We couldn’t stop laughing. Mr. Five O’Clock and I had just ripped open our holiday gifts and discovered that we’d given each other similar bitters-related presents. He had selected spices and herbs to create bitters for me; I had purchased a bitters-making kit from Hella Cocktail Co. (formerly known as Hella Bitters) for him. This was true love at its finest, we grinned conspiratorially.
Those gifts we exchanged in December 2014 started our lifelong love affair with bitters. (I know this because I combed through my e-mails to verify the date, as fact-checking is key here. When Mr. Five O’Clock gets home, I can tell him I won our bet.)
We’ve been huge fans of Hella Cocktail Co.’s products from the moment we unwrapped those gifts three years ago. We’re practically thisclose to being the OG fans of the company, so you know our fondness for their bottles is legit.
So when we met Eddie, one of the company’s co-founders, through Honeymoon Israel last year, it was like the stars aligned. And when Eddie
the cocktail Santa sent us some Hella Cocktail Co. syrups, mixers, and bitters to check out for the 2017 holiday season, it was some seriously magical Hella holiday déjà vu all over again.
So how did the Hella Great Gift Opening Session of 2017 go down? What kind of cocktails can you make with these goodies? What does “hella” even mean? And what are bitters, anyway? Don’t worry: we’ve got you covered.
Hella Cocktail Co.: The Lowdown
Hella Cocktail Co.’s origin story spans three amazing friendships, two coasts, and one really lucky Craigslist ad.
Eddie and Tobin, two of the three co-founders, lived in separate states but met in California through a mutual friend during their freshman year of high school. Flash forward to 2007: Eddie and Tobin discovered they were both living in NYC at the same time; it was a self-described “bromance at first sight.” Say it with me: Awwww.
Not satisfied with the existing cocktail bitters on the market, the two started creating batches of their own bitters and gave it away to friends and family. (See the resemblance to holiday cocktail elves working furiously at the Brooklyn Pole?) But how, then, did they jump from small production to the Big Leagues?
With Craigslist, you never know what you’re gonna get. In this case, however, it was kismet: Jomaree hired Eddie and Tobin through a Craigslist ad to produce a music video, and the rest is history.
With Jomaree’s business acumen, Eddie’s design and content marketing savvy, and Tobin’s production and formulation expertise (meaning everything that goes inside the bottle), the Ultimate Cocktail Trifecta launched Hella Bitter in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2011.
To Bitters… And Beyond
Hold it — Hella Bitter?
Yep, that’s not a typo. The company’s gone through a couple of name changes over time: Hella Bitter, then Hella Bitters, and ultimately Hella Cocktail Co. in November 2016.
(An aside: In case you didn’t grow up as as proud Californian like Eddie and I did, “hella” is a slang term originating in East Oakland, California. It generally means “really,” “very,” or “a lot.” So an appropriate usage would be, “Julianne has hella good cocktail-making skills.” Which is true, obviously.)
In addition to their awesome bitters and bitters-making kits, Hella Cocktail Co. produces three kinds of cocktail syrups and five cocktail mixers as of December 2017.
We sampled all three cocktail syrups, plus three of the cocktail mixers seen below (Spicy Bloody Mary, Margarita, and Moscow Mule). Hella Cocktail Co. also produces Spicy Margarita and regular Bloody Mary mixers.
Spoiler alert: I am OBSESSED with Hella Cocktail Co.’s Spicy Bloody Mary mixer. I’ll tell you why later on in this post, but suffice it to say that now I’m a Bloody Believer.
But First, Some Bitters 101
So what are bitters, anyway?
While craft cocktail mixers and syrups are pretty self-explanatory, many people get confused about what cocktail bitters actually are (I know I did for a while). To save you some trouble, here’s a quick guide to the basics:
- Yes, cocktail bitters contain alcohol. Cocktail bitters are flavored extracts; they’re made by infusing botanical ingredients — like herbs, bark, flowers, or berries — with alcohol and water. This also means that once you open a bottle of bitters, they won’t go bad.
- However, you can often buy cocktail bitters at retailers who don’t sell liquor, like supermarkets. That’s because, in the U.S., many cocktail bitters are classified as “alcoholic non-beverage products.” Confusing? You betcha. In this case, “non-beverage” means not consumed like a typical beverage, because you only add dashes and drops of bitters to your drink.
- Cocktail bitters are NOT the same thing as digestive bitters. Digestive bitters are usually consumed neat or with ice at the end of a meal. Examples you may be familiar with include Aperol, Cynar, Campari, and Becherovka.
- Not all cocktail bitters have a bitter flavor. For example, Hella Cocktail Co.’s Smoked Chili Bitters — which happens to be Eddie’s personal favorite — is smoky and spicy.
6 Mouthwatering Craft Cocktails You Can Make At Home (That Are Hella Good)
With the diverse array of mixers, syrups, and bitters that Hella Cocktail Co. makes, there’s a lot of room to experiment and find something you’ll want to drink. You can make simpler cocktails or more complex ones, but the end result is the same: you’ll get cocktails with bold flavors that are made with real ingredients.
Cocktail #1: Hibiscus Royale Cocktail
Chilled champagne, prosecco, or other sparkling wine
3 tsp. Hella Hibiscus syrup
1 Wild Hibiscus flower
Directions: Add wild hibiscus flower to the bottom of a champagne glass. Add Hella Hibiscus syrup, then fill with champagne. Serve.
This cocktail is the perfect way to step up your game in the bubbly department — especially for New Year’s Eve or Mother’s Day. It’s so easy that even my lazy self has no excuse for not whipping it up. The hibiscus syrup adds a nice zing of flavor to the drink; we found that 3 teaspoons was right for us, but you can add more if you’d like additional sweetness.
If you can’t find wild hibiscus flowers at your local supermarket (and let’s be honest, I only found it at one out of the four I visited), you can purchase it here. The flowers are edible; I overheard Mr. Five O’Clock muttering, “Hmm, this tastes like those yummy fruit snacks I had as a kid. It’s been so long…”
Cocktail #2: Scofflaw
1.5 oz rye or Canadian whiskey
1 oz. dry vermouth
.75 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
.75 oz grenadine
1 dash Hella orange bitters
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Though there are some variations on the Scofflaw cocktail recipe, we used modified version from this book. Recipes throughout time have used either lemon juice or lime juice; I tend to prefer mine with lemon.
Fun fact: this cocktail was named after the term given to people (like probably me, if I could time travel to the past) who surreptitiously sipped on spirits during Prohibition. Brad Thomas Parsons described it best in his book:
In 1923, Delcevare King … offered a $200 prize for the person who came up with the perfect word to describe someone determined to be ‘a lawless drinker of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor.’ On January 15, 1924, the Boston Herald announced the winning word, which had been submitted by two people: ‘scofflaw.’ But rather than shaming illicit imbibers, the word was embraced as an outlaw badge of honor, and in less than two weeks Harry’s New York Bar in Paris created the Scofflaw cocktail.”
Cocktail #3: Fernet & Coke
2 oz Fernet-Branca
1 oz Hella Cola syrup
Directions: Add Fernet and cola syrup to a Collins glass. Top with club soda. Stir and serve.
Tired of sipping on rum and coke? Try swapping in some Fernet in place of the rum. This easy-to-make cocktail is called “Fernet con Coca” in Spanish and is hugely popular in Argentina.
We used a modified version of this recipe. Hella’s Cola syrup mellows out the Fernet without being too cloying or thick. While Fernet-Branca is the most widely known brand of Fernet, I also encourage you to check out local Fernet distributors (such as Arcane Distilling in Brooklyn, NY).
Cocktail #4: The Ultimate Bloody Mary
1.5 oz vodka
4 oz Hella Spicy Bloody Mary Mix
8 dashes Hella Citrus Bitters
Directions: Combine ingredients in a shaker and pour back and forth to mix. Fill highball glass with ice. Pour mixture into glass. Add celery stick and lemon wedge for garnish (plus whatever else your heart desires).
Friends, Romans, Country(wo)men: lend my your ears, for I’m about to make a bold declaration. Hella, I hath not loved Bloody Marys until I used the Spicy Bloody Mary mixer of thine. I’m a hardcore “mimosas are the quintessential brunch drink” girl and proud of it. I’ve tried a few Bloody Marys here and there, but they always tasted like somebody’s grandma was secretly trying to put me on a diet.
But wow. The spiciness of this mixer is on point: it’s the right combination of heat to give you a kick in the pants without feeling like you need to down a glass of milk to relieve your burning throat. In sum: it’s hella perfect.
Pro tip ⇒ Knock yourself out on the garnish for this cocktail. We used celery, lemon, bacon, olives, and cornichons for our drink, but honestly, you can add as few or as many things as you’d like. We’ve seen people add shrimp and burgers… no joke!
Cocktail #5: Mezcal Margarita
1.5 oz mezcal
2 oz Hella Margarita Mix
Directions: Add crushed ice to margarita glass. Pour in mezcal and Hella Margarita mix, and mix well. Garnish with lime.
For those of you going, “But mezcal is way too smoky and I’d never drink this drink,” may I present to you a little something called Del Maguey VIDA. It’s a fruit-forward, approachable mezcal that doesn’t taste like you’re directly in front of a campfire in the woods. Because it’s so easy to sip on, it blends quite well with Hella’s Margarita mixer, creating a new twist on a classic cocktail. Trust me — it’s hella delicious.
Cocktail #6: Dark ‘N’ Stormy
Directions: Pour ginger beer over ice into glass. Add rum to create layered effect, then add bitters. Squeeze lime into drink and add lime as garnish, if desired.
We’ve created versions of this drink before, given that it’s one of our favorites. The addition of Hella’s ginger bitters to the cocktail adds some nice notes of lemon peels and ginger, making the drink brighter overall. There’s also subtle flavors of dried orange peel and allspice. Perfect for pretending you’re on a beach in Bermuda with a new twist on an old classic.
Pro tip ⇒ You can serve the drink layered or already mixed together. If you serve it layered, be sure to stir the drink to mix the layers before drinking.
There’s a reason we’ve been fans of Hella since their early days: their products don’t contain artificial ingredients; they’re full of intense flavor; and the team’s passion is evident in everything they create.
The Spicy Bloody Mary mixer, Hibiscus syrup, and bitters were huge winners for us, but we liked everything we tried. Our only complaint, if it even is that, is that we’re dying to see what Hella’s next flavor of syrups and mixers will be. Guys, we’re getting HELLA impatient here…
Hella Cocktail Co. Products: Need to Know
Hella Cocktail Co. provides a bevy of answers to commonly asked questions on its website. However, here are three key things to know about their products:
- While bitters are good indefinitely after opening, the cocktail syrups and mixers require refrigeration once you open them. Both syrups and mixers will be good for use for up to 6 weeks post-opening.
- I order my Hella bitters, syrups, and mixers online on Amazon or via Hella Cocktail Co.’s website. If you want to lovingly hold your bottles before you buy them (we won’t judge), check out Total Wine & Spirits, Whole Foods (Northeast only), The Fresh Market, or Dillard’s department stores.
- Hella Cocktail Co. products are available to ship to all 50 U.S. states. While Hella Cocktail Co. doesn’t ship internationally directly, here are some online sellers that may ship them to your destination if it’s outside of the U.S.: Food 52, Prince of Scots, and Broquet.
Connect With Hella Cocktail Co. on Social Media
You can connect with Hella Cocktail Co. on the following social media platforms:
Did you like this post? Pin it! ↓↓
A huge thank you to Hella Cocktail Co. for providing us with complimentary cocktail syrups, mixers, and bitters. While we thoroughly enjoyed creating magical cocktail wizardry with these products, all opinions are my own. Not even a delicious craft cocktail can change that.
Also, some of the above are affiliate links and I will earn a tiny percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting It’s Five O’Clock Here!