how to craft your own bitters

I am still not quite ready to write a triumphant welcome to 2014, but I will wish you all a very happy new year!  Like last year, I am still recuperating from a busy holiday season at the restaurant.  It seriously takes a good two weeks into the new year for me to even begin thinking about resolutions, but when I do, it is game-on.  And I really have some high hopes for this upcoming year!

I have been riding alongside the bitters bandwagon for a couple of years, but after a visit to a magical store in Portland this past October and bringing home several bottles of craft bitters, I have been obsessed with adding bitters to almost anything I am sipping.  I began my latest batches of cocktail bitters about a month ago, and after shaking them each day and tasting along the way, they are ready for bottling and enjoying.  While I do have my favorites {DRAM, Fee Brothers, and Bob’s}, I find that crafting my own bitters is creatively rewarding and makes a thoughtful handmade gift for the cocktail aficionado.

What exactly are bitters?  Bitters are a concentrated cocktail additive that balances a cocktail and adds a potent, aromatic, flavorful punch.  Most bitters contain some combination of herbs, spices, roots, or fruits, which are infused into a neutral base spirit, such as grain alcohol.  Many cocktails call for the use of bitters, and with the rise of the classic cocktail movement, bitters have, once again, taken center stage.

Grapefruit + Rosemary Bitters

  • 1 cup grain alcohol
  • peels from one organic grapefruit
  • 2 sprigs organic rosemary
  • simple syrup, optional

Tangerine + Spice Bitters

  • 1 cup grain alcohol
  • Peels from one organic orange or tangerine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 5 or so whole allspice
  • simple syrup, optional

Steps:

  1. Wash and peel citrus.
  2. Coarsely chop the peels.
  3. Combine all ingredients and pour into a mason jar.
  4. Cover and set in a cool, dark place, such as a cellar or a cabinet.
  5. Store for three to four weeks, shaking jar daily and tasting along the way for desired potency.  Remember that bitters are added to cocktails in small doses; they are intended to be intensely flavored.
  6. Once the flavors have incorporated and infused, line a sieve or chinois with a coffee filter or cheesecloth and strain into a jar.
  7. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into desired storage vessel.  I have found the most adorable bottles here, here, and here.
  8. Begin creating cocktails and experimenting with your bitters!  Bitters last almost indefinitely, but the flavors and aromas tend to fade after a year.

How have I incorporated my bitters?

  • Tangerine + Spice in a Negroni
  • Tangerine + Spice with hot black tea
  • Tangerine + Spice in an Old Fashioned
  • Grapefruit + Rosemary with gin, a little simple syrup, soda, lemon, on the rocks
  • Grapefruit + Rosemary in an Aperol Spritz
  • Grapefruit + Rosemary bitters in iced tea

Making bitters is almost foolproof, and the opportunities for creativity are endless.  Here are some links I came across that have some interesting twists on bitters-making:

  • A thorough breakdown on bitters-crafting, via the Kitchn
  • A uniquely made grapefruit bitters using lavender and rum, via Serious Eats
  • Grapefruit bitters using one of my favorite cocktail components, Campari, via Chow
  • Cranberry anise bitters, via Food and Wine
  • Orange ginger bitters, via Williams-Sonoma
  • Bitters inspiration and a pretty amazing “delicious apothecary” kitchen, via From Scratch Club
  • …and if you truly want to geek out, read The Drunken Botanist

Cheers to a more self-made, craftier, do-it-yourself, experimental, and daringly creative new year!  I would love to know of any links or recipes you’ve found helpful, if you’ve ever made bitters.  How do you incorporate bitters into drinks, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic?  And, if you ever get the chance to visit The Meadow in Portland, you will never be the same.  I think this store has every variety of some of my most favorite things, all under one roof:  walls and walls of chocolate bars, fresh flowers, exotic salts, and bitters.  Oh, to open up a shop like this one!

10 thoughts on “how to craft your own bitters

  1. stevesteese

    Happy New Year!! Nice work on the tangerine and spice bitters, i’m enjoying them in some black tea at this very moment. I’m looking forward to seeing, trying, and enjoying all of your creations in the year to come!

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    1. jayme marie Post author

      So happy you are using the bitters with tea! I would add some honey, too. The tangerine + spice bitters are my favorite. On to brandied cherries and barrel-aged cocktails! Thanks, Steve! XO!

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  4. Kenzie Perry

    I’ve never made bitters before, but I have a cocktail recipe which calls for black tea bitter. What kind of grain alcohol do you use? Can you please suggest one? Will any vodka do? And would you suggest I heat the tea back first (without water) so I can steep in the alcohol? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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    Reply
    1. Jayme Henderson Post author

      Sorry for the slight delay, Kenzie. It’s been quite the crazy weekend. You can make black tea bitters by infusing the grain alcohol with the black tea, either loose-leaf or a few black tea packets. No need to brew any. I usually go with Everclear or Stoli 100-proof. I haven’t made black tea bitters before, but that is the method I’d take. Did you end up giving it a go??

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      1. Kenzie Perry

        Actually, I didn’t give it a go. After doing some research, I found out that bitters need to macerate for weeks amd unfortunately, I don’t have the time to wait until it’s ready. I’m making a signature cocktail that I need to taste and determine if I like it for my housewarming party which is happening in 2 weeks. So I just ordered a black bitter from Dram, since you’ve used their products before. Perhaps I will try and make my own bitters in the future. Thanks for responding. Much appreciated.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jayme Henderson Post author

        Yeah, the time factor is a big one. It’s not something that happens overnight. DRAM is my favorite bitters producer. Shae, the owner, is amazing, and she foraged everything herself or sources it from great, er, “sources” {for lack of a better word!}. Hope your cocktail turns out great! Her Hair of the Dog bitters is amazing, btw. 😘

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