I have slowly been building a little bar cabinet of sorts over the past couple years, and while we have most of the basic liquors needed to make most mixed drinks, we do not have any bitters. Bitters are very concentrated liquor flavorings that are added to cocktails to give them deeper and more complex flavors. They used to be used as medicinal tonics back in the day, but slowly became more a part of a bartender’s cabinet than a doctor’s. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a large set, and I was very interested in making my own so that I could have more control over the types of bitters I had, so I did some internet research and found a very detailed article about making bitters here from a Lexington newspaper.
Essentially, bitters contain three flavor components: a dried bitter root or bark, dried fruits or vegetables, and dried spices or herbs. I got my bitter root and bark ingredients from Mountain Rose Herbs, which I would recommend since you can get all three types of bitters used in this recipe from them and they’re very affordable. The rest of the ingredients can be purchased at normal grocery stores or made at home by drying out various sliced fruits or vegetables on a baking sheet in the oven at very low heat.
There are two main steps to making bitters. The first step is to extract the flavors out of your ingredients by soaking them in a high proof vodka. This is the step I go over in this post, but you can skip this step for some of the ingredients by buying actual extracts of them in the baking isle at most markets, like lemon extract or orange extract. You can also find ready-made extracts for some of the bitters and many, many types of herbs at Mountain Rose Herbs’ website. The extraction process takes about 1 week for dried bitter roots/bark and dried herbs and spices, and about 4 weeks for dried fruits and dried vegetables. The second step, which I will go over in another post, is to experiment with combining different extracts to create your mix of bitters. For example, one of the bitters I am going to try to make will be geared towards complimenting Bloody Marys, and it will contain a mix of celery extract, chile extract, and fenugreek extract. This is where the process will get creative, so have fun and feel free to come up with a bitter blend that compliments your specific tastes.
I am making these for myself and Jeremy, but I think they would make great Christmas gifts, or even bridesmaid or groomsmen gifts. You could make each person their own custom bitter made up of flavors that you know the person enjoys, or make one with flavors that would compliment their favorite cocktail.
I will post Part II in another couple weeks (click here for Part II), in the meantime you can start getting your extracts a-brewing!
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lime Zest, dried
Once all your extracts are ready, continue to Part II.