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.
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.
- Fruits & Vegetables
- Fresh and dried fruits and vegetables
- Apple peel
- Chile peppers
- Fresh or dried citrus peel
Spices & Herbs
- Allspice berries
- Caraway, coriander, and fennel seeds
- Cardamom pods
- Cinnamon sticks
- Fresh or dried ginger
- Juniper berries
- Dried lemon verbena
- Dried mint
- Black or white peppercorns
- Star anise
- Vanilla, extract or seeds and pods
- Barberry root
- Burdock root bark
- Black walnut leaf
- Dandelion root
- Gentian root
- Quassia bark
Photo: The Rutman Archive