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▶What ingredients to Use?
Bitters are comprised of bitter-tasting roots, barks, or leaves, plus other botanicals that provide aroma and flavor (and medicinal properties). In general you should use whole ingredients rather than ground, as they are easier to strain out. You can chop ingredients up or coarsely crack them to expose more surface area for infusing.
● Bittering agents ● usually make up 10 to 50% of the blend and may include plants like angelica root, artichoke leaf, barberry root, black walnut leaf, burdock root, calamus root, cinchona bark, citrus peel, dandelion root and leaf, devil’s club root, gentian root, horehound, licorice root, mugwort, Oregon grape root, orris root, quassia bark, sarsaparilla, wild cherry bark, and wormwood.
● Aromatic and flavor agents ● round out the bitters and may include just about any herb, spice, flower, fruit, or nut. Use your imagination! Also use organic ingredients when possible, especially when it comes to fruit peels. Some examples:
● Spices ● – allspice, aniseed, caraway, cardamom, cassia, celery seed, chiles, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel, ginger, juniper berries, nutmeg, peppercorns, star anise, vanilla beans
Herbs & Flowers – chamomile, hibiscus, hops, lavender, lemongrass, mint, rose, rosemary, sage, thyme, yarrow
Fruits – fresh or dried citrus peel (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit), dried fruit (apples, cherries, figs, raisins)
Nuts – toasted almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.
Beans – cacao beans, cocoa nibs, coffee beans
▶ What Alcohol to Use?
For maximum flavor extraction and preservation, use a high-proof liquor — at least 100 proof or 50% alcohol by volume (ABV). You’ll get the most neutral flavor using grain alcohol (such as Everclear) or vodka (Absolut and Smirnoff are fairly accessible brands of 100-proof). You can also experiment with other spirits such as 101-proof bourbon and rye and 151-proof rum.
▶ Additional Ingredients
In addition, bitters may be lightly sweetened with simple syrup, caramel, molasses, honey, or other sweeteners. They may also be diluted with distilled water, bringing the final product no lower than 80 to 90 proof or 40 to 45% ABV.
▶ Which Infusing Method?
There are two main ways to make bitters. One method is to combine all of your botanicals and infuse them in liquor together. The other method (and the one shown here) is to make a separate infusion or tincture of each botanical and then blend them to taste. I prefer this method because different ingredients infuse at different rates. Tincturing them separately gives you more control over the outcome. However, if you have a good recipe, the first method might work just fine.
▶ How Long to Infuse?
Depending on the botanical, infusing time may range from a day to several weeks. Regularly smell and sample each tincture or infusion; it will be ready when it strongly conveys the ingredient. To smell, put a couple drops of the infusion in your palms, rub them together, and hold your hands up to your nose. To taste, put a couple drops in a glass of still or sparkling water. If you taste it straight bear in mind it will be rather intense!
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