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Everything you need to know about DIY Cocktail Bitters

Cocktail Bitters History

Bitters have been made by many cultures all around the world. The oldest known mention of bitters are from the Ancient Egyptians, making herbal wine infusions. The herbs included in bitters were traditionally chosen based on their pharmaceutical applications, and to aid digestion. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, cocktails came into fashion in England, with bitters making a star appearance. Angostura Bitters, the classic Old Fashioned cocktail bitters, were created by Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert in Venezuela in 1824 as a cure for seasickness and stomach pain, but quickly became a classic cocktail ingredients.

Making Cocktail Bitters

For the best flavor expression, you will need 100 proof liquor. We recommend using a neutral spirit with 150-proof or higher. You can also play around with other high proof alcohols, such as 151-proof rum, 101-proof bourbon, or vodkas as long as they are at least 50 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Spirits that are 75% ABV needs to be watered down to make it a more palpable 50 percent alcohol by volume. This adds another step to your process, but you end up saving money because you use less alcohol, and high ABV liquors usually extract faster and more efficiently..

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We recommend crushing all the spices that are easy to do, such as cloves, cardamom, caraway seeds, black peppercorns, coriander and juniper berries. This helps release the oils to bring out the flavors. You can crush them with a mortar and pestle or the bottom of a heavy glass on a cutting board. Put the dry ingredients in a jar with the spirits and let sit for at least a week, usually 7-10 days. If you are experimenting with dried fruit, this could be more like 2-3 weeks. If you are using nuts, remove the shells because they contain a lot of tannins which can over-power your flavors. Fresh ingredients such as fruit or herbs usually reach maximum potency within 3 or 4 days. Shake the jar once a day. It’s recommended to check your bitters every couple days– it’s ready whenever you decide the flavors are strong enough. The flavor will get increasingly bitter, so be wary of letting it sit too long. Some people prefer to infuse all of the spices separately, but we found that steeping them all together allows the flavors to blend. It is not recommended to use ground spices instead of whole. We use gentian root as our primary bittering agent, however many other traditional bittering agents can be used such as black walnut leaf, cinchona or quassia bark, calamus or dandelion root, catechu, wormwood, and angelica root. Also, many other better known bitter ingredients can be substituted including coffee, cocoa nibs, hops, black or green tea. Some people like adding sugar to their bitters, but we found it wasn’t necessary. Try experimenting with adding sweet flavors if you are interested.  

 

Strain the botanical additions out of the liquid, if the cheesecloth isn’t fine enough, try using a coffee filter. All of recipes are made to fit in the provided 5 oz bottles, and since they last so long, we figured you don’t need much more than that. If stored in a cool, dark place, bitters can last for years, but we recommend using them within a year.

 

Traditional Bitters

Makes One 5 oz bottle

1 teaspoon gentian root

 

2 pieces dried orange peel

1 cinnamon stick

2 cardamom pods, crushed

4 cloves, crushed

 

You will need:

A mason jar with a tight fitting lid (at least 8 oz)

4 oz (about 1/2 cup) of high ABV spirits or 6 oz (about ¾ cup) vodka or other spirits with 50% alcohol per volume

 

Clean a mason jar well.

 

Crush the cardamom and the cloves in a mortar and pestle or with a heavy glass. The cinnamon sticks are very hard and do not need to be cut. If there are some flavors you would like to highlight or downplay, feel free to improvise. It is recommended to take notes so you can tailor the recipe specifically to your tastes in future batches.

 

Place the spices in the bottom of jar and pour the alcohol over it. Close the jar and give your bitters a good shake.

 

Place your bitters in a cool dark place. Shake your bitters every day, or whenever you remember.

 

Sample the bitters every couple days. When the flavor is to your liking, strain the botanicals out of the alcohol using the cheesecloth. We let ours sit for about 10 days.

 

If using High ABV spirits:

Do not throw the spices away. Place the spices in 1 cup of water and bring to a boil for half an hour, or until the water changes color and becomes fragrant. Boil with the lid on, so the water won’t evaporate. Let the mixture cool. Strain the solids out of your water.

 

Mix the strained spirits with the strained water in a 1:1 ratio. The bottle provided is 5 oz, so this will be about ⅓ of a cup of each to fill the bottle. This helps dilute the spirit to about 40-50% alcohol by volume, so you can focus on the flavors of the spices, not the alcohol.

 

If using Vodka, or other spirits with a lower alcohol content:

You do not have to add water. Move on to the next step.

 

With the help of the funnel, put your bitters in the provided bottles, label and enjoy! If you are not happy with the clarity of your bitters, you can strain it through the cheesecloth or a coffee filter a final time.

Store your bitters in a cool, dark place.

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Cocktail Bitters Recipes

Classic Orange Bitters

1 1/2 tablespoons dried orange peel, about 5 pieces

½ teaspoon gentian root

¼ teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed

1 anise star

4 cloves, crushed

 

Lavender Bitters

2 teaspoons dried lavender

½ teaspoon gentian root

4 juniper berries, crushed

½ teaspoon coriander, crushed

 

Ginger Bitters

2 teaspoons dried ginger root

½ teaspoon gentian root

2 dried orange peels

½ teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed

 

Cardamom Bitters

1 ½ teaspoons cardamom pods, about 7-8, crushed

½ teaspoon gentian root

1 stick cinnamon

¼ teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed

 

Smoky Chipotle Bitters

2 Chipotle Peppers, chopped

½ teaspoon gentian root

¼ teaspoon peppercorns, crushed

¼ teaspoon coriander, crushed

 

When chopping the chipotle peppers, you may choose to leave out the seeds if you would like your bitters less spicy.

 

Cocktail Recipes

 

Manhattan

 

2 oz rye whiskey or bourbon

1 oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes Traditional Bitters

1 Maraschino cherry

 

In a short glass, combine bourbon, vermouth and Traditional Bitters over ice. Add the maraschino cherry and crush against side of the glass with a spoon.

 

Bitters Mojito

 

2 oz White Rum

1 teaspoon sugar

Juice of one lime (2 oz)

4 mint leaves, plus extra sprig for garnish

2 dashes Traditional Bitters

2 oz Club Soda

 

Place the mint leaves in a tall glass (such as Collins or Highball) and squeeze lime over. Add sugar and muddle. Do not strain the mixture out.  Add crushed ice, rum, bitters and stir. Top off with Club Soda and garnish with mint sprig.

 

Lavender Champagne Cocktail

 

5 oz Champagne or Sparkling White Wine

1 Sugar Cube

3-4 dashes Lavender Bitters

Lemon Peel for Garnish

 

In a champagne flute, soak sugar cube with Lavender Bitters. Slowly fill glass with champagne. Gently crush the lemon peel over the glass to release oils and drop in for garnish. Enjoy!

 

Lavender Lemonade (Hard or Non-Alcoholic)

 

Makes 8-10 Servings

 

6 lemons, juiced with peel saved for garnish

1 cup sugar

2 cups vodka (or substitute with water for Non-Alcoholic version)

2-3 tablespoons Lavender Bitters (Around 24-36 Dashes), plus more to taste

⅓ cup water, plus 8 cups

 

Mix sugar and ⅓ cup water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is completely mixed in. Take off heat and let cool. Combine sugar syrup and remaining ingredients in a pitcher with ice. Try the lemonade and add more ingredients to taste. Garnish each glass with lemon peel.

 

Dark and Stormy with Ginger Bitters

 

2 oz Dark Rum

5 oz Ginger Beer (Not Ginger Ale)

3 dashes Ginger Bitters, plus more to taste

Lime Wedge for Garnish

 

Fill a highball with ice and the ginger beer. Gently pour the rum to fill the glass, the rum will remain in a separate layer until mixed, thus giving the name “Dark and Stormy”. Finish with bitters and lime wedge garnish.

 

Cardamom Old Fashioned

 

2 oz whiskey (rye or bourbon)

1 teaspoon simple syrup

2 dashes Cardamom Bitters

Fresh orange peel for garnish

Maraschino Cherry for garnish

 

In an old-fashioned glass, mix simple syrup and Cardamom Bitters. Gently roll the orange peel over the glass to release oils. Add a whiskey and a large ice cube. Drop in the orange peel and cherry.

 

Orange Bitters Martini

2 oz gin

½ oz dry vermouth

2 dashes Classic Orange Bitters

olive for garnish

 

Combine gin, vermouth and bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, strain into chilled martini glass, and garnish with olive.

 

Chipotle Bloody Mary

1½ oz vodka

¾ cup tomato vegetable juice (V-8)

2 dashes Smoky Chipotle Bitters

2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon sea salt

pepper to taste

1 stalk celery

2 stuffed olives

Ice cubes

 

Salt the rim of a highball or other tall glass by wetting with a damp cloth and pressing into a plate of sea salt. Fill glass with ice. In cocktail mixer, combine ice, vodka, tomato juice, lemon juice, bitters, Worcestershire Sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Shake and strain into glass. Garnish with the stalk of celery and olives stuck on a toothpick.

 

Bitters Vinaigrette

 

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

6 dashes bitters (about ½ tablespoon, Traditional or Orange suggested)

½ teaspoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard

Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Stir sugar into lemon juice. Whisk in mustard, bitters, salt and pepper and olive oil.

 

Bitters Marinade -for use with about 1 ½ pounds of meat or vegetables

 

2 tablespoons vinegar (red or white wine, apple cider or balsamic)

1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard

1-2 crushed garlic cloves

¼ cup olive oil

6 dashes bitters (about ½ tablespoon, Traditional, Orange or Chipotle suggested)

Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Add ingredients in a ziploc bag, and shake to combine. Add your choice of meat or vegetables. Reseal and let sit for 2-3 hours, shaking occasionally, or freeze for up to 2 weeks.

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