Interview: Miracle Mile Bitters founder Louis Anderman
Two years ago, longtime Disney and Miramax executive Louis Anderman started Miracle Mile Bitters in the 90036. He’s only left that zip code to earn a degree in Art History from UC Santa Cruz, and it’s there that the classic cocktail aficionado gained enough traction for Miracle Mile to slowly supplant his entertainment industry efforts. We met at Paper or Plastik Café on August 9, and he explained why he’s so bitter.
How did you become so bitter?
Really it was about eight or nine years ago that I became obsessed with classic cocktails, and this was right about the time that cocktail websites started appearing. There was a lot of information to glean on the internet, the old Hotwire site and Chuck Taggart, who’s now a good friend, was one of the first cocktail bloggers I started to follow. I became particularly interested in pre Prohibition cocktails, but a lot of them called for ingredients that are finally just now starting to become available again. At about that time, I liked to cook, so I started tinkering around with making some of my own ingredients. At that time, the only bitters on the market were Angostura, Fee Brothers, Regan and Peychaud. That’s about it…so I just started tinkering around, made a few batches of bitters for myself. I went through a few vodka infusions phase and tinkered around with making different liqueurs.
About three or four years ago is when I discovered Bar Keeper in Silver Lake. Just like comic book geeks hang out at Golden Apple, cocktail geeks hang out at Bar Keeper. I became friend with Joe [Keeper] and started to bring him things I’d made, like different bitters. For the last two years, I’ve been making nocino every summer, and then a little over two years ago, I did my first batch of chocolate chile bitters. I only made about eight ounces. I was actually experimenting with a couple different recipes from the same base, so I took the base, split it in half. I brought it in, Joe tasted it, flipped over it, and said, “Can I have some?”…I went back about three weeks later, the bottle was down to fumes, so I said, “Okay, let me take it home, I’ll fill it up again.” And when I brought it back, he said, “You know, why don’t you start selling this here.” I thought, “Okay.” At first, my aspirations were nothing more than this will be fun for shits and giggles, and one or two bars picked it up, I would pat myself on the back and be happy with a job well done. Then I started creating more flavors and it just picked up a certain momentum, where after six months or so, I realized it was go pro or go home.
How do you decide which flavors to make?
Some of them have just been expressions of classic flavors, like the orange bitters or sour cherry. Others have just been flavors that I personally like and haven’t seen on the market and thought would be interesting in a cocktail. Bitters like my yuzu bitters, for example. I absolutely love yuzu and thought it would be an interesting cocktail pairing. That one took me about five tries to get it right.
What was the very first batch of bitters that you made, and how did that turn out?
The very first batch of bitters I ever made, before I was doing this – when it was still nothing more than a hobby – was the Regan’s orange bitters #5 recipe that I found online. I would say it turned out alright. Even if I were making the exactly same recipe today, I would say that I’ve learned enough about the process to know it would turn out significantly better.
Is Damn You Matt Wallace the only private label that you have?
No. One of the things I’ve been interested in doing now – because I love doing the R&D – however I already feel like I have enough flavors of retail. To go beyond that starts to dilute the brand at some point, when you have too many choices on the shelf. Also, there’s just the logistic issue of, I’m a one man company, how much can I make? I’ve thrown the idea out of going with bespoke bitters or custom bitters. The Damn You Matt Wallace was the first and that was sort of coincidental. Recently, about two weeks ago, I delivered a house bitters for Sunny Spot in Venice and I’m tinkering around with a couple other ideas that people have thrown at me, but nothing is solidified yet. Basically, if somebody wants a house bitters, I want them A) to serve me lots of drinks. I tell them this is the methodology. A) serve me lots of drinks. B) throw out a flavor idea. C) be patient. D) repeat step A.
Do you drink cocktails that don’t have bitters in them?
Yeah, if appropriate. Bitters are really the seasoning cap for a cocktail. Even if you have a cocktail that’s not necessarily bitters-centric, it’s still that little extra something that enhances and bonds the other flavors. It’s just like you wouldn’t cook without salt and pepper and herbs. Even if they’re not the forefront flavor of the dish, it’s still that background note that ties everything together.
Have you ever spent any time behind a bar?
No. I don’t think I could do it. It’s a completely different skill set. You can take the best home cook, but that doesn’t mean they can work the line in a restaurant. Besides, I think I’m getting too old to stay up until 2 a.m. on my feet the entire time.
Tell me how you collaborate with different bartenders around town.