{edible gift} D.I.Y. Cocktail Bitters

My friend Julie turned me on to homemade infusions years ago. She has a big shelf in her amazing kitchen/dining room filled with homemade bitters, digestifs, infusions, shrubs, and the like. It’s like walking into a delicious apothecary.

Julie recently attended the FSC Schenectady Food Swap and brought with her a bunch of her homemade bitters and shrubs (I walked away with her “Bad Barbie” and “Smoke and Mirrors” bitters, plus a jar of the husk cherry shrub syrup. I should mention she gave me some “Arabesque” bitters (made with saffron and cardamom) and strawberry rhubarb shrub syrup a few weeks before the swap, too!). It got me thinking that bitters might be an AWESOME DIY holiday gift, especially as a host/ess gift. You would be the hit of the party if you brought some fun homemade bitters to liven up the bar!

Bitters are pretty easy to make. Okay, they are really easy to make. And you can’t mess it up, either. Julie invited me to her house for a bitters making/tasting party. She taught me how to properly smell bitters (put a drop in your hand, rub your hands together, then smell. This releases the oils so you can really pick-up on the subtle notes and ingredients), and how to taste them (generally just a healthy dash of bitters in an ounce or two of flat or sparkling water). We also tried to compare the taste of bitters in different liquors (bourbon and rye) to see how flavors play off the liquor. I really liked the taste of the Aztec Chocolate Bitters with the bourbon, and I bet it would be delicious with a peaty blended scotch.

Julie explained the process of making bitters. Essentially, bitters are just flavoring agents, bittering agents, a strong liquor, and water mixed together. Rich syrup is also applied in many instances. While there is no real ratio for bitters, here’s a good general equation to follow:

{RECIPE} D.I.Y. BITTERS

  • 1 part bittering/flavoring agents (your herbs, spices, zests, flowers, what-have-you)
  • 4 parts liquor (vodka, everclear, whiskey… whatever you want! A neutral spirit like vodka or everclear will give you the “truest” flavor of the other ingredients)
  • 2 parts water
  • .5 parts rich simple syrup (recipe: 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, cooked until sugar dissolves then let cool and decant into a jar. Store in refrigerator and it will last for months. You can make this ahead of time as it can be used for numerous concoctions include any iced drinks such as ice tea or coffee, and cocktails)

A decent sized batch would be: 
– 1/2 cup bittering/flavoring agents,
– 2 cups liquor,
– 1 cup water,
– 2-3 tablespoons rich simple syrup

EQUIPMENT

  • Multiple pint or quart-sized Mason Jars (depending on how much you are making)
  • A fine gauge strainer/filter or cheesecloth/butter muslin
  • Saucepan

METHODS

MAKE AHEAD: a batch of rich simple syrup. As stated in the ingredient list, the recipe is: 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, cooked until sugar dissolves then decant into a jar and store in the refrigerator.

1. Put all bittering/flavoring agents in a quart-sized Mason jar, and top with the liquor. Cover.

2. Let steep in a cupboard for two weeks and shake the jar daily.

3. After two weeks, strain the liquid through a damp fine gauge filter or cheesecloth/butter muslin into a clean mason jar. Strain multiple times until the sediment is mostly gone from the infused liquor. Lastly, squeeze the cheesecloth/ press on the solids in the filter over the infused liquor to extract any oils that may be capturedCover and place back into the cupboard for another week. (It’s needed a again for step 7.)

4. Now its time to create infused water with those leftover solids! Place the solids into a saucepan and with enough water to cover the solids. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

5. Pour all ingredients from the saucepan into a new Mason jar. Cover and keep in the cupboard for one week, shaking daily. You should now have two jars in your cupboard: Infused Liquor and Infused Water.

6. After one week, strain the infused water until all sediment has been removed, just like step #3. Discard the solids left in your cheesecloth or strainer.

7. Add the infused water and infused liquor together into one jar.

8. Add rich syrup to the mixture, cover and shake to combine.

9. Allow to sit in the cupboard for three days.

10. After the three days skim off any debris (filter, if necessary) that rises to the surface, then decant into smaller jars if desired.

+++

Julie demonstrated how to make a classic orange bitters recipe from the book Bitters, a Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas by Brad Thomas Parsons. Then we got busy crafting our own concoctions. I made two versions that sounded good in my head:

  •  The first I called “Shandygaff Bitters,” because I thought they would be good in a beer cocktail. It included hops, dried lemon peel, gentian root, grains of paradise, and star anise (though I wish I had thought to add ginger to it, too!).
  • The second batch I called “Garden Party Bitters” due to the floral undertones I used. It included rose hips, hyssop, hibiscus, angelica root, schizandrae, arnica flowers, wild cherry bark, dried lemon peel and gentian root.

As Julie said, bitters are an, “inexpensive, high-reward thing.” You can make a lot of bitters for little effort and cost.

All the herbal/floral/spice/bittering ingredients came from Dandelion Botanical. Bittering agents are essentially barks, roots, and some leaves (like dandelion, horehound, and tree leaves) while flavorings are everything else (flowers, berries, spices, seeds, etc). When you order, you won’t really need more than a few ounces of each bittering/flavoring ingredient, since they weigh so little and pack a lot of punch!

If cocktails aren’t really your thing, try adding bitters to other items. Many of the bittering/flavoring agents have medicinal properties and uses, so you could add ingredient-specific bitters to tea to help ease aches and ailments. You could also try adding a few dashes to marinades, sauces, and dressings to create a complex flavor with little effort. I really like just adding some bitters to my water to spice it up a bit (and keep the recommended 8 glasses a day from getting boring – don’t worry, you’ll add so little with so much taste, the alcohol/sugar barely makes a dent), or in a glass of seltzer or sparkling wine (ooh la la).

If you come up with any really great bitter recipes, please share in the comments below! Let your imagination run wild.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Tammy says:

    This looks like a fun thing to do for the holidays!

  2. Deanna says:

    @Tammy Thanks! Come back and let us know if you make your own!

  3. julie says:

    This was really interesting to read, Deanna. I had so much fun at our ‘bitters party’, so thanks for chronicling it! Possible names for the new orange bitters are currently being accepted….

  4. Okay, so I saw your Tweet, and I had to jump ship and snorkle in your waters. DIY bitters? Fantastic. I love this post…and the fact that you named your daughter Edith (after Wharton)? Thanks for a great post.

  5. Deanna says:

    @Madame Fromage Haha! “Snorkle in your water!” I love it.

    Thanks for all the love and sweet comments. Yep, I have an Edith, though she wasn’t necessarily named after Wharton. Her dad just threw it out there as a name he liked, and we went with it :-)

  6. rogwiki.de says:

    You should not toss comfort to simply look fashionable
    as you are absolutely those which are opposite each other on the color wheel.

  7. Great post, and love the pictures. The Garden Party Bitters sounds like something that I would really enjoy. We just underwent a similar project, but went about it a little differently. We did a bunch of single ingredient infusions, and them blended them together to make our bitters. It turned out better than I expected. If you want to check it out, http://www.abarabove.com/diy-bitters/

    Once again great article and cheers.

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