Kuma Bitters

For those who can’t be bothered to finesse and monitor the blending process of the three-jar method written about in March| April’s Bar 101, here is a one-jar recipe for something I guarantee you cannot emulate in store-bought bitters.

It is the first proprietary bitters we created at Little Jumbo and is certainly not the last.

Kuma means bear in Japanese. I wanted an aromatic bitter that was big and bold and could take any brown spirit cocktail into a more earthy/cindery direction. With Lapsang souchong tea as the base element, this mixture of smoky, sweet, and complex will elevate any cocktail needing a night beside a campfire in the woods.

The glory of using tea as your base tincture is that it infuses very quickly. I recommend Silk Road’s Lapsang for this recipe, as it seems to be the most potent of those available on the island.

Instead of using wormwood, cinchona, or gentian (common bittering agents for non-potable bitters), we are leaning here on wild cherry bark to provide the bitterness and tannins needed to complete this recipe on the back end.

3 tsp Silk Road Lapsang souchong tea

2 tsp wild cherry bark

1 tsp dried orange peel

4 cloves

1 vanilla bean, split open

2 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

Combine all elements in a 500 mL jar, add vodka or high-proof alcohol of choice. Stir-agitate every day or so and taste periodically until all elements are represented, with Lapsang’s smoky profile at the forefront (for 40 percent vodka, at least 10 days; 75 percent like Everclear, check after three or four days).

Strain through a tea strainer and add 1:1 demerara syrup to taste. The wild cherry bark can get quite tannic, so a sweet element is necessary to balance this for cocktail use. Sugar is also a flavour enhancer and brings all of those baking spices out as well.

As for cocktail applications, I’ve kept coming back to these for multiple recipes over the years, and they are surprisingly diverse with what they can do. Here are a couple of signature cocktails highlighting the Kuma Bitters.

Thanks for reading, and please enjoy!


Park Ranger

An old-fashioned riff that is quintessentially Canadian by nature. The maple ties the sherry element of Dark Horse together with the smokiness of the bitters. This one is more of a stiff drink for those wanting something to last around a campfire.

2 oz (60 mL) Alberta Premium Dark Horse Whisky

⅓ oz (10 mL) maple syrup

5-6 dashes Kuma Bitters

GLASS – Old fashioned

METHOD – Stir and strain over large (2 × 2-inch) ice cube

GARNISH – Pine sprig


Afro Samurai

The closest to madness I’ve come was trying to lock in this recipe. I remember going through almost a whole bottle of Black Label late one night tinkering away trying to perfect this recipe. The result is a beautifully nuanced drink that showcases elegance and power simultaneously. Johnnie Walker has some smoke inherent in its flavour from the Caol Ila (from Islay) and the Talisker (from the Isle of Skye). These amplify the bitter’s profile.

1⅔ oz (50 mL) Johnnie Walker Black label

⅔ oz (20 mL) Japanese plum wine

½ oz (15 mL) rich simple syrup—2:1 ratio (as opposed to 1:1 of simple syrup)

½ oz (15 mL) lemon juice

4-5 dashes Kuma Bitters

GLASS – Chilled small rocks glass

METHOD – Shake and double-strain neat

GARNISH – Cherry blossom


Photography         Kyle Guilfoyle

Nate Caudle and Kyle Guilfoyle are co-owners for Nimble Bar Co.


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