New Orleanians are familiar with Peychaud’s Bitters, the rosy tonic sold by Antoine Peychaud and featured in the Sazerac. Now there’s a new local product to sit on their bar next to the beloved Peychaud’s bottle: El Guapo Bitters.
El Guapo is the creation of Scot Maddox, who ran the bar at the now-shuttered Iris restaurant in the French Quarter. While at Iris, he began making bitters in small batches that soon received accolades from both peers in the industry and customers.
In 2013, Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, encouraged Maddox to sell his product at the annual bartending convention.
“We got wonderful feedback from bartenders from all over the world,” recalled Maddox, whose wife, Steph, is the co-owner of the company and handles all the marketing and production.
Bitters are high-proof alcohol infused with flavors from, for example, leaves, fruits or seeds. They’re taste enhancers, liquid seasoning for cocktails. “The bittering agent activates areas of your taste buds that are not normally activated,” Maddox said.
Bitters aren’t always “bitter.” In fact, the company’s most popular flavor is Chicory Pecan. Maddox said it has a big following with people who like to add them to their coffee. “It helps turn a mediocre cup of coffee into one that tastes great,” he said. The Chicory Pecan also has versatility in cocktails, pairing well with whiskies and lighter rums.
The seasonal flavor, Holiday Pie Bitters, also a favorite, features pumpkin, pecan, sweet potato and apple flavor. The first batch sold out in one week.
One quality that sets apart El Guapo Bitters is their culinary focus. Maddox encourages people to use bitters in their cooking as well as their cocktails.
“The Chicory Pecan complements venison, and the Holiday Pie goes well in baked goods and in whipped cream,” he said. Because bitters are a compound similar to vanilla extract, cooks can use them instead of some or all of the vanilla called for in recipes.
For marinades, cooks can use more, from half an ounce to a full ounce. And because they contain no salt, Maddox said, they’re a great way to add flavor to a recipe for people on a low-sodium diet.
El Guapo also offers cocktail fans a tonic syrup. This recipe also was created in Maddox’s days at Iris, where patrons ordered high-end gin and Maddox lacked a tonic of comparable flavor.
“I tried all the syrups out there on the market,” he says, “and they all seemed one-dimensional.”
In order to create a worthy tonic, Maddox researched the original British colonial style of tonic and its origins as a medicine for malaria. Cinchona bark was the source of medicinal quinine and is very bitter, so it was served with sugar to make it more palatable. He also discovered that tonic makers historically added other flavors like ginger and citrus to make it taste better.
He decided to capture that old-style tonic, and the syrup features ginger, lemongrass and four different citrus.
“It is a very floral, citrus-forward tonic,” Scot Maddox said. “It marries well with some of those high-end gins, but it’s good with regular gin, too.”
Locals looking for El Guapo bitters can find them at Keife and Co., Elio’s, Rouses and Louisiana Whole Foods.
And Maddox notes with pride that his business, which grew out of the French Quarter, now distributes from coast to coast with international accounts, as well.
5 Bars to try cocktails featuring El Guapo Bitters:
813 Bienville St.
El Guapo Fashioned: This drink’s popularity has kept it on the menu through four menu changes. It’s a twist on the Old-Fashioned, using rosemary syrup and featuring Chicory Pecan Bitters.
717 Orleans St.
Irish Channel Blessing: The Irish whiskey is sweetened by honey, balanced with lemon juice and showcases Chicory Pecan Bitters.
823 Decatur St.
Doctor Gumbo: Gumbo Bitters offer a solid base for this drink with a bounty of Louisiana products, including Old New Orleans Crystal rum, NOLA Brewing Hopitoulas beer and Steen’s cane syrup vinegar.
Crown & Anchor
200 Pelican Ave.
Gin and Tonic: Anglophiles can sip this proper gin and tonic mixed with El Guapo tonic syrup.
301 N. Peters St., French Quarter
4111 N. Carrollton Ave., Mid-City
6215 S. Miro, Uptown
Gulf Side: This refreshing whiskey drink uses Cucumber Bitters, mint and lemon juice.