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Day Trip: Bennett Bitters’ Joseph Bennett and Yana Crow

Bennett Bitters bottles memories. There’s the Exorcism Bitters, inspired by the records of a 15th-century Italian priest who detailed the poultices and herbs used for such rituals. The Wild Hunt Bitters are made to invoke the sensation of walking through Pacific Northwest forests. And the lineup’s additional organic bottlings, from Queens, New York–based founders Joseph Bennett and Yana Crow, all recall a precise time, place, and feeling. Working within the landscapes of alchemy, herbalism, art, and more, the duo’s bitters blends are intended to conjure the gentle touch of their muses. Here, they share a bit of their day-to-day magic at Bennett Bitters. 

8:30 a.m. 

We start our day over a table full of glasses: tea, water with Bermuda Bitters, espresso, a smoothie, and Turkish coffee dashed with Cocktail Bitters. This morning flight of flavors is a daily ritual to invite the muse of inspiration. Our chat quickly turns into a meeting; operating a small business is a complex process so it’s important that we set our intentions at the start of the day. 

“The sensation of…lying on a tropical beach…we reverse-engineered that fantasy through smell and taste and a lot of experimentation.”

10:00 a.m. 

Joseph handles calls and emails, including an interview with a potential new herb supplier. We work with suppliers whose sustainability ethics align with ours, especially when it comes to our wild-harvested ingredients. We want to know who’s harvesting our herbs and how, and that the person picking them is wild crafting—continuing to fill the woods with these plants. Yana heads the creative department. Today, she’s our librarian and researcher. She pulls books on alchemy, herbalism, philosophy, art, science, and cooking, while researching a new bitters blend she’s developing. 

The initial ideas for our blends arrive in moments of inspiration. They arise when we remember some form of beauty in life that we can’t quite shake, like walking through a lush green forest. With our Bermuda Bitters, Yana’s inspiration started with the sensation of feeling completely relaxed, lying on a tropical beach at sunset holding a Piña Colada. And we reverse-engineered that fantasy through smell and taste and a lot of experimentation.

2:00 p.m. 

Shipments arrive. We receive wild-harvested devil’s club and chamomile for the Wild Hunt Bitters and yarrow for the Exorcism Bitters from Pacific Botanicals, and 190-proof organic cane spirit from Organic Alcohol Company in Ashland, Oregon. We open the devil’s club and breathe deep. Our sense of smell has an unobstructed and immediate pathway to the emotional centers of the brain. The scent of the devil’s club takes Joseph back to the wilderness surrounding Seattle, where he grew up. It’s probably the rarest plant we use, and one of our missions is to reinvest in its regeneration.

Bitters are just tincture making—the process of steeping herbs in alcohol. Alcohol is a medium that extracts both the water-soluble and oil-soluble elements of a plant. This lets us capture the memory-inducing aromatics of a plant and preserve them for decades. Back when we met, Joseph created the Wild Hunt blend so that Yana could bring a piece of the Pacific Northwest back to New York City where nature is less readily available. 

“…it can sometimes take years to perfect a blend, which is why we’re always in research and development.”

4:00 p.m. 

When working with a new ingredient or herb, we have up to 20 different steeps, testing for length of time, ratio of herb to alcohol, and alcohol proof. Yana has been experimenting with different fig varieties that have been steeping for the last three weeks. We blind taste the new extracts and discuss the differences. One is full of rich, syrupy molasses flavors, another is light and honeyed, and the third tastes as though a sweet potato and a violet had a baby. We discuss potential pairings for the next phase of formulation, blending these tinctures with other herbal infusions to see how the flavors harmonize. We’re hoping to release the final product at the end of the summer. But it can sometimes take years to perfect a blend, which is why we’re always in research and development.

6:30 p.m. 

We prep dinner at home while Yana workshops cocktails. Joseph quit drinking soon after he left bartending, but still loves blending flavors. His perspective on mixology is similar to his perspective on bitters. A drink, no matter how simple or complex, alcoholic or not, has the power to transport the drinker to a different time or place.

Tomorrow is a full moon, so we’ll be starting new batches of Exorcism Bitters and Wild Hunt Bitters. From an alchemical, witchcraft standpoint, it’s important to track the moon. Different phases work better for different kinds of magic. We batch the herbs and alcohol during the full moon and let them slowly marry together for two weeks. On the new moon, we remove the herbs and allow the bitters to rest for two more weeks. It’s absolutely necessary, especially for the Exorcism Bitters, which are true to their source of inspiration. If you want to perform a proper exorcism, you have to take moon cycles into consideration.

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