Were you one of those people who resolved to drink less in 2016? Or maybe you're determined to avoid a hangover at all costs? Perhaps you're simply just not big on booze but hate sipping on ginger ale at the bar. You're in luck! There is one nearly foolproof solution to this conundrum: bitters.
Comprised of extremely strong-tasting botanicals (think: leaves and twigs), flavoring agents like spices and citrus peel, and high-proof liquor, bitters are more than just that last ingredient in the old fashioned recipe. Think of them like condiments: they may not be necessary, but they can turn an ordinary drink into a truly awesome cocktail. Not to mention they make great hostess gifts.
Bitters are made using a process called "cold maceration," which simply means that the bittering and flavoring agents infuse the alcohol at room temperature over a long period of time (as little as two weeks or up to six months!) as opposed to heating the mixture to speed up the infusion process. This allows for a more delicate flavor infusion.
While there are DIY bitter-making kits for sale from many specialty cocktail and food companies, assembling the ingredients yourself really couldn't be easier and leaves you with infinitely more flavor possibilities. Simply select botanicals, flavors, and your preferred alcohol. Channel your inner scientist and get going!
In terms of liquors, grain alcohol and vodka work best, as they're neutrally flavored, but rum and bourbon will work as well — you'll just want to pay more attention to your flavoring agents to complement the flavors dark alcohol brings into the mix. Regardless, make sure you buy high-proof (100+) bottles. After all, haven't you been looking for an excuse to pick up a bottle of Everclear?
Deciding on flavors can seem daunting, but why not try making a bunch of one- or two-ounce infusions to find what pleases your palate before making larger batches? See the ingredients for suggestions!
The best way to test your bitters to see if they've finished infusing is to pour a few drops on your hands, rub your palms together, and take a sniff. There's no exact length of time to getting a "perfect" concoction — this is a very subjective process! Try testing the bitters after two weeks and then leave them to macerate for up to six months.
Think of bitters as grown-up water-infuser packs. A drop or two instantly excites a glass of plain seltzer or tonic and enhances the flavor of teas and juices. Go a step further and try using bitters outside of the glass. It might seem strange, but throw a few shakes of bitters in the bowl the next time you're whipping up a batch of vanilla frosting or whipped cream — you'll be shocked by how well it works!
For sourcing botanicals, Mountain Rose Herbs is a great choice for bulk organic herbs, but the price can get fairly steep. High Desert Botanicals offers several slightly more affordable bitters kits, even some that come with dropper bottles, which are perfect for displaying bitters on your bar cart! You can also find dropper bottles on Amazon.
- For bitters:
- Botanicals, like angelica root, wormwood, wild cherry bark, birch bark, quassia wood
- Flavoring agents, like cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, star anise, black/white/pink peppercorns, coriander pods, cocoa nibs, coffee beans, citrus peel, dried cherries/cranberries/apples, chili flakes/small dried chillies, lavender, mint, lemongrass, rosemary, sage
- High-proof (100+ proof) grain alcohol, vodka, rum, or bourbon
- Mason jars
- Sticky notes
- Fine mesh sieve
- Dropper bottles (I used 4-ounce bottles)
- For low-intensity bitters "cocktail"
- Club soda or tonic water
- 1/2 ounce pomegranate juice
- Lemon slice
- For the bitters: Run mason jars and dropper bottles through the dishwasher or wash thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Combine equal parts of dried botanicals in a bowl, and pour 4 ounces of liquor into each mason jar. Measure 2 tablespoons botanicals into each jar. Add flavoring agents of your choice by the teaspoon to each jar (I made 3), then seal jar tightly. Give the jars a good shake, then attach a sticky note to each jar that lists the flavor.
- Now comes the hard part: the waiting. Place your jars in a neutral temperature (the liquor cabinet or bar cart shelf is a good spot). Leave your bitters alone for at least 6 days, then check every few days for up to several weeks. Note: if using chillies, I suggest testing the mixture often and removing them after the first 6 days, as they make the bitters extremely spicy!
- When the bitters have reached your desired flavor, strain out the botanicals and flavorings through a fine mesh sieve into a liquid measuring cup.
- Pour strained bitters into dropper bottle and seal. Display front and center on your bar cart!
- For the cocktail: Place a few ice cubes in a highball glass. Fill the glass most of the way full with club soda or tonic water, then add pomegranate juice. Top with a few drops of bitters. Stir gently, and garnish with a lemon slice.
- Drinks, Cocktails