Want to take your home bar repertoire to the next level? Go on, time to go all in, produce your own bitters and mix up a truly home grown Manhattan or old fashioned for NYE.
Bitters are a type of infused alcohol (high proof), with flavors derived from plants, barks and herbs. Originally brewed for medicinal purposes they evolved into flavorful additions to cocktails, via the classic brands Peychauds and Angostura, both of which rely heavily on gentian (a bitter herb for flavoring). Peychauds and Angostura should be at most bars, but also worth a check are the innovative and numerous options from Fee brothers (black walnut, peach, grapefruit to name a few). Or, of course, brew your own!
"People say bitters are the salt and pepper of the bar, but really, they're like the spice rack," says Brad Thomas Parsons
Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-all (by Parsons) is a great in depth look at the evolution of bitters, crammed with recipes, facts, and tips- it is an interesting and helpful guide for the home barkeep who wants a little history with their cocktail. I however, bought this after my initial batch was produced (instead using the recipes here, via Food & Wine).
The hardest thing about producing my own bitters? Actually tracking down all the barks and herbs necessary. Most of the recipes repeat the same base ingredients though, so your initial effort will be rewarded with infinite possibilities. I was able to obtain most of the ingredients through Amazon, though the quantities were rather large (and I'm sure my mailman thinks I'm involved in some kind of mail order "herb" business with all the medicinal packages I received lately).
Other than that, one just needs a lot of patience to allow the bitters to sit and do their work! Three weeks later and I was able to bottle the final product, just in time for some holiday gifting. I included copies of the cocktail recipes I have been shaking up lately, that make use of the bitters.
- 1 orange wedge
- 13 cranberries
- Three 1-inch pieces crystallized ginger— 2 minced and 1 whole for garnish
- 2 ounces Aperol
- 1 ounce Lillet Blanc
- 4 ounces hard cider
- 4 dashes Cranberry-Anise Bitters or Peychaud's bitters
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the orange wedge with 10 of the cranberries and the minced ginger. Add the Aperol, Lillet Blanc, bitters and ice. Shake well. Double-strain the drink into an ice-filled Collins glass and top off with the hard cider. Garnish with the 3 remaining cranberries and the slice of ginger skewered on a toothpick.
- 2 ounces bourbon
- 1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
- 1/2 tablespoon simple syrup (see Note)
- 4 dashes Figgy-Orange Bittersor Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6
- Nutmeg, grated
In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine the bourbon, Punt e Mes, orange juice, simple syrup and bitters. Shake well. Strain the drink into a chilled coupe. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
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Supplemental info, check out other posts in the Build a Better Bar Cart Series: