How To Make Your Own Bitters: The Possibilities Are Endless!

Bitters
As you become older your taste changes and you are more and more drawn to bitter things. Maybe that’s the bitterness of life. Although I don’t consider myself particularly old or bitter I love bitters! That is why I have to keep myself from making a new flavor each week.

Recipes: Aromatic Bitters, Caramel Bitters, Hot & Spicy Bitters, Orange Bitters, Tonka Bean Bitters;

Because of the endless possibilities there is always a new aroma you could make a bitters from. To help quench your bitter thirst I will give you a few tips on how to make them at home: Starting with a simple orange bitters recipe and more exotic flavors further on.

First, what are bitters exactly?

Bitters in my opinion consist of two main parts: a bitter component and a flavor of some sort. Bitters are used as a cocktail flavoring. When a costumer asks what the little colorful bottles on the back bar are, I tell them that bitters are used in cocktails the same way spices are used when cooking a dish. You use just a few drops or dashes to make your dish spicier. Most of the bitters, but not all of them are alcoholic, because alcohol easily extracts flavors from the used aromatic ingredients. There is no clear definition if bitters are allowed to contain sugar. In my opinion they are bitters as long as they taste bitter and if you make some at home and you find them too bitter, by all means use sugar to soften them a bit. I did so myself in the beginning, but now I added more of the bitter ingredient to make them bitterer. That brings us to the second question:

What is the best way to make bitters at home?

For starters you need alcohol. The higher the alcohol content the quicker you will see (taste) results. However, I don’t use pure (96%) alcohol simply because it is too expensive here in Germany and I like the flavor overproof rum brings to the mix. But this is your choice, just be careful: The bitter ingredients will release their flavors in a few hours (or minutes). So you should taste them more often. This directly brings me to the most important tip: Don’t throw everything in one jar. Most of the ingredients have different infusion times. For example as mentioned above gentian root will make your infusion bitter in less than one hour. Orange peel though will take a couple of days to give you the desired flavor. What happens now if you add both ingredients to one jar?
Exactly you will end up with a mixture that will taste like sh… very bitter and you probably won’t even taste the orange peel, because the bitterness is too overwhelming.

The simple solution, provided by Jamie Boudreau, is to use different containers for the different ingredients. When doing so, you can sample each infusion separately and if they have the desired taste you can filter out the solid parts. Just keep the infusion in a clean jar until the rest of your ingredients are ready.

The first time I made bitters I boiled the solid components with water after infusing them in alcohol. After that I mixed them with the alcoholic infusions to get my bitters. With hindsight I have to say that this is an unnecessary step. Sure you can extract more flavors with this method, but it is just too big an effort for the little extra flavor.

When I am making bitters nowadays I just blend together the infusions and water them down a bit with water. If they are too bitter I admit I will still use sugar to make them more palatable.

To cut a long story short, here are the recipes for my bitters:

Bittering Agent:
(That’s what Jamie calls the bitter infusion, it’s the same in all my bitters recipes)
View in: metric us
10 g Wormwood
100 g Yellow Gentian Root
200 ml Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum 63%

Add to a jar and let sit for 30 min – taste – if bitter enough filter through a coffee filter.

This amount lasted for all my bitters. I just ran out a few days ago when I was making my bitters more “bitter”. You also could use Swedish herbs here. I will try that and let you know how it works out. I reckon it will yield a softer bitterness than wormwood and gentian root.

Aromatic Bitters:
View in: metric us
Infusion:
20 Cloves
2 Tsp. Allspice
4 Star Anise
1 ½ Cinnamon Sticks
50 ml Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum 63%
Add to jar – let sit for 1 week – taste and agitate daily – if flavorful enough filter through coffee filter.Bitters: (For 100 ml)
40 ml Aromatic Infusion
10 ml Orange Infusion (See Orange Bitters)
2 – 4 ml Bittering Agent
16 – 18 ml Simple Syrup (2:1) replace with Water if not too bitter
30 ml Water
Mix in a container and fill into a bitters bottle.


Caramel Bitters

Caramel Bitters:
View in: metric us
Infusion:
50 g Sugar
15 ml Water
(15 ml Hot Water)
50 ml Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum 63%
Heat and bring to boil – let boil until mixture turns dark brown – remove from heat – immediately add 25 ml boiled water – stir until mixture becomes liquid again (heat if necessary) – let cool to room temperature – mix with rum.Bitters: (For 100 ml)
70 ml Caramel Syrup
2 – 4 ml Bittering Agent
26 – 28 ml Water
Mix in a container and fill into a bitters bottle.


Hot & Spicy Bitters

Hot & Spicy Bitters:
View in: metric us
Hot & Spicy Infusion:
1 Habanero Chili
6 Pinches Grated Cubeb Pepper
100 ml Wyborowa Vodka 40%
Add to jar – let sit for 3 days – taste and agitate daily – if it tastes ready filter through a coffee filter.Bitters: (For 100 ml)
40 ml Hot & Spicy Infusion
26 – 28 ml Homemade Vanilla Liqueur
2 – 4 ml Bittering Agent
30 ml Water
Mix in a container and fill into a bitters bottle.


Orange Bitters

Orange Bitters:
View in: metric us
Orange Infusion:
100 g Dried Orange Peel
300 ml Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum 63%
Add to jar – let sit for 1 week – taste and agitate daily – if ready filter through a coffee filter.Lemon Infusion:
50 g Dried Lemon Peel
2 Tbsp. Dired Lemon Grass
50 ml Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum 63%
Add to jar – let sit for 1 week – taste and agitate daily – if ready filter through a coffee filter.Bitters: (For 100 ml)
40 ml Orange Infusion
10 ml Lemon Infusion
7,5 ml Aromatic Infusion (See Aromatic Bitters)
2 – 4 ml Bittering Agent
16 – 18 ml Simple Syrup (2:1) replace with Water if not too bitter
22,5 ml Water
Mix in a container and fill into a bitters bottle.


Tonka Bean Bitters

Tonka Bean Bitters:
(Maybe you can substitute Cassia cinnamon if you are in the US)
View in: metric us
Tonka Bean Infusion:
1 Grated Tonka Bean
100 ml Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum 63%
Add to jar – let sit for 1 week – taste and agitate daily – if ready filter through a coffee filter.Bitters: (For 100 ml)
50 ml Tonka Bean Infusion
16 – 18 ml Homemade Vanilla Liqueur
2 – 4 ml Bittering Agent
30 ml Water
Mix in a container and fill into a bitters bottle.

If you have interesting and delicious bitters recipes just let me know! I’m always looking for reasons to make some more. For instance here you can find recipes for celery bitters, Boker’s Bitters and grapefruit bitters .

Posted by

I am Matthew. I am a mechanical engineering student and a former bartender from the second biggest city in Bavaria, Germany. I have been working in the gastronomy sector since I am sixteen. So, it does not come as a surprise that drinks and spirits are my passion. I especially like trying new products and the art of creating new cocktails, preferably with exotic or homemade ingredients.

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