The bitters you'll most often find in liquor stores are brands that have been around forever: Angostura (first marketed as a nausea cure in the early 1800s), Fee Brothers and Peychauds. A few smaller producers have popped up recently, but it's tough to find their products locally.
Hopefully that won't be the case with RX Bitters. Founded by Ryan Andrews (Craft & Commerce), Eric Lockridge (Prep Kitchen) and Brett Winfield (Seven Grand), all of whom have been making bitters for their respective bars, RX just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised enough money to start production of its first three flavors—Sarsaparilla, Cherry Apple and "Aromatic #7" (orange peel, gentian root and spices)—as well as a line of smoked bitters (peach, pineapple and apple), for which they'll experiment with a smoker and different types of wood.
If things go really well, the next step is barrel-aged bitters. Initial runs are available only to Kickstarter donors, but Winfield says the goal is to start selling the bitters commercially in July. Check back here for a head's-up, or keep an eye out for the brown-glass bottles with graphic designer Milena Gavalaís elegant, old-timey labels.
Saltbox bar manager Ali Terrill hit on a gem of an idea with Wells Done Well, a newish cocktail program at the Hotel Palomar bar (1047 Fifth Ave., Downtown). It's a small menu of classics—Manhattan, Paloma, French 75 among them—made with well liquors and quality touches like fresh-pressed juices. Best bet: a daily 4-to-7 p.m. happy hour when all WDW are $5.
Saltbox also just rolled out some brand-new cocktails; highlights include the BetaMax, an almost-guilt-free concoction of gin, canton ginger, carrot-apple juice and soda, and Newton's Law, made with High West's "Bourye" (a bourbon/rye blend that's been getting rave reviews), Breckinridge bitters, vanilla/fig balsamic and orgeat.
Bar West (959 Hornblend St. in Pacific Beach) doesn't come to mind when checking off San Diego's best cocktail bars—the "specialty" drink menu currently on its website favors flavored vodkas and sweet mixers. To Bar West's credit, it recently brought in Snake Oil Cocktail Co., a well-respected team of mixologists, to come up with drinks to pair with the bar's new menu from P.B. fave Oscar's Mexican Seafood.
There's the El Burro, a take on the Mule with tequila, lemon juice, ginger beer and mole chocolate bitters, and the Sandia Sour: tequila, watermelon-jalapeño mash, fresh-pressed citrus, mint, agave nectar and sweet-and-sour salt, plus a few others. The Snake Oil guys were kind enough to share the recipe for the Tijuana Slough:
1 1/2 ounces vanilla-infused vodka
1/4 ounce lime juice
Jicama stick dipped in chili powder
Add vodka and lime juice to an ice-filled rocks glass. Add Coke and garnish with the jicama slice. To make vanilla-infused vodka, score two vanilla beans lengthwise and place in a bottle of your favorite vodka for two days.