W hat do starfruit, carrot, eucalyptus, chipotle, and Newport have in common? Bitters.
King Ramsey’s Bitters, to be exact.
These aromatic babies are created with thought and care by a very talented lady, Kodi Keith, formerly the bar manager for the Vanderbilt. Keith has years of experience pulling together cocktail menus and working with a variety of clientele, from sports bars to, well, rooftop soirées in Newport. It was at the Vanderbilt with “access to their pantries, amazing amounts of herbs and spices,” where Keith began honing her bitters skills. “When I was making cocktails, I was looking for ‘other’ elements – what could I add that was house-made? I got obsessed with infusing things.”
Keith was traveling in Texas a few years back and needed to come up with a cocktail reflecting Dallas’ Buyers Club (the Vanderbilt will at times throw Oscar’s Parties – film nerds out there may recall this McConaughey gem). Inspired by the barbeque and Texan flavors around her, Keith created a drink called Old Fashioned BBQ using her first batch of bitters: Chipotle Bitters.
I tried the drink with Keith, served at the Vanderbilt’s bar. It had that refreshing, warming, feeling you’d want from an Old Fashioned, but with a noted touch of earthy spice and smoked capsicum. Okay, King Ramsey’s Bitters, we’re onto something here.
Who’s this King Ramsey, you might be asking?
“King Ramsey is my six-year-old Maine Coon [cat],” Keith smiles and it reaches her brown eyes. “He just is King Ramsey, and these bitters fit the name.”
Being a small business owner – major credit to all small business owners by the way – is no small feat. Keith hand-labels each of her bottles and is on her fifth iteration of label design. Folks, she’s a one woman show from product concept to graphic design to bottling.
But since this is a booze article, we’ll stick to the bitters. In case bitters are something you’ve not yet toyed with – in brief, they are potent substances meant to pack a lot of flavor for your cocktail needs. Just a drop to a few drops can dramatically impact your drink. It’s similar to adding salt to your entrée, but bitters are a lot more varied and deeply flavorful.
King Ramsey currently offers 14 flavors: Carrot, Chipotle, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Five Spice, Lavender, Longan, Old Thyme, Plum, Pumpkin, Safflower, Starfruit, Tangerine, and Forest.
Forest? Forest bitters – her newest flavor debut. “I like to think of something not necessarily out there at the moment and get ideas from trips and different areas,” which was the inspiration for her latest edition of Forest Bitters, thanks to a trip to Colorado.
King Ramsey’s bitters use an alcohol base and are made in small batches. Depending on the flavor profile, Keith’s process changes. At times she adds her concoction to the base all at once; for others, a layered process, timed down to a T. She is always experimenting, always tasting, always adjusting, like a culinary mad scientist chemist but a whole lot less crazy and a lot more creative.
“I’ve had some projects not go so well!” Keith laughs, sharing about the first time she tried her hand at melon bitters. Mid-sentence she starts to trail off, “You know, those melon bitters actually could be a source to start a new shrub…”
While she hones the bitters and maybe bottles up a shrub, you can taste her successful creations in cocktails at the following locations:
Revolving Door, Newport
Whitehorse Tavern, Newport
Tavern on Broadway, Newport
Rogue Island, Newport
And, Keith notes, when she works with a restaurant if they have a particular flavor profile in mind, she’ll hand create their vision in bitters, bespoke to them. I wonder if I could bribe her to make some Motif Bitters for my home bar?
Keep your eyes out for this great local line from a great local inventor. It probably won’t be long before you see this line in a store near you. In the meantime, go to kodikeith.com to learn more.