Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Spirits >
Jan 28, 2009 03:02 PM

Homemade Bitters

ATTN: Chowhound DIYers/Boozebags
RE: Homemade bitters

I work at a fairly decent liquor store and, as one of the buyers, am constantly nagging my reps for what should be easily attainable products, in this case anything other than Fees Orange Bitters and Angostura Bitters. Alas, they arrive too few and far between so a few weeks ago, recipes in hand, I decided to make some bitters at home. I used a recipe out of Art of the Bar for Dr. Schwartz's Cherry Vanilla Bitters and another from Gary Regan's Joy of Mixology for his Regans' Orange Bitters No. 5.

While this was my first time, I'm a little disgruntled with the results. Certainly, my inability to accurately read a recipe is partially to blame. After that, however, lies the conundrum that most recipe readers run into - Why is this recipe so full of useless crap while at the same time, lacking the specificity that would ease the mind during certain steps? How dare it not address my personal needs.

I'm curious to see if others have run into issues, discovered hidden secrets, and/or could help me address my specific issues (which I'll be more than happy to list if there's any replies to this thread). Ultimately, I'd love to have a running thread for a sadly under-discussed area.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Have you seen the post by Jamie Bodreau on the topic, linked below? He shares some interesting tips -- especially around filtration and extracting each ingredient separately, then mixing the resultant tonics, rather than trying to do everything in one container.


    1 Reply
    1. re: davis_sq_pro

      Effing brilliant. I'm only half way in but I already love this man.

    2. In Everclear:
      lemon peel
      anise seed
      lemon grass
      quassia (coming soon)
      kaffir lime leaf (coming soon)
      orange peel
      In Rittenhouse 100 proof rye:
      cardamom (coming soon)
      cinnamon (coming soon)
      nutmeg (coming soon)
      guajillo pepper (coming soon)
      cacao nibs
      wild cherry bark
      coffee (coming soon)
      Old Monk rum:
      In apple eau de vie or Laird's Applejack:
      ummm... apple peel/apple (coming soon)

      I plan on blending bits to make:
      Lemon Hibiscus (the color should be pretty cool)
      Mexican Chocolate
      Lemongrass and Kaffir Lime
      Root Beer or Cola
      Caramel Apple w/ Cinnamon

      We'll see how these work out. My ambition will probably be overshadowed by healthy dose of failure.

      Photo [small little dude... was trying to insert a larger one into this post... oh well. Click to see larger photol]:

      6 Replies
      1. re: mrgrotto

        Wow, awesome stuff! I'm definitely looking forward to an update as your project progresses. It looks like you're doing each ingredient in a separate tincture, as Jamie Boudreau recommends in that post?

        1. re: davis_sq_pro

          Yup. That's the idea. The three things I'm worried about:

          Filtration: My Regans' Orange Bitters No. 5 are a bit cloudy. 2 pts. Hendrick's, 1 pt. Lillet Blanc, 3 dashes of homemade bitters tastes great, but the bitters seem to be clumping up a bit. I'm probably going to try a water filter first and see how that works. Then I'll move up to the science lab gear.

          Biting off more than I can chew: In theory, these mental recipes sound great. I fancy myself a decent home cook and my girlfriend has probably has a bit more of a nuanced touch that I can call into action as needed. But who knows. They might all taste the same or add very little to a cocktail or be a muddled mess.

          Using the Old Monk as my rum base: All other rum-based recipes call for Bacardi 151 or some over-proof approximation, but I can't really bring myself to use it. Bacardi 151 is "rum" not rum; that is, it kinda sorta tastes like rum, but it's more just something to light on fire. I figure, if you want that flavor, go for it. Sacrifice proof if you need to but get some serious flavor in there. We'll see what happens on that front. It could very well bit me in the ass. After only a few days though, the sassafras and sarsaparilla in the Old Monk are DELICIOUS. Even if they don't make it into bitters, which is unlikely, they'll end up being cut with more Old Monk for a pretty awesome infusion.

          Once I start blending, I'll repost the duration of the infusions and what combinations I've decided on.

          If you're in the hood, it'd be great to have an extra opinion. I've been tasting a variety of bitters by themselves and in cocktails for a bit but I'm still struggling to figure out what's "good" versus "extraneous" versus just downright "useless."

          1. re: mrgrotto

            I would certainly love to try your creations! Drop me a line when you're ready for a second opinion: adam [at] sqlblog [dot] com

            1. re: mrgrotto

              MrGrotto - When making my homemade bitters I filtered first through coffee filters. This process takes a long time, but works well to get out the large sediment. Following that I allow the bitters to settle for about a week then siphon the clear bitters off the top being careful not to disturb the sediment.

              I've read on another site good reports about using a Buchner Funnel for bitters filtration but I haven't had a chance to try it myself as yet.


              1. re: ShadowedOne

                Thanks for the input. I've actually tried the coffee filter technique on other projects and found it too time consuming. I've also tried the syphon-off-the-top-without-disturbing-the-bottom thing with varying degrees of success. After checking out that Jamie Boudreau link from the first response, I'm going to try the water filter first and then at some point once I've got some extra money kicking around, I'll get some sweet lab gear.

              2. re: mrgrotto

                Hi Mrgrotto,
                Don't be afraid of the 151 proof rum when making liqueurs, tinctures, or bitters. I understand what you are saying in our post ( that in your opinion, when drinking straight, Bacardi 151 does not taste like rum) but keep in mind, the higher the proof, the more flavor will be extracted from the base ingredients. I have made batches of Limoncello from lemon peel - and both 100 proof vodka and 151 proof Everclear, and the higher proof definitely extracts more flavor. I understand that citrus is especially hard to extract, and I would guess that nuts & herbs are the same. Soft fruits like cherries may give up their flavor more readily, I don't know.
                Again, if you are using Boudreau's method of separate macerations, you will probably be able to get a stronger product out of the higher proof soak, and after blending may actually have a lower proof end product, then if you had used more of a lower proof base.
                Again, this is all about alchemy and personal preference.
                Thanks for starting this discussion.

                For those interested, here is another blog worth perusing...

          2. Alright. So an update is in order. Here goes:

            After steeping everything in alcohol for 2 weeks (shaking daily... and tasting... mmmm...), I strained off the infusions through a fine mesh strainer and reserved the mash for steeping in hot water. I then tried to filter them through a Brita. The Brita sorta let me down; it's just not capable of catching the fine sediment. After letting the Ball jars settle for a few days after the unsuccessful Brita filtering, I've begun to carefully syphon off the liquid per ShadowedOne's suggestion. So far so good. Minimal effort, clear liquid.

            Each reserved mash was then put into another Ball jar and filled with just-under boiling water (I finally got to use my electric kettle for something other than my French press and tea!). After 2 weeks (shaking daily... and tasting, etc.), I've begun to strain off the water. First through the fine mesh strain and then through the Brita. I'm hoping that most of the smaller, non-Brita-filterable sediment was left in with the liquor during the earlier stages but we'll see. So far it looks like that's the case.

            After all the straining, I'll have two containers of each ingredient; for example, I'll have one Ball jar of sassafras infused rye and one of sassafras infused water. Since the rye is 100 proof, I'll plan on bringing it down to ~80 proof by cutting it with the water. However, in order to concentrate the flavor of the water, which is, well, watery, I'm going to figure out how much water I need to get each infused liquor down to the appropriate proof and then extremely gently, boil the water down to the right volume. Once boiled down, I'll add it to the appropriate liquors to achieve the correct proof.

            Then comes the blending!

            And more reporting...

            1 Reply
            1. re: mrgrotto

              I applaud your endeavor. I currently have a small batch of house bitters up in a dark cabinet and will report back to all when I have a finished recipe. Just a warning though. If you plan on reducing your water based flavors, do be careful. Many of the subtle flavors can be damaged by high heat. Test a small amount first, then if you are happy with it, go ahead and boil it all down.

              As an example, horseradish broke down and became what can only be described VILE. but other things are not as fragile. Good luck and I look forward to reading all about your successes.

            2. I would leave the making of bitters to the professionals i.e. Campari for example and indulge your inner mixologist by using Italian bitters to make drinks like the Campari Negroni, Americano, or Campari Orange. With a history that dates to late 1860's and a recipe that includes 68 natural ingredients, spices, aromatic herbs, fruit peels and the scented bark of a tree grown in the Bahamas how can and why should we compete. Having said that it sounds like fun!

              2 Replies
              1. re: per me

                No need to sell me on the merits of Campari and it's use in cocktails. You're preaching to the choir...

                Actually, the bitters I'm making are the non-potable kind, i.e. Angostura, Peychaud's, Fee's, etc. which historically were tinctures made in-house by the bartender (and pharmacists at apothecaries). That being said, there's no reason why someone should balk at the idea of making their own potable bitters based on Campari, Aperol, Fernet, etc. Plenty of folks did it and plenty of folks do it.

                1. re: mrgrotto

                  Actually, my house made bitters tastes pretty darn good with a splash of water or an ice cube all on their own.

              2. You all are helping to fortify my courage for the new year.... and a new and fresh attempt at making bitters. I'm wondering where you all get your bitters recipes, or if you are experimenting yourself. Have any of you tried the so called classic bitters recipes from the classic cocktail guides that have been digitized, like these? Despite some of the seemingly poisonous ingredients, I'm intrigued by some of these concoctions, and curious if anyone has made them.