By Tanya Henry
“Bartending kind of found me,” says 32-year-old Erin Hines, who first discovered her love of the craft when she began working as a hostess at Piazza D’Angelo in downtown Mill Valley. As soon as she was old enough, Hines got a shot at working behind the bar—it wasn’t long before she knew she had found her career.
Today, Hines, who grew up in Novato and lived in Mill Valley for more than 10 years, spends three days a week serving her handcrafted cocktails to a steady stream of appreciative customers at Larkspur’s Picco. When she’s not behind the bar, she’s busy making her Bitter Girl Bitters, a key ingredient featured on the restaurant’s drink list for Erin’s ‘old fashioned,’ prepared with rye whiskey, turbinado syrup and orange.
“It all started when I was working at Nick’s Cove and was invited to be in a cocktail contest,” explains Hines, who began experimenting with different flavor and ingredient combinations. Though she never entered the contest, it was the beginning of what would become her now two-year-old business.
Originally used medicinally, bitters and tinctures eventually made their way out of medicine cabinets and into saloons by way of liquor. Booze, bitters and sugars were traditionally the three pillars for cocktail-making and, aside from some modern day creative tweaking, this essential trio remains the backbone for all classic drinks. Hines knows the formula well, and after more than 10 years of bartending throughout Marin at venues like the original Sweetwater, 19 Broadway and Terrapin Crossroads, she noticed that despite all of the spirits on the market, quite often there was only one bitters option—Angostura. She decided to make some of her own.
Pomegranates and tangerines from her family’s Novato orchard provided the flavors for her first 21 2-ounce bottles, aptly titled First Batch. Met with plenty of encouragement from friends and family, she continued with her concoctions and now has a Bitter Rose (rose petals, hibiscus and lavender) and various seasonal releases that have included Pear Jordan (pears and hops) and Mom’s Prickly Poms (prickly pear, pineapple and guava).
With all things mixology having a moment, Hines couldn’t have picked a better time to launch her Bitter Girl Bitters. Lucky for Hines, her bosses with Real Restaurants share her enthusiasm for her products and feature them at several of their properties (on top of Picco), including Bar Bocce and the Buckeye Roadhouse. Even pastry chefs are using these essences in their cookies and cakes, adding subtle flavors and hues to their creations.
For more information, and to see where you can find Bitter Girl Bitters, visit bittergirlbitters.com.