Cooking is chemistry, and if you enjoy mixing cocktails then making your own bitters at home is the best kind of science experiment.
Homemade bitters are more personal than anything you can order in a bar, they last indefinitely, plus a little bottle of this stuff makes a great gift.
When we helped Laicie Heeley of A Thousand Threads throw her Field + Foundy dinner series for local creatives in Baltimore earlier this month, she finished the night with a little DIY bitters class. It was so good that we had to share.
Read on to learn how to make your own bitters at home + see photos from this amazing event!
Step 1: Gather your ingredients
All bitters start with a bittering agent, such as quassia, orris, or gentian root. One of the best places to find these less common barks and roots is Mountain Rose Herbs. Additionally, your bitters will contain some mix of dried spices, herbs, fruits, and/or vegetables. For example, bloody mary bitters might include celery, onion, chile, or other savory extracts. And you might play with orange or lemon for a bright citrusy drink, or cinnamon and cloves for a warm winter drink.
Step 2: Make your extracts
Once you’ve collected your roots, barks, spices and herbs, and dried fruits and vegetables, go out and buy yourself some high-proof vodka or grain alcohol: 100-140 proof is best.
Then it’s time to mix! Mix about 1 tablespoon per 4oz of alcohol in a jar, close the lid tight, and set it aside in a cool dry place. Your extracts will need to sit for 7-10 days for herbs, spices, and barks and 21-28 days for dried fruits and vegetables. Shake your jars when you pass by, and admire your little science project. It’s a whole lot of fun.
When you start to come close to your 7 or 21 days, give each a smell. You’ll know when they’re ready to go. Once they are, strain them very, very well into a sterilized jar. Then it’s time for the final step!
Step 3: Mad scientist time
Start with a 4oz bottle, preferably with a dropper, and fill your jar 1/3 of the way with distilled water.
Then, using your dropper or a pipette, add your bitter agent + flavors. Eye your measurements and use your nose, remembering that some extracts are more potent than others. Remember along the way that bitters are used as much for their aroma as their taste, so smell your mixture, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Bitters, much like any recipe, are open to interpretation, and what you like might not appeal to someone else. So make what you like. And have fun! Once you’re done mixing, set your bitters aside. The flavors will continue to marry over the next couple of weeks.
Here are a few home bitters recipe ideas, just to get the wheels turning.
Bloody Mary Bitters
1 Tablespoon Quassia Extract
1 Tablespoon Chile Extract
2 Tablespoons Celery Extract
1 Tablespoon Onion Extract
Lemon Meringue Pie Bitters
2 Tablespoons Lemon Extract
1 Tablespoon Gentian Extract
1 Tablespoon Cardamom Extract
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
Hot Chocolate Bitters
2 Tablespoons Cacao Extract
2 Tablespoons Chile Extract
2 Tablespoons Orris Extract
1 Tablespoons Cinnamon Extract
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Laicie Heeley is the founder + editor of A Thousand Threads, and on any given day, you might find her hawking handmade pie at a local farmer’s market, writing about foreign policy with the wonks in DC, or stuffing her face with marshmallows and trail mix in the great outdoors.
Photos: Reema Desai