DIY Bitters

Use your garden as inspiration to create this aromatic cocktail essential.

September 19, 2012

Of all the things that have come out of our revitalized passion for classic cocktails, a renewed love for bitters is by far the most intriguing. An explosion of bitters has hit the market in the past few years, including classics Angostura and Peychaud’s as well as modern creations such as the Xocolatl Mole from Brooklyn-based Bittermens and Organic Baked Apple Bitters from Bar Keep in Los Angeles.

A combination of alcohol, herbs, spices, and other flavorings, bitters were once marketed as patent medicines. And although some people still take a nip of bitters after a heavy meal to aid digestion, now they are mainly used to add depth of flavor and a mysterious hint of botanical wizardry to drinks.

Bitters are composed of three parts: the alcoholic base, aromatic flavors, and bittering agents. Many of the aromatics can come from your garden, but others, like spices, will need to be sourced from your local market and bittering agents from a mail-order company, such as Mountain Rose Herbs.

When selecting the alcohol to use as your base, make sure it is high proof (150 to 160 proof) in order to extract and preserve maximum flavor (you use only a tiny dash of bitters in each drink, so the amount of alcohol consumed is minimal). Deciding on the flavor profile is the fun part. Test by steeping the botanicals in boiling water for 5 to 15 minutes. It won’t be an exact match, but the resulting tea will provide a better sense of the final taste.

Basic Bitters


Before Starting, decide on a flavor profile and then select the appropriate "main" aromatics to achieve it. Next, mix, shake, wait, and enjoy!


  • 1/4-1/2 cup main aromatics (use larer amount if using produce)
  • 1-4 tablespoons supporting aromatics (choose 2 to 5)
  • 1-4 tablespoons bittering agents (choose 2 to 4)
  • 1 cup high-proof alcohol
  • 1 tablespoon sugar dissolved in 2 teaspoons water


1. Place the aromatics and bittering agents in a canning jar and add the alcohol. Seal the jar and shake thoroughly. Store at room temperature. Shake the jar and taste daily, for up to 21 days.

2. When the desired flavor is achieved, strain through a funnel lined with cheesecloth into a clean jar. Repeat as needed to remove any remaining debris. Stir in the dissolved sugar.

3. Securely close jar and store at room temperature. Use in cocktails, soda water, coffee, tea, and almost any sweet or savory dish. Best used within a year.

Mix-and-Match Flavors

Aromatic Flavors

Dried Flowers

  • Hibiscus
  • Hops
  • Lavender
  • Rose

Spices & Herbs

  • Allspice berries
  • Caraway, coriander, and fennel seeds
  • Cardamom pods
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Fresh or dried ginger
  • Juniper berries
  • Lemongrass
  • Dried lemon verbena
  • Dried mint
  • Black or white peppercorns
  • Star anise
  • Vanilla, extract or seeds and pods


Bittering Agents

  • Barberry root
  • Burdock root bark
  • Black walnut leaf
  • Dandelion root
  • Gentian root
  • Quassia bark
  • Wormwood

Photo: The Rutman Archive

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