Once a Victorian apothecary remedy, Bitters are enjoying a fantastic revival as a bartenders go-to magic potion. Just a couple of drops of the magical elixir transforms hum-drum drinks into something with incredible depth and flavour, turning your drinks up to 11.
If, like me, you've dreamt of becoming some sort of botanical Walter White, here's your chance to not break the law and not get dead. You may, however, call yourself a drinks kingpin, and possibly grow a moustache and look menacing while dropping some of your magical potion into people's drinks.
Bittermans, Bitter Bastards and The Bitter Truth all producing top-notch bitters for all styles of cocktails and mixes. My personal favourite is Bittermans Hopped Grapefruit Bitters to totally transform a Gin & Tonic, or Bitter Bastards' Sweet Orange Bitters in my Gingerbread Manhattan. Yes, I certainly am growing quite a collection of these bad boys. The problem is, like everything amazing, they're expensive.
Fear not friends, all you need to make your own is some clean grain spirit or good quality Vodka, and let your imagination run wild!
There are some basic principles to follow, but soon, like me, you'll have jars and cups all round the house half-full of liquid like you're preparing for the alien invasion in Signs.
Enough babbling, on to the good stuff. Here's my handy guide of how to make your own bitters
What You'll Need
200ml High Proof Alcohol (good Vodka will do)
1 Tablespoon Sugar, dissolved in 2 Tablespoons of Water
5 Tablespoons Main Aromatic
2 Tablespoons Bittering Agent (choose 2 or 3)
2-3 Tablespoons Supporting Aromatics (choose 3 or 4)
Your main aromatic will be your stand-out flavour and character of your Bitters, so choose wisely. Here are some ideas - Fennel Seeds, Coriander, Ginger, Juniper, Star Anise, Peppercorns, Celery, Dried Cherries, Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Lemongrass, Lavender, Nutmeg, Flowers
Same as above, but secondary, supporting flavours which add depth.
Bitters wouldn't be bitters without bitter roots, barks, flowers, leaves etc. Your bitter agent will make up around 50% of the final flavour profile. Here's a few ideas - Liquorice Root, Gentian Root, Angelica Root, Orris Root, Cassia Bark, Hops, Cardamom, Wormwood, Dandelions or other Flowers
Place your selected aromatics in a jar with the high proof alcohol and the bittering agent. Mix in the sugar water, pop the lid on and shake well. Store for 2 - 3 weeks, shaking and smelling regularly. The bitters will develop over time, so give it some patience. To test if it is ready, drop a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together and smell your creation.
Strain your potion through some muslin cloth and pop it in some medicine bottles with pipettes (about £1.40 on Ebay) - these are great for getting the desired amount of Bitters into your drink, and will secure you as the Heisenberg of mixology!
Here's a couple of recipes from my medicine cabinet:
Celery - Perfect for spicing up those Bloody Mary!
Celery Seeds, Lemongrass, Tea, Orange Peel & Peppercorns
Dandelion - Really good with Rum. Mojito time!
Dandelions, Lemon Peel, Liquorice Root & Cloves
Vanilla - Great mulling bitters - add to Mulled Cider!
Vanilla Pods, Wormwood, Cinnamon & Orange Peel
So friends, go forth, experiment and convince yourself your new hobby is purely for medicinal purposes...