making your own bitters?

It came from my own enjoyment of spirits and cocktails. I like traditional cocktails and Prohibition cocktails. Those drinks tend to have a lot of bitters involved in them. Prior to the past 10 years, there were only two major bitters companies, and even now you can count the number of producers on two hands in the United States, so I was intrigued by it.

What types of bitters do you make, and which one is your favorite?

I make two types of bitters, traditional aromatic bitters and then an aged citrus bitters, which is my favorite. Each bottle also features one of my favorite cocktail recipes that you can make with the bitters.

What makes your bitters different from others?

I don’t use any extracts or oils. Everything comes from the raw ingredients, and I use as many organics ingredients as I can. One of the big things is that I don’t use sugar, and most bitters recipes do use it. I’m trying to get a balanced recipe so that you don’t need the sugar. These bitters are made by hand, by me, in a batch style, and most bigger companies can’t say that.

Where will you be selling your products?

I’ll hopefully be selling at specialty grocery stores, bars, restaurants and gift shops, but I don’t have any specific stores yet. People who are interested in buying bitters can contact me by email. They come in 5-oz. bottles and are about $20 a bottle.