As many of you may know, crafting specialty cocktails is one of our favorite pastimes – now we are trying our hand at blending botanicals. From the medicine cabinet to the bar, bitters have a long history of curing ailments and flavoring cocktails.
Bitters are simply a combination of botanicals that provide aroma and flavor with bitter-tasting agents such as barks, leaves, and/or roots.
Use a high-proof liquor — at least 100 proof or 50% alcohol by volume (ABV). We like to experiment with flavorful spirits, such as Bourbon and/or Rum.For more neutral flavors use grain alcohol such as Everclear or vodka.
We have opted for 101 Wild Turkey Bourbon for this experiment.
Start With Bittering Agents:
First, you will need a bittering agent, these include plants like angelica root, barberry root, black walnut leaf, burdock root, calamus root, cinchona bark, citrus peel, dandelion root and leaf, devil’s club root, gentian root, ginger root, horehound, licorice root, mugwort, orris root, quassia bark, sarsaparilla, wild cherry bark, and wormwood.
We have opted to use gentian root & ginger root.
Adding Aromas and Flavoring Agents:
These additions help round out the bitters and may include herbs, spices, flowers, fruits, or nuts. This is where your creativity kicks in, you can combine any aromas and flavors that may entice your palate.
Try using whole ingredients whenever possible rather than ground variations. Whole ingredients are easier to strain out and can be used in more ways (crushed, chopped or cracked, etc). (Side note, I felt like Harry Potter in the Half Blood Prince, “the Sopophorous bean should be crushed with a silver dagger, not cut.” – Yes I used this technique and crushed many of the spices).
- Beans – cacao beans, cocoa nibs, coffee beans
- Fruits – fresh or dried citrus peel such as, lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit (make sure you only use the peel and do not include the white-rind, your bitters will be extra bitter), dried fruit like apples, cherries, figs, raisins.
- Herbs & Flowers – chamomile, hibiscus, hops, lavender, lemongrass, mint, rose, rosemary, sage, thyme, yarrow
- Nuts – toasted almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.
- Spices – allspice, aniseed, caraway, cardamom, cassia, celery seed, chiles, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel, ginger, juniper berries, nutmeg, peppercorns, star anise, vanilla bean.
We’ve opted to use orange peel, clove, star anise, cardamon, & cinnamon; an excellent blend for holiday bitters.
- Start by combining all of your ingredients into a mason jar. *Some have used individual jars to create an infusion of each flavor so that they may mix and match flavors. We have chosen to simply combine all of the flavors at once.
- Ingredients & Measurements: Generally, I put 10 seeds of cardamon (this is where you, like HP, crush the seeds slightly), 10 star anise seeds (not the full star anise, I took each individual seed out of the shell), 2 sticks of cinnamon, 5 cloves, orange peel – half of an orange (peeled, removed the white rind, and dried), and one small ginger root peeled and cut into slivers. We also found gentian root extract, I used 15-20 drops for one mason jar.
- Keep your infusion in a relatively dark and dry place. Shake daily.
- Infusion takes a different amount of time depending on the botanical used. Smell and sample each jar on a regular basis until the primary ingredient is strongly conveyed.