Coastal Root Bitters
Portland · Maine
Few decisions are more exhilarating yet scary than choosing to start a business. We understand that all to well. That is why we simply adore the companies we work with and are showcasing these fizz-tastic shops. The effort and determination often lead to the successes but few of us made that happen overnight. It is the story of the hands and the heart that inspire us every day.
Q&A with Nolan Stewart
Coastal Root Owner · Bitters Maker
Q: Getting to where we are is always a journey of magnitude no matter how simple it may seem. Tell us a little bit about you. What path brought you to where you are?
A: The short answer is Gin. I worked as a bartender and brewer for a relatively short time, before a much longer stint at a beer, wine, and liquor store. I was fascinated by the wide range of flavors that could be achieved in gin by the types of...
Q: When entrepreneurs start a business it’s generally for love or passion of a principal or concept. A discovery of opportunity and an ability to fill a niche. What got you started?
A: When I saw that the craft distilling industry was expanding in Maine, and there was no bitters industry in the state to speak of, and I began to toy with the idea of making my own bitters to sell it became clear that other people liked what I was making and they encouraged me to go for it! At this point I already had a great love (some might say “geeky passion”) for bitters and herbal things that you put in a glass and sip. I began to explore the herbs in a more hands on way, making my own herbal concoctions. I continue to make bitters because of my desire to share the flavors I love, and the process of exploring their manifold flavors.
Q: And, what do you love most about being a bitters maker?
A: I love the creative process of making new bitters, working with the raw ingredients, tasting and aligning flavors. It’s interesting to taste something that takes your mind to another place without knowing how you got there. I always want to be creating new things, and the process of creating bitters is truly wonderful.
Q: When you decided to create your business what was the process you took to uncover the name? Is there a special meaning or reason behind your brand?
A: I had a hard time with finding a name for my business. When I moved to Portland in 2000 I began to set down some roots. I have always loved being near the ocean and wanted a name that gave the place where the sea meets the land the love and respect it deserves. The name Coastal Root is also a play on “Coastal Route” or route one coastal highway that allows us a scenic ride up and down the coast of Maine, and beyond. It also is a shout out to the roots that add the bitterness to each one of my bitters, and the place where the bitters are made.
Q: Most people have only tangentially heard about bitters. They know very little. Here’s your opportunity to shine and share. What would you like to tell us about bitters?
A: Bitter the “flavor” is the most fascinating of experiences. It’s usually an acquired taste, with good
reason, we’re hardwired not to like it. Many bitter plants and roots in nature are not fit to eat, and can be dangerous or poisonous to eat. Children are more sensitive to bitter, as we age it becomes less negative and more interesting provided we know what not to eat. The good news is that the bitter tasting herbs and plants that are ok for us to eat are actually very good for us. When we taste something bitter our brain sends our body the signal that there might be something bad coming in. Our body reacts by sending our digestive system, immune system and liver into overdrive, and helps us to process a big meal, a drink too many, or the daily stresses of life.
People have been making a version of bitters since the dawn of humanity. As soon as humans began to ferment things to drink on purpose, there were always people adding herbs and spices. This was done either to improve the beverage, preserve a possibly medicinal plant, or both. The pharmacological use and exploration in the properties of herbs took place all over the globe. Somewhere along the line, likely starting with medicinal explorations of the renaissance, we ended up with a bitter herb solution for digestion. These stomach bitters in Europe made their way to the UK and United States and found their way into drinks. In the early 1800‘s the first documented “cock-tail” was described as using spirits, sugar, water, and bitters.
The world of bitters has since expanded as widely as the human palette can go. Bitters generally fall in to two categories, binding, and lifting, with sub categories of; aromatic, citrus, fruit, spice, spicy, herbal-floral, and nut. Think of a drink as a room full of people, maybe these people are close friends, strangers, or maybe they don’t like each other at all! Binding bitters such as our aromatic, coffee, and garam masala have the ability to round out the edges in a drink, and can make friends of those personalities in the drink that don’t want to work together. Lifting bitters such as our Flower, Pine and Tamarind Lime
Q: Tell us about your special way of making bitters that sets you apart from other bitters makers? You don’t have to share your “secret sauce” just maybe a nugget about why your bitters are unique. And it’s ok to brag! We love that about our bitters brands. We are here to help you shine!
A: My actual techniques for making bitters are no big secret, I use medical grade infusions of each herb and spice separately. Then I blend them together in a ratio that works for each bitter. I often make a water infusion of some of the ingredients to coax out some of the compounds, and flavors that are left behind by an alcohol infusion, and add it to the mix. I list all of the ingredients to demystify what is in the bottle a little, and to share my process, and allow you to search for each flavor in your glass.
We all have our own unique approach to flavor, the experience of flavor and when making something the expression of our experience. The power of association is part of what I love about making bitters. There is often a “what IS that” when you taste something that you didn’t know you associate with another flavor or experience. Creating bitters is a process where you are in the position of breaking down all of those flavors and rearranging them in order to create the desired effect. This means examining what you like and what will work in a particular bitter.
My start was in the visual arts. When it comes to the creative process there really are no differences between visual arts, culinary arts, and music. There is something about the daily necessity of food and drink that make it a pleasing platform for expression. Bitters are a special category in the food and drink world. My bitters are as unique as one individual’s life can be, and I share that with you. For example, my coffee bitters deliver a roasty, bitter warm backdrop with all of the things that remind me of coffee, which includes anise. Coffee reminds me of anisette biscotti, and chocolate and tasting these flavors for the first time. My pine bitters started out with everything that reminds me of pine, and the woods, then I added just enough pine to the equation that every ingredient could have a voice in the conversation. The goal is always to steer a cocktail in the right direction, not overwhelm it.
Q: Is their something unique and interesting about the great state of Maine that you would like share with our fans? There’s a magic in the air. Visitors from around the globe want a piece of it. Do share!
A: Every time I go to the shore, woods, lake, city, or town I remind myself to be a tourist, and enjoy where I am. Many people spend a lot of time, energy, and money to get here! Don’t forget to be inspired by this awesome place we live in!
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And to learn more about Nolan Stewart, visit him at: