GSN Review: RAFT Botanicals Cocktail Syrups & Bitters

As the use of craft cocktail ingredients increases in popularity, there’s a movement underway to make them more approachable. One person leading that charge is Genevieve Brazelton, Founder of Portland, Oregon’s RAFT syrups and bitters.

Genevieve heads one of the few female-led cocktail ingredient companies and she’s on a mission to remove the intimidation factor from using artisan bitters and syrups. She hopes to utilize RAFT as a way to empower everyone “from professional bartenders to general consumers alike“ to create delicious cocktails with the best possible ingredients.

Genevieve’s love for an Old Fashioned inspired the brand’s creation in 2012 when she and her husband, Dan Brazelton, started The Bitter Housewife bitters. They later expanded their line with the RAFT brand of diverse syrups, bitters and cocktail kits, which together operate under the overarching artisan brand Improper Goods. Since the brand’s inception, the Brazeltons have believed creating cocktails should be fun “not precious or intimidating.”

  • RAFT and its sister brand, The Bitter Housewife craft syrups and bitters in small batches using all natural, sustainable and fair trade sourced ingredients, including 100% organic cane sugar.
  • Genevieve educates through unique flavors, cocktail kits, simple recipes and tips, knowing a great cocktail is a balance between strong, sweet, sour, and bitter flavors.
  • Genevieve encourages people to add them to non-alcoholic drinks, as well as using them in homemade dressings, marinades and even dessert recipes.

GSN was sent a sampling of some of their more unique products for review:

Hibiscus Lavender Syrup: A deep purple syrup that has an herbal and floral character with just a hint of spice. The lavender is a bit reticent, but the hibiscus flavor is nicely forward on the palate. This is a great syrup for white spirit cocktails that call for silver rum, blanco tequila and gin. Light and summery. GSN Rating: A-

Smoked Tea Vanilla Syrup: Dark brown syrup with an immediate smokey nose. The flavor comes from Lapsang Souchong tea and it is unique amongst all of the syrups I’ve tried over the years. The flavor is not overpowering, and the smoke is balanced with a touch of vanilla giving it a sweet and round character. Perfect for brown spirit cocktails that use American whiskey or gold or spiced rums as their base, this will also add an interesting edge to tiki drinks. GSN Rating A+

Cardamom Bitters: This is like tasting a mild Indian curry. Even though these are “bitters” these are milder and less intrusive in a cocktail than the usual aromatic bitters called for in most cocktails. At the same time, they elevate any cocktail that might call for the ubiquitous bitters by adding a spice blend not found elsewhere. There is a slight mintiness and citrus tang along with the spiced herb character.  Try these in place of Angostura, and also give them a try in a pisco sour. For agave based spirits, these will also fit the bill quite nicely. GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Improper Goods

GSN Review: Bob’s Bitters

1Bitters have been around for far longer than many realize.  For some it seems that the only version until the past ten years or so came from Trinidad in the iconic bottle with the oversized paper label.  However, there was an American bitters that sold as well until shortly after World War II.  Abbot’s Bitters were produced in Philadelphia, and they were called for in many classic cocktails pre- and post- prohibition.

Robert Petrie of Bob’s Bitters has recently sought to recreate these bitters.  He explains, “Having been developed over the past five years, this is the first reformulated Abbotts Bitters that has been commercially available since the 1950s. Abbotts was aged for six months in a medium charred oak barrel. This process produced a more rounded, mellow flavour with many layers of complexity. We believe we have brought Abbotts Bitters into the 21st Century and, with the help of the modern barman, it can be used in many cocktails, like the Manhattan, Martini, El Presidente.”

Along with this redacted blended bitters, Bob’s also offers ten single flavor bitters.  The idea being that if a bartender is looking to add just a touch of one particular flavor profile, it is right at hand.

Bob’s Abbotts Bitters: Lighter and more nutty than most aromatic bitters.  These are easy-going and smooth with little of the usual nutmeg and cinnamon heavy flavor.  Perfect in a Manhattan, and certainly a great addition to your bitters collection.  GSN Rating: A

Bob’s Cardamom Bitters: Reminiscent of Indian spice-driven cuisine, these are very well done and perfect for use in gin and rum based cocktails.  The cardamom flavor is slightly sweet, making them easy to blend into a drink without overwhelming the balance.  GSN Rating: A-

Bob’s Chocolate Bitters: Dry, bittersweet chocolate that has an edge.  The flavor is deep and rich with a slightly granular mouthfeel.  Honestly, a minute after tasting these, I’d swear I just ate some chocolate.  Nicely done.  These will work with everything from brandy to vodka.  GSN Rating: A+

Bob’s Coriander Bitters: Fresh and vibrant with a lively vegetal kick.  A tasty bitters that is well worth your time exploring in custom cocktails.  There’s a faint touch of Chartruese here that springs to mind.  GSN Rating: B+

Bob’s Ginger Bitters:  A decent amount of heat in these bitters balanced by a sweetness.  Even if you weren’t to use these in a cocktail, they would be a great digestion aid in tea.  Really tasty too.  GSN Rating: A+

Bob’s Grapefruit Bitters: Not too bitter, these are more like ruby-red grapefruit.  Luscious citrus offset by just enough bitter pith make these perfect for gin, vodka and rum cocktails.  Like breakfast fruit in a bottle.  GSN Rating: B+

Bob’s Lavender Bitters: Quite floral on the nose, the flavor is intense and much like eating a lavender breath lozenge.  There is more bitterness here than I was expecting, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  You’ll just need to be careful with the amount you use.  A drop or two will do you fine.  GSN Rating: B

Bob’s Liquorice Bitters: Very unique and true to the real qualities of licorice.  Less anise and more of an intense sweetness that lingers for a long time.  I can see these working with Scotches, Mezcals and even Rauchbiers.  Definitely a bitters that fills a much-needed gap in the market.  GSN Rating: A

Bob’s Orange & Mandarin Bitters: We probably didn’t need yet another iteration of orange bitters, but these are different.  Almost burnt and caramelized orange peel is prominent, with a thick intensity.  You will need just a dash to add orange flavor to a cocktail.  GSN Rating: B+

Bob’s Peppermint Bitters: Bracing and minty, just one drop will transform your cocktail into a winter wonderland.  Try these in Genever cocktails, hot chocolate, Irish Coffee or to add a touch of coolness to a tropical tiki styled beverage.  GSN Rating: B+

Bob’s Vanilla Bitters: Much less sweet than the vanilla extracts you can find on your grocer’s shelves.  Nonetheless a pleasant and natural vanilla flavor pervades and adds plenty of dessert-like flavor to cocktails.  Great with bourbons, rums and vodkas.  GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Bob’s Bitters