Cocktail drinkers know that a Manhattan isn’t a traditional Manhattan without Angostura bitters and one can’t make a Sazerac without Peychod’s. But home mixologists might not know how simple and fun it is to make bitters and home.
What are Bitters?
Bitters are strong herb and spice alcohol infusions including at least one bittering agent like cassia, wormwood, quinine, citrus peel, or gentian root. A drop of flavorful bitters is the strong guest that holds the door open for the remaining sweet and sour seats around the table.
Bitters were born of the ‘tonic’ movement, a period in the mid 1800s – mid 1900s where people claimed to cure all with drinks flavored with herbs and spices. They were commonly consumed neat or over ice as digestifs. A culture of secret recipes and labels listing the afflictions for which each bitters were recommended surrounded the compounding craze.
Now, bitters are most commonly used in cocktails. Bitters support a drink with complexity that is notably absent if the mixologist neglects to add a drop or two. Creating bitters at home is one way cocktail makers can customize a drink recipe.
How to Make Bitters
1. Mix spices into alcohol.
2. Allow to age for up to three weeks at room temperature, tasting along the way to determine when the flavors reach your taste’s desired strength.
3. Strain out solids and reserve alcohol. Dilute with a slight bit of water if desired.
4. Bottle and store in a cool dark place.
Because one only uses a few drops of bitters at a time and some of the ingredients are expensive, it is best to make very small batches. Organic bitters spices are available locally in tiny quantities at Clintonville Community Market and online through sources like Mountain Rose Herbs and Frontier. I like to store mine in dark glass bottles with eye droppers, available at Amazon and Mountain Rose.
I created and tweaked the recipes below to my taste. Participants in my recent Infusions and Bitters class at Franklin Park Conservatory enjoyed them and many left planning to make bitters as gifts this holiday season.
1 teaspoon cacao nibs
¼ teaspoon sarsaparilla
¼ teaspoon orange peel
¼ teaspoon wild cherry bark
1 allspice berry
1 inch length of cinnamon stick
½ cup rum
Turkey Day Bitters
2 inches fresh rosemary
2 inches fresh sage
¼ teaspoon pink peppercorn
¼ teaspoon gentain root
¼ teaspoon juniper berries
150 mL vodka
3 allspice berries
1 star anise
¼ teaspoon each pink peppercorn, gentain root, wild cherry bark, lemon peel, sarsaparilla
150 mL vodka
Even our kitty Moonshine was interested in bitters as I was photographing! Try making bitters yourself and see what flavor magic you can create.
1) I run a monthly co-operative buying group for Frontier herbs, spices, bath and body supplies including bitters ingredients and bottles. If you live in Columbus and are interested, contact me.
2) I am hosting a Gifts In Jars event at City Folk’s Farm Shop, 4760 N High St, this Friday November 23. I will have everything you need to make and label a beautiful Weck jar of hot cocoa mix, bath foam, or culinary herb salts with custom flavors. Each jar costs $6, will take about 10 minutes to make and the mess stays out of your house. Drop in anytime between 11 am – 2 pm this Friday.