This is Sam Unger, otherwise known as Ms. Betters Bitters.
Sam is 30 years old. She was born in Arizona but grew up by the mountains and the ocean in Vancouver. She speaks Farsi, English and Spanish. However, her father fluently speaks 13 different languages so she definitely grew up hearing more than three.
Sam moved to Montreal when she started university. She studied Fine Arts, Studio Arts and Arts History at Concordia. She was running the arts gallery and she saw the inner workings of the art world. She saw the world of galleries, the social climbing and nepotism and felt it was just bullshit. Something about it felt like she was compromising part of herself to survive and at some point she decided that she didn’t want to do it anymore.
Sam worked as a chef for a long time and was always involved in the food industry somehow, whether it be in Vancouver during high school jobs, at her family factory or in restaurants in Montreal. Eventually she got frustrated by this industry. She didn’t relate to the ethics that people were promoting in these small businesses. Even though they were part of the queer community, they were actually shitty bosses taking advantage of people who don’t have papers, who are queer, who needed money for their transitions, etc. She started to feel dishearten by the world in a lot of ways and wanted to find a way to carry her own weight.
So she went to an auction and bought a slushy machine. Classic.
She called her family factory in Vancouver and asked them to send some syrups so that she could sell slushies. It was the middle of March and least would be to say that slushies are not exactly Montrealer’s first drink choice in that time of the year. It was very hard, she was hardly making enough money to survive. However, this is when she realized that would actually prefer to starve than work for someone and have the energy she just put being taken advantage of and not being appreciated for her work. This is also the time when she went through a major breakup. In other words: she was broke and heart broken in the middle of winter with her slushy machine. It was time for her to go home.
On an ordinary day, Sam was working at the family factory and her dad came to her with a request. He asked her to do some research on bitters. And that’s pretty much how the whole Ms. Better’s Bitters adventure came to life.
To understand Sam’s adventure into the world of bitters, you have to understand that before anything else Sam is a nose: “Beyond everything that I did in school, what I did in life, all the people I loved, all that shit, at the end of the day I’m a nose. If you took everything from me and everyone I love at the end this is what I am, a nose. I feel everything with my nose, I sense everything with my nose, I see before I see with my nose. Sometimes you have something and you think it’s a burden, but you can actually use it to heal yourself and the world with it.” She wanted to bring back aromas into the world and that’s why she decided to make bitters.
If she was to make bitters, she was to fill the void that she found while doing her research. She wanted to create a palate that would work with everything, to create a line of bitters that would cater to the whole world of spirits, not just to the spirits that we already knew how to use bitters with. She wanted to bring aromas to cocktails. She wanted to bring people to smell their cocktails. Given that 80% of taste is smell, how come people don’t smell their cocktails like they smell wine? So she decided to make crazy bitters and find a way to story tell through the flavors. And she did it. Take her orange bitter for example. She wanted to make something that would taste as if you were dropped into an orange tree. She layered the flavors so that the first taste would be the blossoms, then the leaves, then the fruits and finally the bark.
Overall, Sam has definitely used her artistry to create some of the most eclectic and singular bitters available on the market and meeting her was by far one of the most inspiring encounters we have made so far.
A little bit more about …
One thing she has yet to achieve on her life bucket-list: Make perfume.
Life moto: When we spend more time in nature we realize that we don’t need to actually hurt anything around us. When you realize that you don’t get involved in all this karma thing. If you act from a place that is being center, you’re not actually going to harm anyone or yourself, you’re ultimately being an advocate for the universe. Check yourself before you wreck the world with this kind of thing. Be conscious. If the world was 1% more conscious it would already be such a better place.
What she likes most about making bitters: Taking what’s around us that we forget about or that we overlook. I like almost making the underdog being the highlighter of the main event.
One advice she offers to people that want to make bitters: Be patient. Treat it like a living object. Try temperature, try time, try different ingredients (same ingredient but different supplier vs same ingredient but fresh vs dry, fermented vs not fermented, etc.) Take notes when you make you bitters, check on them every day, even a couple of times a day. There is this kind of magic period and if you don’t catch it you will lose the taste, and it might even taste pretty bad and you will never know that you just missed the perfect magic spot.
Involvement in the community:Sam is very involved in the community, she doesn’t really see the point of living otherwise. She reminds us that it is our responsibility to uplift the voices of the ones that are being silenced.