Recently I was invited to a holiday party that included the traditional gift swap. However, being that I live in Minneapolis and Hipster-itis is an epidemic here, all gifts were highly encouraged to be homemade. Being that my latest batch of wine, a Syrah, is months from being ready, I opted to make some bitters, because when one doesn’t have wine, cocktails are a nice alternative.
First off, what are bitters exactly? Bitters is an umbrella term for any alcohol infused with botanicals which leave the end result tasting rather…bitter; bittersweet on occasion. At your local trendy cocktail establishment, you’ll see a lot of them are making their own bitters in a variety of flavors and a few dashes of any particular one will show up on a high number of drinks on the cocktail menu. However, if you want to appear cool (Like, really cool) when you’re out to eat at a fancy establishment, forgo the post-meal coffee and ask for a bitters to settle the stomach. On multiple occasions, I’ve had waiters thank me for ordering a bitters because, and I quote: “[they] don’t see that much anymore.” Even if you don’t like it, you’ll at least get some street cred with the waitstaff, so that’s something.
The homemade bitters that I made were more geared towards cocktails and here’s how you can make your own. First, you’ll need a spirit as your base. For starters, use a neutral grain alcohol. If you have no idea what that is, just grab a high proof vodka or Everclear. This will be the only time it is socially acceptable to buy Everclear.
Next you’ll need to decide what flavors of bitters you want to make. You can scour the internet for some or use the ingredients that I did for the 3 types I made as follows. Ingredients are listed in descending order of their presence in the blend:
Orange Bitters: Orange peel, chicory root, cardamom, coriander, clove, allspice
Lavender Bitters: Lavender, orange peel, coriander, vanilla, ginger
Caraway Bitters: Caraway seeds, orange peel, coriander, celery salt, vanilla
There was approximately 2-3 tablespoons of total ingredients in the 6oz of spirit I infused.
After that you just let them sit while giving them a shake once a day for at least a week. The longer you let them sit, the stronger the flavor will be (up to a point). Once the intensity is to your liking, strain the infusing agents out of the bitters and bottle them up. I used eye dropper bottles because I’m fancy.
And of course I would be remise if I didn’t include cocktail recipes for the bitters you just made.
The Old Fashioned
- 1 sugar cube
- 6 drops orange bitters
- Splash of club soda
- 2 oz rye whiskey
- Orange peel for spritz and garnish
The Old Fashioned is a drink you build, meaning you just throw it all in a glass. First place the sugar cube in and put 6 drops of bitters on it. Once it softens a bit, muddle it up and spread it around the glass. Toss a large ice cube in (or ice sphere for extra points) the glass. Then dump in your whiskey followed by the splash of club soda. Spritz that orange peel and/or rub it around the rim and toss it in the glass as well.
The Very Fine Italian Greyhound
- 3oz grapefruit juice
- 2oz vodka
- 8 drops caraway bitters
- 1/2 oz simple syrup (or just an equivalent dash of sugar)
- pinch of salt
The Very Fine Italian Greyhound is a stirred drink which requires a glass full of ice purely for stirring. Throw all of the ingredients into the stirring glass and stir for at least 10 seconds. Strain the contents into your drinking glass which will preferably be a coupe, but a copper mug is fine if you’re into that sort of thing.
- 2 oz gin
- 1/2 oz white vermouth
- 3 drops lavender bitters
The Wisp is a shaken drink which means you’re required to exert some physical effort. Throw some ice into your shaker along with all of the ingredients. Close up the shaker and shake it like you mean it for 10 seconds. Strain into a coupe or martini glass.