Once sold as patent medicine, bitters has become a necessary ingredient to cocktail makers. It has the ability to transform a drink with a single drop, which is why it’s earned the reputation as a “bartender’s salt and pepper.”
Don’t believe its power? Just ask Brad Thomas Parsons, author of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All. He suggests making two versions of a Manhattan: one with Angostura bitters and one without. “[The first] will be beautiful,” he says. “And the other will be overly sweet and cloying.”
Of course, bitters is easy enough to find at the supermarket or liquor store, but what fun is that? If you really want to impress the guests at your next cocktail party, homemade bitters is the way to go. Luckily, these concoctions are merely herbs, spices, and botanicals infused with high-proof spirits. Whipping up your own batch is probably easier than crafting the perfect cocktail.
Ready to get to work? Just follow these step-by-step instructions for making your own bitters at home. People will be calling you Peychaud in no time.
Step 1: Prep
Choose the herbs, spices, and other flavorings you’d like to use in your bitters. Common ingredients include star anise, cinnamon, vanilla beans, peppercorns, rosemary, lavender, coffee beans, and citrus peels. You can pretty much play around with anything here.
Once you’ve decided what you’d like to use, combine these in a mason jar with 100-proof or higher liquor. (We suggest Everclear, but vodka and whiskey also work well.) If your ingredients are dried, start with 1 part botanicals to every 5 parts liquor. If fresh, use 1 part to 2 parts liquor. Seal the jar tightly with a lid.
Step 2: Infuse
Infusing time depends on the ingredients. Plan to let the mixture sit for about two weeks, but sample it regularly. The bitters will be ready when it smells and tastes strongly like the ingredients you’ve chosen. During this time, give the jar a good shake every day to ensure the flavors infuse correctly.
Step 3: Strain
Once your mixture has reached its peak, separate the liquid into a clean mason jar using either a cheesecloth or a coffee filter as a strainer. Let sit for about a week. If the mixture still has a bit of sediment in the bottom or it looks slightly murky, strain once more.
Step 4: Package
Use a mini funnel to transfer the liquid into small jars with droppers. The bitters should last for several years, and also makes for amazing birthday, holiday, and housewarming gifts.
To learn more about the history of bitters, as well as get recipes in which to use it, pick up Brad Thomas Parsons’s book Bitters.