Bottles of alcohol stacked in rows on the back of a bar by a wall. Image by ibrahim-boran on Unsplash.
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How to make cocktail bitters from scratch

So, you’re a budding cocktail bartender. You’ve provably read our guide covering what are bitters. Now you want a piece of the action.

So, how to make cocktail bitters?

The Cocktail Society is here to help. Below is our recipe for how to make cocktail bitters, and how you can make your own bitters easily at your bar or home.

Yes, bitters have exotic ingredients. There are a few steps to follow.

But, it’s actually easy and a chance to get really innovative. So, let’s get started, shall we?

 

How to make cocktail bitters: What Botanicals Can I Use?

Various botanicals and herbs distilling in bottles as part of the process of how to make cocktail bitters

Many bartenders have now taken to creating everything from scratch, which harks back to how the early bartenders used to approach the craft. Bars are creating all sorts including Oleo Saccharum, syrups, infusions and bitters.

The botanical options for bitters are numerous.  When creating your botanical mix think about the type of end product you want.

Something will bitter notes or floral undertones? Or do you want something light or punchy in flavour?

This is important as it will dictate how you put the botanicals together. Think of creating bitters as creating a recipe. Look to see what flavours complement one another.

If you are unsure use your nose, taste and the internet to see what flavour combinations work. As with any recipe, it’s a test and measure scenario and you will need to prepare to try out combinations before striking gold.

Bittering Agents

Usually makeup 10 to 50% of the ingredient blend and may include plants like Angelica Root, Artichoke Leaf, Walnut Leaf, Burdock Root, Gentian Root, Cinchona Bark, Liquorice Root, Quassia Bark or Wormwood to name a few.

Now some of the below may look uber exotic and you may not have even heard of some of the ingredients.

Fortunately, we have a little thing called the internet at our disposal and basically all of the ingredients can be picked up online. Just look out for a company that sells barks, herbs and roots. We get ours from here.

Spices

Allspice, Aniseed, caraway, cardamom, cassia, celery seed, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel, ginger or juniper berries are just some of the spices you can use to flavour your bitters.

Herbs and Flowers

Chamomile, hibiscus, hops, lavender, linden flower, lemongrass, mint, rose, rosemary, coriander, sage, thyme, yarrow

Fruits

Fresh or dried citrus peel (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit), apples, cherries, figs, raisins

Nuts

Toasted almonds, pecans, walnuts

Beans

Cacao beans, cocoa nibs, coffee beans

Additional Ingredients

In addition, bitters may be lightly sweetened with simple syrup, caramel, molasses, honey etc. They may also be diluted with distilled water, bringing the final product no lower than 80 to 90 proof or 40 to 45% ABV.

A bartender drips cocktail bitters into a cocktail in a rocks glass

How to make cocktail bitters: what you will need

There are a few items we need to get hold of to make bitters:

Kilner Jar

Kilner Jars are the home and professional bartenders best friend. Super versatile and allows for all manner of infusion, steeping and storage.

We recommend 1 litre, 500ml and a 250ml for various volumes. You’ll probably want to test out some flavour combos in the smaller jars before going all out.

Spirit

A high ABV white or dark spirit is good. Minimum 40% so you will be looking at a vodka, whiskey, or rum.

When selecting your spirit you want something neutral, gin is out and you don’t want any flavoured vodkas or peaty whiskey’s.

Oh, and don’t spend a fortune on the base spirit, you do not need to. Just use a reasonable quality product.

Muslin Cloth

This is important, a sieve actually is not enough. The muslin cloth has a super fine filtration effect and will get all of the tiny particles removed from the liquid after it has been steeped.

We want to remove all of the tiny particles as they will continue to flavour the product and will make it cloudy. This has the potential to ruin cocktails when added.

Botanicals

Get your hands on a varied selection. You may have some stuff in the store cupboard already but it’s likely you’ll have to invest in some of the more niche ingredients.

A bartender drips cocktail bitters into a cocktail in a copper mug, with a mint sprig garnish

How To Make Homemade Bitters: a Step by Step guide

1. Ingredient Selection

This is very important as this stage of pairing ingredients will be the basis of how the end product tastes.

First up, consider the type of bitters you want to produce.

What sort of flavour profile are you aiming for?

Some options might be floral, fruity, herbal or citrus. Try and match botanicals that complement one another.

2. Add The Ingredients

Place all the chosen botanicals into the Kilner jar and then pour your chosen alcohol over the top.

We mix 1 part botanicals to 5 parts alcohol as a guide.

Be sure to agitate the botanical ingredients with a spoon to start the flavours mingling in the liquid. We always recommend labelling with the ingredients and date of batching to keep track – particularly if you are making multiple batches at the same time.

3. Infuse

As with a typical infusion, the mixture needs to be agitated (given a good shake) every day, this is critical to ensure that the flavours mingle and the botanicals are evenly infused into the liquid.

This infusion period is about two weeks approximately. You will have a good idea of when the bitters are ready by following your nose. After a week or so the spirit will start to take on the character of the botanicals.

4. Strain

Once you are happy that the bitters have taken on the appropriate flavour it is now time to strain.

Strain the liquid through a muslin cloth into a clean Kilner Jar to eliminate the botanicals.

With these botanicals, crush them with a muddler, then add them to a quantity of water (equal to the original spirit mix) and boil up for 5 minutes. Cool this infused water and put into a jar and infuse for 1 week (agitate the mixture daily)

5. Final Blend

After a week it is then time to blend the alcohol and water infusions.

Strain the botanical water to remove the bits through a muslin once again into a measuring jug. Then blend equal parts water and alcohol together. The mixture needs a final addition of a sweetener, you can either make gomme (sugar syrup) or buy some off the self.

We tend to add 5g to every 100g of infusion but it’s a matter of taste. Once the blend is complete, leave to infuse for a few more days with a daily agitation.

6. Bottling

At last, time to bottle. Use small pipette bottles similar to these ones. They are widely available and allow you to dispense your bitters easily and sparingly (bitters have a super-powerful flavour so need to be used with caution).

With the mixture, carefully decant the liquid into the pipette (you may need a funnel here) We then like to label ours with a bespoke label. Bitters last a long time so no sweat on that front.

 

How to make cocktail bitters: final thoughts

The above process is one which is arguably less intensive than the purists method.

The other method, which we would recommend for pros is to make separate infusion or tincture of each botanical then blend them to the taste.

This method takes into account that different ingredients infuse at different rates and it gives you more control over the outcome.

You can come up with new ideas while infusing the ingredients which will also allow you experimenting more.

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