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Dec 17, 2010 11:00 AM

Homemade Orange Bitters

I've had a pretty good experience making various bitters from scratch over the last year.

I also made a nice Falernum that really makes my tiki drinks sing.

As we get into citrus season I have resolved to make a REALLY good citrus bitters.

Have filled a jam jar with Grain alcohol, and plan on zesting (with a microplane) various citrus right into the jar as we go through citrus season. My local green grocer has promised me some bitter oranges soon, which are obviously key. But I already got some nice red navel oranges and tangerines that had pretty fragrant zest on them, so into the jar it went. The liquid already has a nice pale orange color. My goal is to have a really nice strong tincture by February or so which I will blend into various bitters...

Please chime in with your own success making citrus bitters.

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  1. Citrus tinctures are usually ready rather quickly. 7 days is often plenty and 14 is the longest I have gone.

    Fresh peels give a brighter flavor than dried. For things like Amer Picon replicas, the brightness can be detrimental. You should figure out what direction you want to go (drying your own peels isn't too hard to do).

    Some peels like grapefruit don't have a long shelf life.

    Figure out what else you want in there in terms of spice notes and bitter notes. Cinnamon, clove, and cardamom are common as are floral elements for spices, and gentian and wormwood for bitter elements (plenty of choices).

    Looking back at my notes, licorice root paired up well with clementine.

    A few recipes I've written about:

    1 Reply
    1. re: yarm

      Thank you.

      Last year when making bitters I got a bit of a feel for the dry vs. fresh citrus peel phenom.

      I wasn't a hug fan of grapefruit.

      I think I may go with a combo of fresh and dried.

      I have some gentian and wormwood, thanks for pointing me in that direction with regard to bitter notes. I was in Abruzzo Italy this summer and and EVERYONE seemed to make their own Genziana bitter liquor. Good stuff.

      I also have some really amazing very high grade neroli (bitter orange flower), pettigrain (bitter orange twig), and bitter orange leaf essential oils so I may shoot for a sort of pan-citrus bitters...

      I like the idea of adding liquorice root in particular...

    2. Also take a look at Gary Regan's orange bitters recipe (he likes this one better than the one that the Sazerac company bottles for him (#6) but I don't think he was allowed to get this one commercialized). Here's the ingredients -- the recipe can be found on the web:

      Regan’s Orange Bit­ters Recipe No. 5
      Allow four weeks to pre­pare this bit­ters recipe.

      * 8oz Dried Orange Peel, Chopped Very Fine
      * 1 Tea­spoon Car­damom Seeds (taken out of their pods)
      * 1/2 Tea­spoon Car­away Seeds
      * 1 Tea­spoon Corian­der Seeds
      * 1 Tea­spoon Quas­sia Chips
      * 1/2 Tea­spoon Pow­dered Cin­chona Bark
      * 1/4 Tea­spoon Gentian
      * 2 Cups Grain Alcohol
      * 4 1/2 Cups Water, Divided Into 1/2 Cup, 3 1/2 Cups, and 1/2 Cup
      * 1 Cup Gran­u­lated Sugar

      9 Replies
      1. re: yarm

        Yarm - I too am following the recipe above and have encountered a different situation. I removed the solids, mashed and boiled as directed and let them sit a week. When I went to strain the liquid (it had been absorbed into the orange peel so I had to wring the cheesecloth to extract any liquid), I didn't get a liquid but slime. I tasted the "slime" and it tasted bitter orangey (as I would have expected).

        Has anyone else gotten slime? I read elsewhere (on making Boker's Bitters) that heating would cause the "slime" to "melt". Any suggestions? I'm hoping some chowhound might have encountered something similar in their travels.

        1. re: Atalanta

          Don't bother with saving the solids and boiling them. Just let the tincture infuse for 1-2 weeks. You may want to add the water at the one week mark so the tincture is one week at high proof and one week at final proof. Also try not to use powdered anything, but chips. It makes filtering easier.

          1. re: JMF

            I'll keep that in mind for the next batch. I already get all my ingredients "chopped" rather than "powdered" (at least those I have the option) - after reading elsewhere on how much a PAIN it is to strain powdered stuff.

            I have this batch divided into smaller "experimental" quantities already (Regan got his recipe from Charles H. Baker and there is a huge difference in the amount of burnt sugar to add - 1/4 c in Baker's, 1c in Regan's). So I'll fiddle with them to see about eliminating the "slime".

            Oh, and I get just about all my herbs for bitters and tonic from Penn Herb in Philadelphia. They even have the hard to find cinchona bark. Great people, been buying from them forever.

          2. re: Atalanta

            I think you've managed to extract the pectin from the peels. It's what makes jellies and jams set. IIRC it's unstable to repeated or extended heating, but you could read up on jam processing to find out for sure. If that is the case, you could heat and cool it a couple of times and that may fix it.
            Harold McGee's book "On Food and Cooking" would be one resource.

            1. re: splatgirl

              That's what I was figuring, splatgirl. I'll look into the jam processing and see what they say. Probably why they have you do the canning steps while it is still hot. Thanks for the suggestion!

              1. re: splatgirl

                I'd saw that was a certainty. I looked on some Jelly pages and tried to do what they say causes jellies not to jell. The attached picture was my first attempt at breaking the jell. I'm considering picking up some Seville oranges and throwing in the peel and just calling it Orange Bitters Marmalade.

                The first attempt (pictured) I had the stuff in a glass jar and boiled the open jar. Second attempt (cooling on the stove) was the whole batch in a cast iron pot (it'll keep it hot longer).

                1. re: Atalanta

                  You can get an enzyme called pectinase from homebrewing supply stores. It will convert the pectin to something else. What, I'm not sure. But I do know that it works very well, as I use it when making hard cider and the cloudy cider drops clear, usually within 24 hours after I add some of the enzyme.

                  1. re: Atalanta

                    Did you break up the original solid mass and/or did it melt when you heated it?
                    In any case, it seems like you've established that heat alone is not enough to permanently disable the bonds in this particular gel....
                    Did you try adding any additional liquid? The pectin molecules need a reason (aka the intervention of appropriately charged particles) to separate and STAY separated once it's back at room temp. If you haven't succeeded with this project yet, maybe try blending the whole thing up with water, spirit, (or possibly glycerine) and then heating it again.

                    I think the enzyme suggestion is probably your best bet at this point. It wouldn't change the pectin to something else, just break the bonds that make it a gel.

                    1. re: splatgirl

                      I'm going to see if a local homebrew shop has the pectinase. I thought i'd had success when it didn't solidify after the last re-heating but then I poured it into a jar and I have jam again. The stove is gas with a pilot light and I guess that little extra bit of heat was enough to keep it melted.

                      Once I try the pecinase, I'll post my results. Hey, this may happen once in a great while, so when the next great while happens and someone comes across this posting, they'll [hopefully] get answers (and next time, NO BOILING AND MIXING the orange peels! LOL)

            2. First report back: so have the zest of 4 clementines and one navel steeping in 300ml of grain for over a week. Just tasted it... truly amazing! Better than any off the shelf bitters I've had, and honestly, better then even my fav luxardo Triplum triple sec.

              I just added some dried orange peel to make it a tad more complex, but will probably triple the volume and keep adding.

              Why by booze when you can make it your self?

              10 Replies
              1. re: StriperGuy

                one word - blood orange. In my opinion their peel is much more fragrant than a navel or valencia. I use them for my yearly limoncello

                1. re: quazi

                  Thanks for the tip. Have not tried blood orange zest. I find most of the blood oranges in the states to be pretty flavorless compared to what I have had in Spain and Italy, but will give the zest a whirl.

                  The best of all is bitter orange. I am waiting for them to come in at my local green grocer. The juice is also a classic ingredient in many marinades and it is THE orange to make marmelade out of.


                  1. re: StriperGuy

                    You trying to kill me, Striper? ;-)

                    "In a recent article by the publication Consumer Reports, it was furthermore reported that use of bitter orange may be associated with "fainting, heart-rhythm disorders, heart attack, stroke, [and] death"

                      1. re: EvergreenDan

                        Yah, sure, if you are a dope and taking many, many milligrams a day, sure it might be harmful, so is just about everything. See what happens if you eat too much, say ham, every day for years.

                        Bitter orange is a classic food ingredient and delicious in many preps, and totally harmless when used in moderation.

                        1. re: EvergreenDan

                          Striper: you saw the wink, right?

                          Actually for those with cardiac issues, it might be something to be aware of (along with caffeine and alcohol in general).

                          1. re: EvergreenDan

                            If its considered to be similar to ephedra, which was banned by the FDA and NCAA, then maybe its not just like eating lots of, say, ham... would be curious to find out exactly how many bitters-laced cocktails or ounces of cointreau, grand marnier, punt e mes, campari, nonino or nardini amaro etc per week or per drinking session constitutes a hazard... and what should I do with my precious bottles of Amer Picon? ;)...ok here is an opposing viewpoint which is more reassuring http://www.wholefoodsmagazineonline.c...

                            1. re: EvergreenDan

                              Whoops, my apologies, I missed the wink!!!

                      2. re: StriperGuy

                        Striper - Are you making a "non-potable" bitters like Angostura Orange or a potable bitters (I'm thinking Creole Shrubb meets Campari)? Both sound really interesting.

                        I have never seen bitter oranges in the market, but being able to make something useful with common citrus is intriguing.

                        1. re: EvergreenDan

                          So honestly right now I have not settled on the potable or non-potable. And even my cocktail bitters end up somewhere in between. They tast pretty good/potent just splashed on an ice cube...

                          I may make a cointreau/triple sec type beverage, as well as a true angostura like cocktail bitters. Man I tasted it again just now. Added some dried orange peel as well. Far and away the best orange liquer base I've ever had. Better than my fav Luxardo Triplum, heck better than Gran Marnier. Just tastes so friggin deliciously orangey.

                          Arax in Watertown should start to have bitter oranges about now. Really worth getting if you like making bitters, or want to marinate some pork. The classic Puerto Rican mojo for dipping roast pork after cooking has bitter orange.

                      3. Just a little update.

                        Scored some awesome bitter orange, zested and added to mix.

                        Sadly the bitter orange totally took over the delicate flavor I got from the clementines, now ALL you taste is the excellent bitter orange flavor.

                        Fortunately I still have LOTS of clementines so will just make more clementinello (Limoncello is what it reminded me of.)

                        Also have some Myer lemons, can't decide quite what to do with them.

                        Also the blood oranges I got added nothing special to the mix.