For part two of the series, I’ll guide you through the satisfying process of making your own bitters at home. With so many cocktail recipes your first consideration should be the type of bitters you wish to make (a sturdy, spiced one for Old-Fashions, say, or Orange bitters to compliment a spectacular Aviation Martini).
There are essentially three basic components to a bitters’ construction – bittering agents, flavoring agents and the spirit you choose as the base. Once you have an idea of the general flavor these other aspects should then come into play accordingly. Angelica root and Gentian root, for example, are two very common bittering agents that may be found with general ease. A local herb or tea shop should also have a promising selection of ingredients should the grocery store prove lacking.
I’ve chosen one that will create a bitters with an encompassing, general use for various cocktails. The recipe comes from Brad Thomas Parsons who wrote a user-friendly book entitled “Bitters.” Here’s the rub (it makes about 20 ounces):
2 tablespoons chopped dried orange peel
Zest of 1 orange, cut into strips with a pairing knife
1/4 cup dried sour cherries
5 green cardamom pods, cracked (gentle pressure from the side of a kitchen blade works well)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped out (use both pod and seed)
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon quassia chips
1/4 teaspoon gentian root
1/2 teaspoon cassia chips
Pinch of dried black walnut leaf
2 cups high-proof rye, or more as needed
1 cup water
2 tablespoons rich simple syrup (With 2 cups of Demerara or turbinado sugar to 1 cup water, bring ingredients to a simmer. As soon as a boil breaks, remove from heat and let cool. Keep refrigerated for up to 1 month.)
All ingredients except rye, water, and simple syrup go into a quart-sized mason jar. Pour in all rye and add more if needed to completely cover ingredients. Seal jar and keep at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 2 weeks, shaking once a day. After 2 weeks, strain liquid through cheesecloth into a clean quart-sized jar. Repeat if necessary until all solids are removed. Cheesecloth may be wrung out for any excess liquid to capture. Cover jar and set aside.
Transfer solids to small saucepan and add water until they are covered. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover pan, lower heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool completely. Once cooled, add entire contents of saucepan to quart-sized mason jar, cover and store out of direct sunlight at room temperature for 1 week.
After 1 week, strain the solids out until completely removed. Add this to the original rye solution. Add rich simple syrup to jar and stir well, then cover jar and shake to fully dissolve syrup. Allow mixture to stand at room temperature for 3 days, skimming off debris that floats to surface once done. Filter through cheesecloth one last time before transferring to bottles of your choosing. The bitters will last indefinitely, but optimum flavor is best enjoyed within one year.
And there you have it! This delicious bitters can be enjoyed in an Aviation Negroni or a more adventurous Aviation Martinez – which is the Gin companion to a Manhattan. And now that you have the basic process down, you can begin to experiment with a variety of flavors.
– Miles Munroe, House Spirits Distiller