Make Your Own Bitters
When looking for bitters to add to your bar collection, there are a lot of great flavors and brands to choose from. Each manufacturer puts their own signature spin on the flavors they provide, which is great for creating a diversified cocktail menu.
Here at the Bitters Club, we encourage bartenders and mixologists to make their own bitters. Depending on the type of cocktail you want to make, the flavors available on the market might fall short on taste for your vision.
In this two part series ,we will be discussing the two main methods you can use to make your own bitters. The first method (Part 1), uses infusion and the second method (Part 2) is using tinctures. The method you chose will depend on how much control and accuracy you want over the final flavor of your bitters.
For today’s post, we will only be discussing making bitters with alcohol, we will cover non-alcoholic bitters in another future post.
Making Bitters Part 1: Infusion
Making bitters via Infusion is when you soak your dried and fresh ingredients in alcohol for a specific amount of time to extract the flavors. The reason for using alcohol, is because of its ability to bond with both fat-soluble and water-soluble molecules. Using this method to make bitters is the easiest and most common. Majority of the bitters recipes you will find on the internet uses this method for making bitters. Our DIY Bitters Spice Blends uses this method because of its simplicity.
Steps to Make Bitters via Infusion
The steps to make bitters via infusion can be grouped into the following 4 steps:
Step 1: Add all dry and fresh ingredients to an infusion jar
The fist step is to choose what fruits, herbs and spices you would like to make the bitters from and then add them to an infusion jar. The combination of ingredients you choose, will change depending on what flavor of bitters you would like to make. The most important thing to consider for this step is to ensure you use high quality ingredients. The end result will only be as good as the quality of ingredients you are using. Another thing to keep in mind is to choose ingredients that complement each other, certain spices don’t work well together and will overpower some flavors. For example allspice, peppercorns and grains of paradise are some examples of spices that if left too long in the infusion, will completely mask other flavors.
Step 2: Add all spirits and liquid ingredients to the infusion jar.
Next you would add your alcohol to the infusion jar. The amount of alcohol you add will depend on how strong or diluted you want the extracted flavors to be. We recommend using at least two types of alcohols. The first alcohol’s purpose is for extracting the flavors, which should be a high proof vodka that is at least 60% alcohol or higher. If it’s available in your area, use a 190 Proof All-Grain spirit such as Everclear. The second spirit is more for flavoring, depending what you intend to use your bitters for. For example, if you are going to use your bitters predominantly for whiskey cocktails, use a rye, whiskey or bourbon. You may also want to add some simple syrup to the infusion to help it blend better when adding to a cocktail. Skip the simple syrup if you would like to make a sugar free bitters.
Step 3: Steep ingredients for 21 days
During this step you would shake the jar every other day and wait for at least 21 days. Depending on what ingredients you added, it may be ready sooner, but we have found that it takes about 3 weeks for the infusion to reach its peak flavor. To test when its ready, dip your finger in the liquid, if you taste too much alcohol, it’s not ready yet. Another quick test is the smell test, if you open the infusion jar and it smells strongly of alcohol, it may also not be ready yet. It's your bitters, so you can decide when its ready.
Step 4: Strain out the solids and fill into dropper bottles
When you’ve decided that the bitters are ready and tastes the way you want it, the last and final step is to strain out the solids from the fusion jar and put the bitters in dropper bottles. You can use cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer to remove all the solids from the liquid. We recommend giving the solids a good final squeeze to get some of the trapped juices out. Optionally you can also put the liquid through a coffee filter after you have removed the large solids. Doing this will remove any sediment that might collect at the bottom of the bottle. When we make our bitters we skip the coffee filter step, we feel that you loose some of the flavor by not having some amount of sediment in your bitters. We just give the bottle a good shake before using it.
Pros & Cons of Using the Infusion Method
Here are a couple of pros and cons to consider before using the infusion method for making your bitters.
- Easy to do
- Don’t need specific botany knowledge
- Don’t need a lot of equipment
- Can use any combination of spirits
- Takes only 21 days
- Difficult to control the final flavor
- Difficult to get full flavor extraction for each and every ingredient
- Might take multiple tries to achieve the right flavor
- May have too much sediment in the bitters
- Hard to measure the PPM(Parts per million) of a single ingredients
If you are ready to make bitters using the infusion method, try one of our DIY bitters recipes below:
- Aromatic Bitters Recipe
- Lime Bitters Recipe
- Lavender & Rose Floral Bitters Recipe
- Spicy Habanero & Jalapeño Bitters Recipe
We hope that you found this post helpful. Stay tuned for part 2 of this series where we will be discussing making bitters using the tincture method.
I am making homemade bitters from Alaskan sourced products like fireweed, high bush cranberries and rhubarb. The recipes are getting perfected but my local health department will not license me for sale because of the fresh organics in the recipes. They said they cannot label them as shelf stable. Do you know of any federal regulations on bitters or extracts that help determine if they are shelf stable and thus safe? Is it the final ABV or some other criteria? Any knowledge or reference would be helpful. We can be followed on instagram at “AlwaysBeSwooping”.