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!
DIY Bitters: Part I
- 48 ounces of Vodka 100 to 140 proof (I used 100 proof because that was the highest I could find)
- 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Gentian Root
- 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Orris Root
- 1/2 Teaspoon Quassia Bark
- 1 Dried Date pit removed and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
- 5 Thinly Sliced Dried Apple Slices
- 1 Stalk of Celery thinly sliced and dried
- 1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lime Zest dried
- 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon or 1 stick
- 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
- 1/4 Teaspoon Ancho Chile Powder
- 1/4 Teaspoon Fenugreek
- 1/2 Teaspoon Cardamom Pods
- 12 4 Ounce Mason Jars, sterilized (these are the ones I bought)
- 12 4 Ounce Brown Glass Bottles with Dropper Lids (these are the ones I bought, and you won't need these until Part II)
- Place each of your ingredients in its own sterilized mason jar, add vodka until there is only 1/4 inch of headspace left at the top of the jar. Seal it tightly with its lid and immediately label the top of the jar with the ingredient that is inside of it and the date that the extraction will be complete (7-10 days for dried bark, dried roots, dried spices, and dried herbs; 21-28 days for dried fruits and vegetables.)
- Once the extraction process is complete, you will need to filter out the items whose flavor you have just extracted. If you are filtering out ground herbs and spices, use a rubber band to fasten 2 sheets of a very clean piece of cheesecloth over an empty sterilized mason jar. If you are filtering out whole objects like dried fruits, vegetables, bark, and seed pods, you can just use a clean metal sieve. If you are using cheesecloth, pull some extra fabric out from under the rubber band so you can create a little bowl in the jar. Empty your extract into the jar, remove your straining equipment, discard the items that have been filtered out, and pour the liquid back into its original 4 ounce mason jar container. Seal tightly and set aside until all your extractions are complete. If you are using only one jar to strain out all the extracts, make sure you rinse out the jar and then place the jar in a hot water bath for 5 minutes between straining sessions to keep it clean, sterile, and free of the flavors of the other extracts.
- Once all your extracts are ready, continue to Part II.
Note: These are just the ingredients I used to make the flavors I enjoy, do not feel limited by them. Feel free to use similar measurements of whatever dried herbs, spices, dried fruits, and dried vegetables you like!
Requires 1-4 weeks for extractions