I finally took the leap deeper into my cocktail obsession and started making my own bitters. We first became completely enamored with Angostura bitters during a trip to Barbados and Grenada a couple of years ago. They were added to practically every cocktail we drank down there, and they’re one of three ingredients in Larry’s favorite drink, a corn’n’oil (rum, falernum, Angostura bitters).
Making the bitters isn’t a lot of work – just time, plus sourcing some odd ingredients. The base is usually (but not always) high-proof alcohol, which is infused with aromatic herbs, bark, roots, or fruit (or all of the above). That’s pretty much it – add the roots and barks and other ingredients to the alcohol, seal it up in a mason jar, and shake it once a day for a couple of weeks.
Bottling takes a bit longer – at least for me. I’m obsessive about removing sediment, so once the infusion is done, I strain the mix through a fine strainer, then through fine cheesecloth a couple of times, and finally through a coffee filter. There’s a bit of sweetener added, too – the vanilla bitters get some blackstrap molasses after the infusion is done. I used the full amount in mine.
The result is incredibly aromatic. It doesn’t taste great on its own, but that’s why they’re called bitters – they’re bitter. Gentian root is the culprit in this recipe – I purchased mine locally but I’ve bought other ingredients online from Tenzing Momo.
Why add something bitter to a cocktail? It’s all about balance – bitter will help balance out the acid and sweetness of the other ingredients.
My favorite way to enjoy these so far is to use them in an Old Fashioned: 2 ounces of a spirit, 1/2 ounce sweetener, and bitters to taste. Bourbon and demerara simple syrup are one of my favorite combinations. Rye and maple are great too. I tend to use a liquid sweetener rather of a sugar cube because it dissolves easier. When using a sugar cube, just moisten it with a few drops of water and some bitters before muddling to get it to dissolve. Add your spirit, stir, and drink up.
- Homemade Vanilla Bitters (Imbibe)