Homemade Cocktail Bitters

10 Jan

I have a secret: I want to be a bartender.  (I even took a week long bar tending class but left after day 1 – long story but I don’t think it would translate well to text. ) Only I don’t like to stay up too late, am often called shy, and sometimes like to mix in my pjs. So for now, my home bar will have to do.


I must say, I can’t complain.  Hubby and I have collected a number of different things that fill out our bar nicely.  And mixology is a lot like cooking – you can experiment with quantities and mixtures quite a bit to find tastes that suit you.

Two things that help with this are special liqueurs and cocktail bitters.  Both of these can turn an ordinary rye or vodka drink into something far more complex. And since you can make bitters at home, I did.

Bitters are relatively simple to make, but they involve some funky ingredients (bitter spices) and time.  Not hands on time, but storing jars in your closet and shaking occasionally time. They are worth it though. Your cocktails will thank you and so will your friends – bottled up they make excellent gifts.


I saw these bitters in the October 2011 Food and Wine – and decided to make both the vodka and bourbon varieties.



I visited some specialty stores to gather spices and sought out 100 proof liquor.  Then I mixed, shook, waited, shook, waited, etc until I could cook, strain, wait, strain, shake, mix and store.

If making both seems daunting, try one. Or come to my apartment for a drink.

Cranberry Anise Bitters


2 cups 100 proof vodka
1 1/2 cups cranberries, each one pierced with a toothpick
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
2 star anise pods
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 teaspoon gentian root (this is the tricky one to find – try specialty spice shops or order online)
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
2 tablespoons simple syrup – not needed until bitters have been sitting 3 weeks (you should never buy this – just mix sugar 1:1 with water, bring to a boil and cool. The longer you cook, the thicker the syrup)

Figgy Orange Bitters


2 cups 100 proof bourbon
1 cup dried figs (6 ounces), cut in half
8 green cardamom pods, crushed
4 whole cloves
Strips of zest from 3 oranges
1/2 teaspoon gentian root (specialty spice shop)
1/4 cup dried orange peel (also from a spice shop)
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split
2 tablespoons simple syrup – not needed until bitters have been sitting 3 weeks (see note above for making syrup)

Directions for both bitters:

Day 1:

In a 1-quart glass jar with tight fitting lid, combine all of the ingredients except the simple syrup. Cover and shake well. Let stand in your closet for 2 weeks, shaking the jar once daily.

CranberryOrange copy


(I didn’t actually store them in the blue mason jars – but I do so love them.)

Day 15:

Strain the infused alcohol into a clean 1-quart glass jar through a cheesecloth-lined funnel (you can use a coffee filter, but cheesecloth works a little better – less chance that it will rip). Squeeze any leftover liquid from the cheesecloth into the jar; reserve the solids. Strain the alcohol again through new cheesecloth into another clean jar to remove any remaining sediment. Put the lid on the jar and set aside (in your closet?) for 1 more week.

Meanwhile, transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes; let cool completely. Pour the liquid and solids into a clean 1-quart glass jar. Cover and put with the other jar for the last week, shaking the water/solid mixture once daily.

Day 21:

Make simple syrup.

Strain the water mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel (again, coffee filters will work) set over a clean 1-quart glass jar; discard the solids. If necessary, strain again to remove any remaining sediment. Add the infused alcohol and the simple syrup. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3 days.

Day 24:

Pour the bitters through a cheesecloth-lined funnel or strainer and transfer to glass dasher bottles. Make a cocktail.

Your bitters will keep at room temperature indefinitely and will be most flavorful within 1 year.


One Response to “Homemade Cocktail Bitters”

  1. putneyfarm January 15, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    Very cool. This is the next step we want to take (we already make our own syrups and infusions). The cranberry bitters sound lovely…thx.

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