Aromatic Cocktail Bitters: Not Just For Martinis

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If you haven’t already heard me geeking out about my new e-book, then brace yourself.  Over the last several months I have been experimenting with making my own cocktails at home, including figuring out recipes for various liqueurs, and even Irish Cream.  And the final result is my Natural Cocktails E-book!

Today I am sharing a recipe excerpt from Natural Cocktails.  I cannot tell you how much fun I have had researching, reading, shaking cocktails, and playing with recipes for this book!  But the most fun of all?  Making my own cocktail bitters.

Cocktail bitters are added to a drink in dashes or drops, to enliven the flavor and deepen the overall taste of the cocktail.  Aromatic Bitters are the most common kind of bitters, the standard used most often in cocktail recipes, especially in classic cocktails. 

Common brands of aromatic bitters include Angostura or Paychaud’s, who insist that they use the original recipes from before 1900.  There are also famous orange bitters by Regan and Fee Brothers that are harder to find, but worth seeking out. These four bitters are the typical bitters you will find at a local bar or liquor supply store.

Of course, I find that it’s a lot more fun to make my own homemade bitters so I can be nerdy at home shaking up a cocktail I invested my own creativity into making.  Plus, homemade bitters are fresher, and I don’t have to wonder what is in the recipe since I am the artisan in question!

In addition to this recipe for my homemade Aromatic Bitters, I have two orange bitters recipes just waiting for you try in my Natural Cocktails book.

You can create any flavor of homemade bitters you can dream up, from grapefruit, orange, and Meyer lemon to root beer, lavender or other herb blends.  I have been like a kid in a candy store while shopping for herbs, spices, and barks to make my own bitters, imagining different cocktails, teas, and drinks I can add my homemade bitters to.  But most of all, the Aromatic Cocktail Bitters have been my current obsession.

Aromatic cocktail bitters–the kind you don’t sip but add in dashes to enliven a drink–were an essential ingredient in classic cocktails, and are now back and bigger than ever. .

Just as restaurant menus herald the local farmer who grew the heirloom carrots featured in that night’s special, cocktail menus increasingly single out house-made bitter and those made by artisanal producers… .

Cocktail bitters are not just enjoying a revival, but are part of a movement that we all can feel as real foodies.  We feel the call of traditional foods and practices, to get rooted to our ancestors and our bodies on a deep level.  Bitters were historically used medicinally, partly to settle stomachs and aid in digestion.  A few drops of bitters in a glass of water is believed to help your body feel settled and relaxed.

You can use Aromatic Bitters in classic cocktails like Martinis and Manhattans, but also as a digestive aid when sipped in a Bitters and Soda: several dashes of bitters over ice in a tall glass, then filled with mineral water.

Equipment Needed:

  • quart glass jars and lids
  • cheesecloth, strainer, small glass bowl
  • saucepan

Aromatic Bitters
(for use like Angostura or Paychaud’s)

2 tablespoons dried orange peel
zest of one orange
1/4 cup dried sour cherries
6 cardamom pods, cracked
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and seeds scraped out (use both)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (cassia) chips
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon quassia chips
1/4 teaspoon gentian root
pinch dried black walnut leaf (buy spices here)
2 1/4 cups rye whiskey
1 cup filtered water (buy water filters here)
2 tablespoons Dark Simple Syrup, recipe below

  1. In a quart glass jar, combine all the spices together.  Pour the rye whiskey over the spices, adding a little more if needed to make sure they are completely covered.  Seal the jar with a storage cap and leave at room temperature, in a dark place, for 2 weeks.
  2. After 2 weeks, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a new clean quart mason jar to remove the solids.  Repeat this process until all the sediment is removed.  Squeeze the cheesecloth over the jar to get all the liquid out of the solids.  Cover the jar with a storage lid again (it will be just liquid this time), and set aside.
  3. In the meantime, transfer the solids you strained out of the rye mixture into a saucepan.  Add the cup of water.   Over medium-high heat, bring the solids mixture to a boil.  Then cover the saucepan, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool completely.  Then pour the contents of the saucepan (liquid and solids) into a new clean quart glass jar.  Cover with a storage lid and set aside.
  4. You should have two jars now: one with rye liquid (no solids), and one with water and solids.  Place them both on the counter at room temperature, in a dark place, for 1 week.
  5. After the 1 week, strain the water and solids through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a new clean quart mason jar to remove the solids.  Repeat this process until all the sediment is removed.  Squeeze the cheesecloth over the jar to get all the liquid out of the solids.  Discard the solids.  Pour this liquid into the jar with the rye liquid in it.
  6. Add the dark simple syrup to the jar, stirring to combine.  Cover with a storage cap, and shake to combine further.  Set aside on the counter at room temperature for 3 days.
  7. At the end of the 3 days, skim off any solids that float to the top, and again, pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer to remove any sediment that still remains.
  8. Pour your finished bitters into smaller jars, and if desired, fit them with bottle stoppers so the liquid doesn’t come out too quickly.

Dark Simple Syrup

1 cup filtered water (buy water filters here) 1 1/2 cups whole cane sugar (buy whole cane sugar here)

  1. Boil the water over high heat, then pour in the whole cane sugar and stir until dissolved, less than 5 minutes.
  2. Pour into a pint glass jar, cap tightly, and let cool completely.  Dark simple syrup lasts several weeks in the refrigerator.
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