Obedient Ingredients

A place to put cooking ideas to the test.

Homemade Bitters

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This summer’s project is homemade bitters.

The best way I’ve seen bitters described goes something like this: You can have all of these great ingredients and amazing flavor combinations in a cocktail, but the addition of bitters makes you come back for me.

I’m not sure where I read that, but I enjoy the sentiment and agree; bitters in a cocktail add a depth to the drinking experience that is enticing.

I made four bitters:

  • House bitters
  • Coffee-Pecan
  • Charred Cedar
  • Apple

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Everything is taken from this great book by Brad Thomas Parsons called Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All with Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas. Check it out.

I won’t go into the recipes for these bitters because there are plenty online and you should also check out that Bitters book.

The biggest hurdle I had to jump to begin the bitters making process was finding ingredients that we normally do not use. Most of them I couldn’t (and still cannot) pronounce. These “bittering agents” come in the form of bark or wood or roots, and in all of the recipes I’ve come across so far, all you really need is 1/4 TEAspoon for 2 cups of alcohol (bitters are alcohol based).

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Special ingredients include:

Cassia chips (essentially cinnamon)

which is different from Quassia chips

Cinchona Bark

Wild Cherry Bark

Black Walnut Leaf

Gentian root

…and a few more. I am too unschooled in all of these ingredients that I cannot say what they really do or how I can tweak them. For now, I’ll just follow the recipes and experiment later.

I needed to find higher proof alcohol (100 and above) because the higher proofs extract flavors faster.

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These recipes use rye and bourbon. There are rum and vodka based bitters. I’d like to experienment with gin bitters once I get the hang of them. And mezcal bitters?!?! Is that a thing? I just invented it.

(Does Google search for “mezcal bitters”)

Apparently a bitters company makes something called Maya Bitters, but there are not many details about it. Interesting.

I will let these soak for two weeks, then strain the solids and boil them down in water and then add that water to the strained alcohol, let sit for another week, then add molasses and let sit for three more days. So it’s a three week or more process!

Here are some photos.

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For the coffee-pecan, I went to the roaster and bought the freshest beans, but I also bought ones with similar flavor profiles to the rest of the ingredients like chocolate and nuts.

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When adding citrus peel – to bitters or to any drink – its a good idea to remove the white pith because that adds the bitterness we do not want.

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I charred two types of food-safe cedar I ordered from Amazon: the thicker wood sheets and the thinner wood wraps. I divided the recipe in half and put one type of wood in one jar and the other type in the second jar.

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