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BittersInfusing

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.

BittersIngredients

 

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.

BittersPackaging

 

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.

The Wisp

  • 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.

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The start of fall marks a very important moment in the year where the leaves begin turning, the nights and mornings are crisp and cool, and the sweaters come out of storage.  Most importantly though, this is the last chance you have to make some tasty beverages that you can enjoy during the winter holiday season.  This year, I’m prepping some Aronia Berry and Blackberry Schnapps as well as some Red Plum Liqueur.  Making treats like this require 3 months at minimum to sit so you should probably drop whatever you’re doing and get started.  You’re probably wondering why I didn’t alert you to this sooner if 3 months is the minimum, but I’m a realist.  You, as well as I most likely don’t have the patience or willpower to resist cracking one of these open if it was going to sit beyond 3 months, so really I’m doing you a favor.

Fortunately prep is minimal and there is quite a bit of margin for error so you can even embark upon this project after a hard day of apple picking and tipping back the hard cider.  Before the instructions though, let’s go over a little bit of terminology.  For our purposes, let’s assume you reside in the US for this terminology lesson.

What does it all mean, Aaron???

Liqueur or Cordial: Distilled spirit infused with fruit, cream, herbs, spices, flowers, or nuts and a sweetener.

Schnapps:  Derived from the German word Schnaps, or “Swallow” in English.  Any kind of alcoholic drink with distilled spirit in it. Most bottled schnapps will usually be infused with some natural flavoring.  Does not necessarily need to be sweetened.

Therefore, liqueur or cordials are kinds of schnapps, but schnapps is not a kind of liqueur or cordial.  Now, if you are traveling to parts of northern Europe, Schnapps will likely be some infused brandy or aquavit.  Traveling to the UK and that cordial is most likely going to be some non-carbonated soda pop (Sound tasty?).

 

Recipes For Tasty Goodness

A note on which distilled spirit to use:  If you’ve ever seen a recipe that calls for neutral grain spirit, they are talking about vodka.  Before you get your flavored end-product, it all starts with a pure distillate that is about as close to being only ethanol and water that the producer could get it to (or cared to).  After that you add your flavorings to produce that whole array of colorful beverages in the liquor store.  Gin, although classified into its own category starts as vodka as well.  The difference between schnapps and all of those flavored vodkas? Not much.

Aronia Berry and Blackberry Schnapps

  • 16 oz of Aronia Berries (They’re super trendy right now so you can find them frozen or fresh in any upscale grocery store).
  • 10 oz of Blackberries
  • 750 ml of distilled spirit
  • 1 2000 ml mason jar or sealable glass container

Intense instructions: Put all of the ingredients into your glass container.  Seal. Put into a cool and dark place like your basement and do not touch it for at least 3 months.

Red Plum Liqueur

  • 6 Red Plums
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar or rock sugar
  • 750 ml of distilled spirit
  • 1 2000 ml mas jar or sealable glass container

Intense instructions: Put the plums into the jar. Put the vodka into the jar.  Pour the sugar over the top. Resist the temptation to shake or stir it. Put into a cool and dark place like your basement and do not touch it for at least 3 months.

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