Help me become a person who makes bitters.
August 6, 2018 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Infusing vodka with interestingly-flavored things makes me happy, but I don't actually drink it that often. After a friend who doesn't drink told me about the joys of putting bitters in soda water, I decided making my own bitters is the answer to doing this and actually consuming what I make. I've never made bitters - have you?

If I'm making cocktails, alcoholic or otherwise, I go toward flavors that are sour, spicy, or involve unusual or savory herbs and lean less toward sweet. Give me some delicious recipes you've actually tasted or better yet, made!
posted by centrifugal to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Serious Eats has a variety of bitters recipes. I made their cherry bitters for some Christmas gifts last year, and I loved the way they turned out. They did require some ingredients (quassia bark, gentian root) that I had to order online, but they were super easy to make. It's a longish infusion process.
posted by linettasky at 7:42 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I read this book, made a couple of the ones listed therein, and have since been basically winging it. Once you get a handle on the general concept I'm not sure recipes are really necessary unless you need to replicate things.
posted by aramaic at 7:46 PM on August 6, 2018

Qualifications: I've made bitters a few different times, and got gifted a 'how to make bitters' class once.

Here's what I would recommend:

1. Go to a neighborhood grocery store where there are a lot of herbs, spices, and teas. Wander around, buying a bit of everything that you like smelling. Make sure to buy some actual bittering botanicals*.
2. Buy as many glass jars as items you bought in 1.
3. Buy a bunch of high-proof alcohol
3. Put the items in the jars. cover with alcohol.
4. Wait 2-6 weeks. Try not to forget about the jars. Put them somewhere cool, and away from the light.
5. Taste each jar individually. Mix them at you see fit.

You can find different recipes on the internet, but this is a way to move forward that is fun (smelling things is fun, as is deciding what smells you like - you can even bring a date). It's also informative, because you can individually taste each extract, which will really tell you what it tastes like (which would be harder in a mix of many different ingredients).

* Examples include: quassia, milk thistle, gentian, lavender, barberry root bark, birch leaf and dandelion leaf
posted by justalisteningman at 7:52 PM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Make separate tinctures for each flavor you want to combine to make your bitters rather than trying to combine them from the get-go. This avoids ruining an entire batch if you combine them and it turns out to be the wrong ratio or you have a bad ingredient.
posted by Candleman at 8:43 PM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Before you make a recipe, I'd advise looking pretty hard at any ingredients you're not familiar with, particularly the bittering agents. I understand that there are some recipes floating around that aren't very safe. Personally, I wouldn't want to use anything that didn't have Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status.

Enough cinchona bark can make you pretty sick, especially if you're less than perfectly persnickety with your filtering. I wouldn't mess with tobacco either, myself. There are plenty of other bittering agents that are not notably tricky: dandelion root, gentian, and good old citrus peels, for instance.
posted by sculpin at 9:20 PM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

You might enjoy using the instant infusion process for this! By using a whipped cream maker to pressurize your ingredients, it takes only about a minute to create an infusion that otherwise might take weeks. This process also produces a very pure, clear, intense flavor, and you can get an infusion out of very delicate ingredients that wouldn't do well with an extended soak. As suggested above, you could create small batches of a whole bunch of different flavors, which you could then mix to taste to make your bitters. The folks who wrote that instant infusion article have tried all kinds of stuff, including fresh basil, fresh parsley, star anise, sliced jalapenos, sliced ginger, citrus zest, bay leaves, sliced carrot, cocoa nibs, and others. I've personally tried and enjoyed instant infusions of coffee, cucumber, various fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, lemon balm, others), peppercorns, and all kinds of other stuff.

For your bittering agent, there are a few I've used that I don't see already listed in this thread: angelica, burdock, and hops. Definitely skip the cinchona bark unless you really plan to do your research on safety.

Finally: I once had some homemade mushroom bitters that were freakin' delicious. I don't know what exactly was in them or how to replicate it, but it seems like an interesting thing to experiment with!
posted by ourobouros at 7:39 AM on August 7, 2018

Allspice dram!

It's easy, cheap, and foolproof. I've seen some people add quite a lot of cinnamon and/or sugar to theirs but I keep it pretty basic: 4:1 dark rum to allspice berries (cracked open) by volume. 2 weeks in a dark pantry. Add one cinnamon stick and let sit another few days. Strain, add brown sugar to taste (or skip it), and bottle. We've also made straight allspice extract with vodka instead of rum; it's versatile in cooking.

Makes a fantastic Lion's Tale, which is perhaps my favorite bourbon cocktail of late.
posted by introp at 8:07 PM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

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