The Bitter Truth

by Mark Marowitz

[Mark Marowitz is a special correspondent for the Museum of the American Cocktail, and recently had the chance to talk with Stephen Berg of "The Bitter Truth"…]

In the first "Golden Age" of Cocktails, bitters were an essential ingredient for the drink to be considered a cocktail. There were many varieties of bitters available to the bartender. Sadly, after prohibition, only two choices for cocktail bitters survived, the more common Angostura, and the far less common Peychaud’s.

Today, in the second "Golden Age" of Cocktails, bitters are once again beginning to thrive. Many bartenders today are choosing to make their own cocktail bitters. When talking bitters the name of Stephan Berg often leaps to mind. Stephan and his partner Alexander Hauck have founded the company named "The Bitter Truth". Their website is a gateway to a variety of choices, all first class, and all handmade in small batches.

Their Orange Bitters have an unmistakable orange peel aroma that is both satisfying and compelling The Aromatic Bitters have a warm character with scents of cinnammon, cloves, cardamom and orange peel. And the recently added Lemon Bitters is a revelation and we look forward to our readers cocktail suggestions.

While not a bitters, they also manufacture an exceptional Orange Flower Water, which is the best we have tasted to date. Not too many cocktails make use of this product, the Ramos Gin Fizz being one of the first that comes to mind. We would love to hear from our readers as to other cocktail recipes, original and/or classic, that might make use of this product.

Stephan was born in East Germany, during the cold war. After, "the fall of the wall", Stephan took Horatio Alger’s advice and went west (Germany) to seek a better life. The aura of glamour and sophistication interested Stephan in cocktails. Stephan is a self-taught bartender. He had a day job but worked nights to learn the profession. He later worked, as a bartender, on a cruise ship where he met the future Mrs. Berg, Gabriele. After that, they both worked for a while in a German Beer Garden, with a seating capacity of about 3000. They both were pulling beers. Arm wrestling with Gabriele is not recommended. They now reside in Munich and have two young children.

For Stephan, bitters were that essential mysterious cocktail ingredient. He read about bitters available in the US and began to experiment. Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6 was his inspiration. Robert Hess had posted a few trial attempts for bitters and this became Stephan’s starting point. Stephan wanted to give German bartender’s another ingredient to work with. With the help and sponsorship of the German bar magazine "Mixology" the word was spread. The "DrinkBoy blog" was another vehicle for "The Bitter Truth" to gain a following. Stephan asked us to mention Fernando Castellon, who set about to find a distributor, and was of immeasurable help in spreading the word.

Stephan, naturally, would like to work with a large company whose resources would enable the growth of his company. Distributing "The Bitter Truth" in the States would be a dream come true.

His future plans are intriguing. Stephan is the owner of an unopened bottle of Boker’s Bitters. He is looking for help to reverse engineer the contents and make this "Gilded Age" cocktail bitters once again available to the public.

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