Flashback: Better Bitters

Food & Beverage

There are some flavors that seem lacking in everyday cuisine and the humble bitter is a fine example. There are tons of recipes online that include the distinct adventure of bitters, and what could be better than making your own? This week’s flashback comes from the pages of CRAFT Volume 10. Written by Portland’s own Sister Diane Gilleland, this bitters DIY not only teaches you how to concoct your own, but gives some great resources at the end too. Did I mention bitters make great homemade presents? Just sayin.
Better Bitters
For the tastiest drinks, make your own flavored bitters.
By Diane Gilleland

Bitters add a little depth and mystery to the flavor of cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks. You can buy them in most supermarkets, but why not make your own? It’s so easy, and you can experiment with all kinds of flavors.
You can follow this bitters recipe, find a recipe online, or create something of your own. It’s important to have at least one bittering agent in the mix, like gentian or quassia. Aside from that, you can have fun mixing various flavors. It’s a great way to make your party beverages truly special!


Makes 2 batches of bitters
750 ml high-proof vodka or neutral grain spirits such as Everclear Grain Alcohol
1 oz bittering agent
such as gentian root or quassia wood, available from humboldtherbals.com
½ oz each of fennel seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, and whole cloves I buy spices from penzeys.com.
4 oz unsweetened dried cherries or other fruit
8oz jars with tight-fitting lids, sterilized (2)
Wire mesh strainer
8 oz glass dropper bottles (2)
available from sks-bottle.com


Step 1: Measure.
For an 8oz jar, you’ll need about 2 oz of herbs in total. Put the jar on the scale and reset it to zero. Add ½ oz of bittering agent. Then add ¼ oz of each of the spices. Next, chop up 2 oz of dried fruit, so more of its surface area will come in contact with the alcohol. Add it to the jar.
Step 2: Steep.
Pour vodka until the jar is filled to about 2″ below the rim. Cover it tightly, and set it in a cool, dark place. Let the mixture steep for 1-2 weeks, gently shaking the jar daily.
Step 3: Test.
Now it’s time to taste your bitters and see how the flavor is developing. But don’t taste them straight! The flavor is much too concentrated. Try putting a few drops in a half glass of sparkling water.
If you like the flavor, move on to Step 5. If you’re not quite happy, try Step 4.
Step 4: Adjust.
If your bitters need a little flavor adjustment, you can add more of any of the ingredients you like and steep for another 1-2 weeks. Keep tasting and adjusting until you like the flavor.
Step 5: Bottle.
Strain out all the solid ingredients with a wire strainer. Press the solids to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Pour the bitters into a dropper bottle and label. Store in a cool, dark place.
Recipes and Resources:
Cherry bitters, and notes on the bitters-making process: spiritsandcocktails.com
Cherry-vanilla bitters: chow.com/recipes/12040
Orange bitters: make-martinis-at-home.com
Basic bitters: artofdrink.com
House bitters: barmixmaster.com
Roundup of recipe links: artofdrink.com/ingredients.php
Exhaustive list of bitters ingredients, and suggested blends: drinkdogma.com
About the Author:
Diane Gilleland produces CraftyPod, a blog and podcast about making stuff.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at snowgoli@gmail.com or via @snowgoli.

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