An Enthusiasts guide to DIY bitters: vol. 1, part 1


I’ve thought about making bitters for a while now. So I was quite excited when the Jan/Feb issue of Imbibe magazine (thanks, Amy & Phil!) included a recipe for grapefruit bitters. I’d already been toying with gentian flavors in the form of Salers Gentaine aperitif and really want to understand the potential of bittering agents better. What better a way than to directly work with them myself?

The fundamentals of bitters are essentially the same. Combine bitter things with herbs, spices and other flavorful components in high-proof alcohol and let them sit for a period of time. These bitter things tend to be the roots of flowers, with the gentian root being perhaps the most recognizable (think of the bitterness in Campari, Angostura and Fernet). Salers is a bottling of just that flavor cut with a little sugar, and will give you the full depth of flavor the root has to offer. The recipe (below) also calls for dandelion root, wormwood and whole coriander—among other things, so I headed over to Rainbow Grocery, the SF goldmine for random stuff in jars, to stock up.

Bitters-ingredients Stuff to make bitters with

Here is the recipe I followed, essentially based on 1/3 of the quantities in Imbibe issue 41:

1 grapefruit
1 small lemon
2 tsp cardamom pods
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp dried gentian root
1 tsp dried mint
1 tsp dried wormwood (I’m expecting this, like absinthe, to be *highly* hallucinogenic)
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp dried dandelion root
250 ml Everclear (151 proof grain alcohol)


And here are the steps I plan to follow:

  1. Peel citrus zest (minimal pith)
  2. Combine ingredients in a sealed glass jar and shake. Let sit in a cool, dark place for three weeks

    Prior to adding the booze, the jar of citrus, herbs and spices gave off the most wonderful aromatic bouquet; soft from the mint, clove and cardamom, tart from the citrus and ginger, and rich with the roots. I can’t wait to see how this evolves into flavor!
  3. Funnel through a double layer of cheesecloth and then gather the ends of the cloth to enclose the solids
  4. Steep cheesecloth full of solids in 8 oz. of hot water until it cools to room temperature
  5. Remove solids and add steeped water to alcohol mixture. Let stand until completely settled (about 5 days)
  6. Strain liquid through another double layer of cheesecloth and then coffee filters until no longer cloudy
  7. Transfer to tincture bottles and enjoy!

    Grapefruit-bitters-CUThe mixture in alcohol

    Obviously I’ve only made it through Step 2 so far, but in a couple weeks we’ll be ready for the next phase! Tune back in to see how it goes.