Intro

The calendar marches on with great force even though I’m continually urging it to slow down. Unfortunately my pleas go unnoticed but I assure you you still have time to gift your family, friends or yourself with homemade bitters.

Last week I taught a room full of eager students how to make bitters. We all hudled around a table cluttered with little jars of infusions and with droppers in hand, each descended on various ingredients to create a custom blend of herbs and spices for the purpose of elevating their cocktails. There was cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Citrus, in all its various shades, sat next to dried cherry and raisin. Wormwood and Orris root provided some bitterness while vanilla, coffee and cocoa nib rounded it out. They smelled and tasted, added a few more ingredients and tasted again until they thought it perfect. They tested their final concoction with a simple champagne cocktail in which a sugar cube is drenched in bitters – classically Angostura, but tonight their own – then topped with champagne.

So let’s get right down to it because like I said, there’s not much time.

A bitters is essentially an alcoholic liquid flavored with different herb, spice and dried fruit infusions. Bitters are used in cocktail making as a way of creating a lovely, subtle additional layer of flavor. I once heard them described as “the salt of the cocktail” which I think helps to understand their value in a great cocktail.

The first step in making bitters at home is to make a variety of infusions. I like to make the infusions separately as opposed to mixing all the ingredients in one container of vodka (use a high-proof and odorless alcohol – I used a 100 proof vodka) because different ingredients take longer or shorter to infuse with the alcohol. Plus, I like feeling like a chemist and having a the fun of making dozens of different types of bitters. This is great for making gifts for the holidays or would make a great activity for a cocktail party.

So gather a variety of herbs, spices, dried fruit, etc. Most ingredients can be found at the grocery store – particularly in the bulk section. Some of the more exotic roots I ordered from a company called Mountain Rose Herbs. The roots are used to give the bitters – as the name suggests – a bitter taste. Dried citrus peel also adds bitterness so if you are wanting this for the holiday and don’t have time to order the roots, or simply don’t want to deal with it, just be sure to infuse some dried citrus peel so you’ll have that bitter component.

Add about a teaspoon of your ingredient to 4 ounces of vodka. If you are pressed for time you can add more of the spice or herb to speed up the process although this will taste different than a longer infusion would.

Cover the infusion tightly and set aside.

Knowing when the infusion is ready is really a job for your nose. You’ll notice a color change in the vodka almost immediately. As the days move on continually open the container and smell your infusion. When fully infused the vodka will smell strongly of the herb or spice and will taste heavily of that ingredient. For herbs and spices this will take about 7-10 days. If you are using dried fruit expect to let it sit for 2-3 weeks.

Once the infusions taste as you want them too you are ready to make bitters. Simply strain out the infused ingredients using a clean fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Replace the strained infusions back into their jars and begin mixing. Make sure everything you use in this process is very clean and sterilized.

Fill ⅓ of a small dropper bottle with distilled water. Using a pipet choose a selection of several infusions. If you want your bitters to be heavy in one infusion then add a whole pipet or two (roughly 1 tablespoon). The lesser flavors you want should only be added by a few drops.

I think it works best if you have a certain type of alcohol or cocktail in mind when creating the bitters. For example, my first adventure into bittering (pretty sure that’s not a word but it quite possibly should be) I had pear brandy on my mind so I created a bitters that was heavy in cinnamon, rosemary, nutmeg and juniper. There were other ingredients in there as well, as most bitters have somewhere between 10 – 30 different ingredients, but they were less pronounced.

And since we are making an accessory for cocktails I thought I’d also share with you a cocktail that needs some accessorizing.

Happy Bittering!

Champagne Cocktail
from the Metropolitan Hotel, New York City circa 1935

1 cube sugar
bitters (classically Angostura)
chilled champagne

Soak sugar cube with a couple of good splashes of bitters and set in the bottom of a large champagne flute.

Fill slowly with sparkling wine.

Garnish with a lemon twist.

.

Check out these other great resources on making your own bitters:

Adventures in Cooking: DIY Bitters

Bitters and Twisted

Food and Wine: How to Make Bitters

Reclaiming Provencial: Homemade Bitters

And if you find yourself with time in Portland take a class from Mark Bitterman at The Meadow – seriously.

.

A complete list the infusions I made:

Cinnamon, nutmeg, rosemary, coriander, cardamom, coffee, cocoa nib, vanilla, wormwood, orris root, qassia bark, ginger, juniper, allspice, red chile, black pepper, celery seed, dried orange peel, dried lemon peel, dried lime peel, raisin, dried cherry,

And a few supplies:

Pipettes 3ml, Gradulated, Pack of 100

Amber Glass Bottle 4oz W/glass Dropper

Ball Quilted Jelly Canning Jar 4 Oz., Case of 12

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Homemade Bitters

The first step in making bitters at home is to make a variety of infusions. I like to make the infusions separately as opposed to mixing all the ingredients in one container of vodka (use a high-proof and odorless alcohol – I used a 100 proof vodka) because different ingredients take longer or shorter to infuse with the alcohol. Plus, I like feeling like a chemist and having a the fun of making dozens of different types of bitters. This is great for making gifts for the holidays or would make a great activity for a cocktail party.

So gather a variety of herbs, spices, dried fruit, etc. Most ingredients can be found at the grocery store – particularly in the bulk section. Some of the more exotic roots I ordered from a company called Mountain Rose Herbs. The roots are used to give the bitters – as the name suggests – a bitter taste. Dried citrus peel also adds bitterness so if you are wanting this for the holiday and don’t have time to order the roots, or simply don’t want to deal with it, just be sure to infuse some dried citrus peel so you’ll have that bitter component.

Add about a teaspoon of your ingredient to 4 ounces of vodka. If you are pressed for time you can add more of the spice or herb to speed up the process although this will taste different than a longer infusion would.

Cover the infusion tightly and set aside.

Knowing when the infusion is ready is really a job for your nose. You’ll notice a color change in the vodka almost immediately. As the days move on continually open the container and smell your infusion. When fully infused the vodka will smell strongly of the herb or spice and will taste heavily of that ingredient. For herbs and spices this will take about 7-10 days. If you are using dried fruit expect to let it sit for 2-3 weeks.

Once the infusions taste as you want them too you are ready to make bitters. Simply strain out the infused ingredients using a clean fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Replace the strained infusions back into their jars and begin mixing. Make sure everything you use in this process is very clean and sterilized.

Fill ⅓ of a small dropper bottle with distilled water. Using a pipet choose a selection of several infusions. If you want your bitters to be heavy in one infusion then add a whole pipet or two (roughly 1 tablespoon). The lesser flavors you want should only be added by a few drops.

I think it works best if you have a certain type of alcohol or cocktail in mind when creating the bitters. For example, my first adventure into bittering (pretty sure that’s not a word but it quite possibly should be) I had pear brandy on my mind so I created a bitters that was heavy in cinnamon, rosemary, nutmeg and juniper. There were other ingredients in there as well, as most bitters have somewhere between 10 – 30 different ingredients, but they were less pronounced.

And since we are making an accessory for cocktails I thought I’d also share with you a cocktail that needs some accessorizing.

Happy Bittering!

37 Responses to “Homemade Bitters”

  1. carey

    I have been very curious about making bitters from tinctures instead of stuffing everything into one jar—it seems like a great way to experiment and really get to know your individual ingredients. I need to replenish my own bitters supply, and it would be nice to venture outside the comfort zone of the recipes in BTP’s Bitters and play around with separate extracts instead. Thanks for the added inspiration, Ashley! (And for the shout-out too!) (:

    Reply
  2. Sarah

    I didn’t think that bitters was something one could make at home. It seemed like one of those mysterious uncrackable secrets of the liquor industry. I may have to try this.

    Reply
  3. Megan Gordon

    This is awesome, Ashley! We were thinking of homemade gifts for Sam’s family and Sam was really set on fernet. Than he realized (or Brandon told him) that there wasn’t enough time … so maybe we’ll get on the bitters bandwagon. Great idea. It’s about time we had another cocktail date, eh? Happy almost anniversary! xx, mg

    Reply
  4. jacksondisouza

    Girl, you’re the queen of promotion and you’re such an excellent woman. I wasn’t stunned to check your sweet smile and that i appreciate what you are doing for the blogging community.

    Reply
  5. sara

    look at that pretty champagne cocktail! Such a neat project and a great gift. This would be a fun girls night activity too, letting everyone fiddle to their taste.

    Reply
  6. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    Girl, when are we getting a drink (Or, I should say, make a drink) because gosh darn I think we’d have a boozy time. Ok, maybe I shouldn’t leave comments on blog posts after drinking Manhattans. But, yeah, lovin’ the bitters.

    Reply
  7. Ruthy @ omeletta

    Love the comment about how bitters is the “salt” of a cocktail- what a perfect way to describe it! Have been meaning to start making (er, trying to make) my own bitters for a while.

    Reply
  8. tara

    we’re ending our year with this, dear friend! champagne cocktails all around — though I wish we could share with you. love and warmth sent from here, and cheers to the days ahead. xo.

    Reply
  9. Edwin Martinez

    Ashley, you know you’re a fantastic writer when people with a short attention span read every last word in a post. twice. Nina gave me a nice glass dispenser for home made bitters. Can’t wait to follow your notes and make my first little batch of bitters. Also enjoyed really enjoyed the Jan 4 post and I wish you and your family the best this year.

    Reply
  10. Noah

    I would never poo poo general cleanliness, but 100 proof vodka is as good an antiseptic as any. Microbial issues will not be a concern. Also a word on alcohol proof relating to infusions. Higher proof alcohols will tend to extract more bitter compounds from many botanicals. While this may occasionally be the desired effect, I tend to steer toward 40% ABV (or lower) solvent (vodka, whiskey, gin) for more nuanced flavors and less risk of over extraction.

    Reply
  11. Mairi @ Toast

    Love! Never thought of making my own bitters but have fallen in love with the aperiftif this summer, lillet, aperol…so have read this post my mind as a buzz with all sorts of herbal colllaborations!

    Reply
  12. Theresa

    I am overwhelmed to see this recipe! We just toasted my uncle on the day of his funeral with these champagne cocktails!
    Cheers to my dear Uncle Ed!

    Theresa

    Reply
  13. Patrick

    I love this idea! I love making old-fashioned cocktail a la Prohibition Era but I’ve never thought of making my own bitters and now I want to try and host a party to have me and my friends make all sorts of concoctions.

    However, do you have a list anywhere of what botanicals, citrus, herbs, spices would be good bases to make infusions of in the vodka to later build the bitters? You said in the post that there can be up to 30 ingredients in one bitters but I have no idea what kind of ingredient infusions I should put together before playing mad scientist and making my own bitters.

    Also do you have any “base recipes” (i.e., start with 1 pipette of this and 2 of that and 1 of that as a starter for a bitters and then start playing with small quantities of the rest kind of thing) for different cocktails like a bitters for Manhattans and Old Fashioneds vs bitters for a champagne cocktail, etc.

    Love your blog and can’t wait to do this with friends.

    Reply
  14. Emma

    Thanks for the tips!! Just made a big batch of bitters with my friend….we are excited and it worked out pretty great…but I’m a little stressed because someone mentioned to me that wormwood is toxic, and it’s our main bittering agent (still in really small quantities overall!). Can you comment? You obviously use wormwood. Thanks :)

    Reply

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