The first time I saw cardamom bitters on a cocktail menu I was ecstatic. The second time I was amused. The third time I thought to myself, “wait, I should be able to make that.”
Bitters are one of those things that may come off as complicated but are actually relatively simple to make; brewing bitters is really just steeping spices in high-proof alcohol. You have to get the ratios right, and sometimes the ingredients can be a little complex, but the end result is creative and classy, and you turn yourself into a bit of a cocktail connoisseur.
Although we think of them as cocktail necessities, bitters go back to the times when certain alcohols were marketed as medicines. Angostura bitters, one of the most popular brands of bitters, was first made in Venezuela by a German physician and used as a cure for sea sickness and stomach issues. Since then bitters have obviously gone on to bigger and brighter things.
Once a staple in the at home bar, bitters fell off the radar for a while, but are back with a vengeance with the resurgence in classic cocktails, like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. Instead of buying your own bitters, make your own. This allows for a bit of creativity, so you really can start bottling your cardamom/fennel infusion and making your own cocktail recipes out of it. Here are some basics to making your own bitters.
Choose a high-proof alcohol
Depending on which bitter recipe you refer to, you will find anything from Everclear to rum to vodka to bourbon. It all depends on what type of a taste you are going for.
Allow for time
Because you are steeping ingredients, you will not make bitters overnight. Depending on the recipe, you will need to let the ingredients sit for about a week to 25 days.
Source good ingredients
If you use old spices, you won’t get the same results. Make sure you select high quality roots, herbs, and spices to play with. When else do you have the chance to mess around with ingredients like wormwood and quassia bark?
Have jars on hand
When letting your bitters sit and infuse, they will need to be in sealable jars. In other words, make sure you have some mason jars on hand.
Go beyond the cocktail
Bitters don’t have to be reserved for the cocktail glass. You can also use them in cooking, salad dressings and more. Get creative!
Recipes to start with
- Grapefruit bitters are so easy that you will be hard pressed to buy them again.
- Basic aromatic bitters are a good start for anyone looking to build up their home bar.
- Jacob Grier’s recipe for coffee bitters is a must-have, and you get to choose which coffee you use (don’t skimp on the quality of course).
- Hellfire bitters if you’re in the mood to make a bitter with chili and espresso beans and end up with one intense cocktail.
- Cocoa bitters if you are a chocolate fiend.