Willa Van Nostrand’s Little Bitte
A Cocktail Catering Company Keeps Local and Seasonal in Every Glass
Edible Rhody has the frequent pleasure of collaborating with Willa Van Nostrand; her Here’s How! cocktail column is a regular feature. When she’s not writing for us she’s busy running her artisan cocktail catering company, Little Bitte, and advising restaurateurs, such as Ethan Feirstein and Pat Lowney, on their bar programs. Here is her story …
Willa Van Nostrand approaches bartending with a theatrical flair, viewing each event as a piece of performance art. “I will never do the same bar twice,” she says. “Every menu is specifically tailored to the occasion.”
The cocktails themselves resemble works of art, thanks to Willa’s focus on fresh garnishes, edible blossoms and locally sourced ingredients. “I’m inspired by the seasons and foraged materials,” Willa explains. “It’s mixology through culinary curiosity.”
Growing up on Blessingway Farm in Rehoboth as the youngest of seven, Willa (now 30) was raised making tinctures and bitters alongside her mother, an herbalist and midwife, while at the same time learning mixology basics from her father, a bartending minister. Her creative upbringing eventually led her to Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied theater, printmaking and writing. While bartending remained a constant in her life it was a yearlong trip to Italy that gave her a fresh perspective.
“During my time abroad I was exposed to cordials, apéritifs and spirits that weren’t really being used back home,” she says. “I had been obsessed with learning the basics of bartending, and now with the basics under my belt and this exposure to a new way of thinking about cocktails, I could begin to get imaginative.”
Her return to Providence coincided with a return to her farming roots. Willa began bringing her own homemade tinctures, edible blossoms and fresh juices to the various bars where she worked, and over time demand for her bartending services grew. While she loved the act of bartending—the creativity, the social aspects and the interesting conversations—Willa was ready to forge her own path.
“There came a moment when I had to decide whether to take the leap and start my own business,” she recalls. “Little Bitte was my dream but it took years and years to culminate into my actual job.” Little Bitte offers craft cocktail consultation and bar services with a focus on artisanal cocktails featuring edible blossoms, small-batch liquors, artisanal liqueurs, house bitters, fresh-squeezed juices and foraged edibles.
A look through the gallery of past Little Bitte cocktails highlights the focus on seasonality, for example The Farmer Old-Fashioned featuring Festival squash-infused rye, crystalized ginger and husk cherries. Willa explains that one of her favorite parts of the job is the discovery process.
“Who knew there were hundreds of heirloom apple varieties, each with its own unique flavor and characteristics? I love discovering ingredients and finding ways to incorporate them into my work,” she says.
It’s easy to see Willa’s personal history reflected in the company’s philosophy and style. The team of Little Bitte bartenders put great care into reflecting the style of each occasion through their own wardrobe, as well as the setting of the bar itself and, of course, the cocktails. The names of each drink are often playful, such as The Dandy Lion, Christopher Robin and Brosé, while others speak to Willa’s New England roots, such as The Westminster and Oh Captain, My Captain. Even with a packed schedule of events, ranging from weddings and fundraisers to a booth at WaterFire, Willa also offers beverage program consulting, which can include anything from signature cocktail design and house bitters recipe development to bar staff training and product sourcing. She’s consulted with restaurants across the state including The Slow Rhode, The Boombox and The Salon, which is great news for those of us eager to try one of Willa’s cocktail creations.
For a schedule of Little Bitte’s upcoming public events as well as recipes, contact information and more, visit LittleBitte.com.