There are so many good bitters available today but why not make your own interesting flavour mixtures for your craft cocktails? Other than getting the right ingredients and some waiting time, it is a very easy process and it's fun.
I read many websites and blogs on how to make bitters before I started this project. Here is the list of sites that I found very helpful and interesting.
Drink Dogma (drinkdogma.com)
The Kitchn (thekitchn.com)
I recommend you to explore the sites above if you would like to learn more details. In this page, I just give you the basic summary.
What is Bitters
Bitters are a mixture of different botanical tinctures. Botanical tincures can be "bitter agents" or "aromatic and flavor agents".
Example of bitter agents
- Angelica root
- Artichoke leaf
- Barberry root
- Birch leaf
- Black walnut leaf
- Burdock root
- Calamus root
- Citrus peel
- Dandelion leaf and bark
- Gentian root
- licorice root
- Milk thistle deed
- Quassia wood
Example of aromatic and flavor agents
Spices : cinnamon, coriander, black peppercorns, cloves, allspices, juniper berrie, star anis, vanilla beans, ginger
Herbs and Flowers : hibiscus, lavender, lemongrass, mint, rose, sage
Fruits : citrus peel and dried fruits
Nuts : almonds, pecans, walnuts
Beans : cacao beans, cocoa nibs, coffee beans
It is important to use a high-proof liqour (at least 100 proof). Everclear is widely used. I used 160 proof vodka called Devil's Springs since Everclear was out of stock when I went to the store.
How to Make Bitters
- cutting board, knife and peeler
- measuring cup or measuring spoons
- jars for making tincture (one jar per each botanical tincture you make)
- jars for finished tincture (optional)
- fine-mesh strainer, cheesecloth or coffee filter
- small funnel
- clean bottles for storing bitters
- Put botanicals in a jar and cover with liqour. Although you can mix several different botanicals in the same jar, it looks like everybody recommends to make a jar for each ingredient. 1 part dried botanical to 5 parts liquor, or 1 part fresh botanical to 2 parts liquor is a good proportion.
- Store the jars in a cool and dry place for up to three weeks. Shake the jars once every 1-2 days. Some tincures finish earlier and some take longer. Honestly, this was my first attempt to make bitters and I was not sure how to determine when they were done. I smell checked every 4 - 5 days to learn how the aromas change over-time. You have to learn by doing it. But I think it is hard to fail if you follow the basic rules (i.e. use clean jars, use high proof liquor and so on).
- Once it is ready, use a strainer, cheese cloth or coffee filter to strain out solids into a clean bowl or jars to reserve the infused liqour.
Blending and bottling
You can use a small funnel to blend directly into a bitters bottle or just blend in the small glass or bowl. The amount of each tincure can be anywhere from a few drops to a few onces. You can mix as many tincutures as you would like to create your own flavors. There is no rule!
I tested my blend by adding few drops into a glass of seltzer water (sparkling water or soda water) to taste it. Adjust the blend if it is necessary. My first batch was too heavy on bitter agents. For my second batch, I increased flavor agents way more than the first batch. Don't be afraid and just play with it until you learn your favorite proportion.
If you use a small glass or bowl to blend, transfer your finished bitters to the bitters bottle. Wait at least few days to stablize the flavor.
My First Bitters Blend : Orange Sage Bitters
I created four tinctures to create my first bitter, orange sage bitters.
bitter agents : gentiann root and grape licorice
aromatic and flavor agents : orange peels (from dry and fresh) and fresh sage leaves
Final blend is 0.5 part grape licorice + 0.5 part gentian root + 10 parts orange peels + 20 drops sage
When I compared with store bought bitters, mine does not have as much sweetness to it. I read you can also add some sugar when you make tincture. I may try that next time. Now that I made my first bitters, I will expand the selection of flavors to create more complex bitters.