I’m about to tell you something really embarrassing.

Homemade Cocktail Bitters: Cherry Vanilla, Chocolate, Grapefruit & Strawberry Ginger I howsweeteats.com

Ever since the scene in Crazy, Stupid Love… the scene where Ryan Gosling makes a cocktail for Emma Stone… I’ve wanted to make bitters.

Really.

That’s been my driving force.

hu. miliating.

I mean, I’ve had bitters in my cocktails for years and have enjoyed them, but it was that – a freaking movie scene! – that sealed the deal. I was making them.

So bitters are occasionally described as the “salt and pepper” of cocktails or something like that. They add a little kick to some drinks and are staples in others like manhattans and the old fashioned. The most common bitters and the ones you’ve probably had before are angostura bitters, but the recipe is a big time secret and apparently only known by a handful of people in the universe. Fancy!

SO we just make our own. Cool? Cool.

Homemade Cocktail Bitters: Cherry Vanilla, Chocolate, Grapefruit & Strawberry Ginger I howsweeteats.com

[my glass is smudged. i fail.]

In all my hours of bitter research (and boy, do I mean hours), I learned a few things. Minor things but major things. For instance, there isn’t really a “true recipe” for creating bitters. It’s a lot of trial and error, it depends on your own palette, it depends on the herbs you have access to and things like that.

I discovered multiple methods that called for bittering agents (herbs and barks that you purchase) to sit for two days up until two months; methods that called for bitters to be made in one jar and one jar only; methods that called for six or seven separate jars for one ultimate flavor.

My brain was in complete bitter overload and about to explode.

Oomph.

I decided to just go with it. I knew I wanted to make a bunch of crazy flavors because, well… it’s me and nothing can even be classy and simple. Cherry vanilla topped the list, but so did chocolate. I decided to make both of those and used three separate jars: one for the main flavor (cherry and chocolate, respectively), one for the spice undertones and one for the bittering agents.

Homemade Cocktail Bitters: Cherry Vanilla, Chocolate, Grapefruit & Strawberry Ginger I howsweeteats.com

I also made some grapefruit bitters which only required two jars, and for the hell of it… made one-jar bitters at the last minute. The craziest thing is that I ended up LOV.ING. them.

The other thing about bitters is that once you have your flavored liquid and your bittering liquid (aside from the one-jar bitters mentioned above), they can become as sweet or as bitter as you’d like. This obviously takes a lot of (fun!) play time, taste testing and edits. There is no wrong answer – if it’s too sweet, add more of the bittering liquid. If it’s too bitter… more sweet flavor.

There are a few cases (the grapefruit and the chocolate) where I added a hint of simple syrup to really bring out the flavor. I loved the result with this. Oh and one thing I didn’t do was add any water to my mixtures. I found some methods did and some did not, and after lots of tasting I decided to forgo that option.

That means they are STA-RONG. Strong strong strong.

But it’s cool. You only need a few drops.

OMG. are you so totally bored? Hope not.

I’m almost done anyway. Then I will leave you to read the longest recipe in the universe. I’m still trying to figure out a way to shorten that list somehow (maybe with a clickable link to the other recipes?) so it isn’t so obnoxiously long, but this is what we’re working with today.

Homemade Cocktail Bitters: Cherry Vanilla, Chocolate, Grapefruit & Strawberry Ginger I howsweeteats.com

If you aren’t familiar with bitters but they sound cool, here are my thoughts. Head to a crafty bar or gastropub and taste taste taste. It’s all in the name of research. Even buy a bottle of bitters and make some of your own cocktails. Determine if you actually enjoy bitters and drinks made with bitters. Don’t be afraid of these recipes below if you haven’t tried bitters before. Example: if you don’t care for vodka, don’t shy away from the grapefruit bitters completely just because they are made with vodka. A few drops in a different cocktail? You won’t even be able to tell it’s vodka and you may love them.

Just my two cents.

Homemade Cocktail Bitters: Cherry Vanilla, Chocolate, Grapefruit & Strawberry Ginger I howsweeteats.com

To make a long story long, below are the combinations I used. They are by no means a perfect “recipe,” but my first method. I’m super happy with the results and can’t believe I had the patience to do something like this. I must be growing up.

Oh and as a final note, I found the best places to order these crazy herbs were from dandelion botanical and mountain rose herbs. Sure, I felt like I was having a box full of drugs delivered to my door (do not fear, I wasn’t and I’m just ignorant) but hey… gotta do what you gotta do. Now get to work! You can have these done by Christmas. Hint hint.

Homemade Cocktail Bitters: Cherry Vanilla, Chocolate, Grapefruit & Strawberry Ginger I howsweeteats.com

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Homemade Cocktail Bitters

Yield: these bitters make about 4 (2-ounce) bottles each

Ingredients:

things you need in general for bitters
-a bunch of mason jars or containers, an assortment of bittering herbs and aromatics, high-proof alcohol, such as 101 proof bourbon, 151 proof rum or vodka, flavor agents, like fruits, citrus peels and vanilla beans, bottles with droppers or small jars to store the liquid in, fine mesh sieves, coffee filters and/or cheesecloth for straining-

cherry vanilla bitters
8 ounces dried cherries
1 1/2 cups 101 proof bourbon
6 cardamom pods, crushed
2 tonka beans, cracked*
2 vanilla beans, scraped
2 star anise
1 1/2 cups 101 proof bourbon
1/2 tablespoon gentian root
1/2 tablespoon cassia chips
1/2 tablespoon wild cherry bark
1 cup 100 proof rye whiskey

chocolate bitters
1/2 cup cacao nibs
1 1/4 cups 101 proof bourbon
6 cardamom pods, chopped
2 tonka beans, cracked*
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1 1/4 cups 101-proof bourbon
1 tablespoon gentian root
1 tablespoon sarsaparilla
1 teaspoon wild cherry bark
1 teaspoon cassia chips
1 teaspoon black walnut leaf
1 cup 100 proof rye whiskey
1/4 cup simple syrup

grapefruit bitters
3 grapefruits, rind removed
2 1/4 cups 100-proof vodka
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
1 tonka bean, cracked*
1/2 tablespoon culinary lavender
1/2 tablespoon juniper berries
1/2 tablespoon gentian root
1 teaspoon black walnut leaf
2 cups 100-proof vodka
1/4 cup simple syrup

strawberry ginger one-jar bitters
2/3 cups dried strawberries
1/2 tablespoon culinary lavender
1/2 tablespoon gentian root
1/2 tablespoon saspararilla
1/2 tablespoons wild cherry bark
1 teaspoon black walnut leaf
1 teaspoon cassia chips
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1 star anise
1 thumb-sized pieces of fresh ginger
2 tonka beans, cracked*
3 cups 101-proof bourbon

*please note that tonka beans are not illegal to purchase, but i believe it is illegal for restaurants to use them in food in the US. apparently when ingested in large quantities, they can be toxic. before using them, i suggest doing your own research. i felt comfortable enough to purchase a few and only used them to infuse the alcohol.

Directions:

cherry vanilla bitters
Jar #1: In one jar, add the dried cherries and bourbon. Shake well.
Jar #2: In the second jar, add the tonka beans, cardamom pods, scraped vanilla beans and pods, star anise and bourbon. Shake well.
Jar #3: In the third jar, add the gentian root, cassia chips, wild cherry bark and rye whiskey. Shake well.
Store all jars in a cool dark place. Shake the jars once per day.

After 5 days, strain jar #3, removing all the herbs and anything that has settled on the bottom. Place the bitters back in the jar (cleaned or at least free of any bitter "sediment") until ready to use. After 10 days, strain jars #1 and #2, and combine them together into one jar. Allow the mixture to sit for 3 days.
Now it's time to combine your bitters! I found that I needed to strain mine again, so do that if needed. You want them as clear as possible. There is no set "recipe" here - simply combine a few ounces of the cherry vanilla liquid and a few ounces of the bittering liquid until it reaches a bitterness you are content with. One you find it, use a mini funnel (I actually use parchment paper rolled into a funnel) and add the bitters to a jar with a dropper. Let them sit for another week before use, straining once again if needed before use. I found that the final strain got them super clear.

chocolate bitters
Jar #1: Add the cocoa nibs and 101-proof bourbon. Shake well
Jar #2: Add the tonka beans, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, vanilla beans and 101-proof bourbon.
Jar #3: Add the gentian root, saspararilla, wild cherry bark, cassia chips, black walnut leaf and 100-proof rye whiskey.
Store all jars in a cool dark place. Shake the jars once per day.

After 5 days, strain jar #3, removing all the herbs and anything that has settled on the bottom. Place the bitters back in the jar (cleaned or at least free of any bitter "sediment") until ready to use. After 10 days, strain jars #1 and #2, and combine them together into one jar. Allow the mixture to sit for 3 days.
After 3 days, strain your jars again add 1/4 cup simple syrup to the chocolate-flavored jar. Combine a few ounces of the chocolate liquid and a few ounces of the bittering liquid until it reaches a bitterness you are content with. Once you find it, use a mini funnel and add the bitters to a jar with a dropper. Let them sit for another week before use, straining once again if needed before use. I found that the final strain got them super clear.

grapefruit bitters
Jar #1: Add the grapefruit rind 100-proof vodka. Shake well.
Jar #2: Add the lavender, juniper berries, black walnut leaf, gentian root, tonka bean, ginger and 100-proof vodka. Shake well.
Store all jars in a cool dark place. Shake the jars once per day.

After 5 days, strain jar #2, removing all the herbs and anything that has settled on the bottom. Place the bitters back in the jar (cleaned or at least free of any bitter "sediment") until ready to use. After 10 days, strain jar #1. Allow the mixture to sit for 3 days.
After 3 days, strain your jars again add 1/4 cup simple syrup to the grapefruit-flavored jar. Combine a few ounces of the grapefruit liquid and a few ounces of the bittering liquid until it reaches a bitterness you are content with. Once you find it, use a mini funnel and add the bitters to a jar with a dropper. Let them sit for another week before use, straining once again if needed before use. I found that the final strain got them super clear.

strawberry ginger one-jar bitters
Combine all ingredients together in one jar and let them sit for 10 days. Store the jar in cool, dark place and shake it once per day.
After 10 days, strain the jar to remove the ingredients and sediment from the bottom. Let the mixture sit for another 3 days and strain again. Add the mixture to dropper jars, straining one more time in another day or two to remove any bits from the bottom.

[I pulled tons of information, hours of research, adaptions and help from these places: spirits+cocktails, serious eats, not without salt, food & wine and from scratch club]

Homemade Cocktail Bitters: Cherry Vanilla, Chocolate, Grapefruit & Strawberry Ginger I howsweeteats.com

Phew! I’m outta here. I appreciate you for listening to my rambles.

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71 Responses to “How To Make Cocktail Bitters.”

  1. #
    51
    jessie — January 7, 2014 @ 11:17 pm

    I made these as Christmas gifts – HUGE hit!! used your cherry vanilla recipe, and also played with a lime-spearmint combo for my father-in-law, who loves rum & cokes. What a fun project! Thank you so much!

    Reply

    • Jessica — January 7th, 2014 @ 11:21 pm

      this makes me so happy! the lime spearmint combo sounds amazing!

      Reply

  2. #
    52
    Caitlin C — January 29, 2014 @ 5:06 pm

    I just gathered all of the ingredients and am making these tonight! excited! (one is a VERY late christmas gift….)

    Reply

  3. #
    53
    Jingles — February 13, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

    Thanks for all the effort. Gonna try a chocolate bacon bitters or maybe a combination of two different types. Any thoughts?

    Reply

  4. #
    54
    Jillian — February 15, 2014 @ 9:29 am

    My fiance and I just started the cherry vanilla and chocolatebitters yesterday. . I’m so excited to see how they turn out. We are thinking if we like them to do them as favors at our wedding. One thing to keep costs down, is it necessary to buy the very high proof Bourbon and Rye?

    Reply

  5. #
    55
    Lady Croft — March 8, 2014 @ 12:55 am

    I’m not an expert on bitters so I can’t say for sure whether or not it’s absolutely necessary to get over-proof whiskey – but what I CAN tell you is that their being over-proof does not necessarily mean they’re more expensive. Some over-proof rye whiskey and bourbons are not only excellent deals – but they are REALLY good.
    Here’s a couple i really like, and are also highly rated by a lot of whiskey aficionados: Rittenhouse 100 bottled in bond Rye, which at about $20 a bottle is a STEAL. it’s very good. Makes excellent cocktails too :)
    Old Grandad 100 over-proof bourbon is even cheaper – like $17! And it’s really good!
    I think Old Overholt Rye is also pretty inexpensive too, maybe a little cheaper than Rittenhouse. I suppose there are some dirt cheap whiskeys out there that come in a plastic bottle or something that wouldn’t be over-proof…. so I’m not sure if those would work or not. i have seen some bitters recipes that don’t specify using high-proof vodka, and even said you could use regular vodka if you want. Hope that’s helpful :)

    Reply

  6. #
    56
    Alan Allison — March 8, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

    Great blog! Love your writing style :) Now off to make me some bitters…

    Reply

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