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Brian Robinson

Bitters

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There are multiple recipes on the net about making bitters, and I've tried many of them. But a recent discussion about fig bitters led me to the idea of posting one of my more common ways to make bitters in general. You can use this technique to make basically any flavor of bitters you like. I've currently got about 40 different types that I've made for myself. Once you've put together a nice batch of the base, the rest is cake.

There are three main parts to a bitters recipe: the basic aromatic blend, the basic bitter blend, and the flavoring agent. Making them separately is cumbersome, but it also leaves you with much more control over the final product. Further, having the first two done in large batches leaves you with only having to continually make the flavoring agents, so it can save a lot of time.


Aromatic Blend:
2 tbsp dried orange peel
1 tbsp dried lemon peel
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp caraway powder
1 tbsp aniseed powder
1 tbsp cassia bark
25 oz vodka
Macerate in a jar for 10 days, agitating at least once per day
Then strain ingredients and put them into a pan with 5 ounces of water.
Cook for a few minutes
Return to vodka and allow to macerate for another 5 days, agitate daily
Strain multiple times until you're left with a liquid clear of any sediment



Bitter blend
1 tbsp each of gentian root, dandelion, quassia
1/2 tbsp of wormwood
1 cup vodka
Macerate for 2 days
Cook the same way as the aromatic blend
Macerate for another 2 days, agitating each day
Strain/filter until clear of sediment


Flavoring agent
Use any herb, fruit, veggie, etc in vodka.
Preferably use dried fruits and veggies, as they add more flavor and the flavor lasts longer in the suspension
Macerate for at least two days, tasting a small sample for each day after. Agitate at least once daily.
Strain/filter until free of sediment


"Caramel"
Add 1 cup sugar to a pan, heat on medium high until it melts and browns, stirring frequently. Once it has turned very dark brown and starts to smoke, pour into 25 oz of water. It will solidify for a minute, but start breaking it down and shaking, and it will eventually dissolve.


Blend Bitter and Aromatics to preferred ratio (start at about 1/4 bitter to 3/4 aromatic). Add flavoring agent and caramel to taste. Add enough water to bring it down to at least 25% alcohol, maybe even lower, depending on your preference. I tend to keep them around the 25% mark, as they will be more shelf stable and will hold flavor. Add sugar, honey, or agave syrup to adjust bitterness/sweetness to taste.

Tips:
Use less of the bitter blend if you're making delicate bitters. I used practically none for my rosemary melon bitters. You can also cut out the caramel.

For heavier bitters, experiment using bourbon, rye or rum. I did a sour cherry bitters using dark rum as the base, and left out the caramel.

Dragon's Blood adds a very nice astringency if you're looking for more.


Some ideas:
Sour melon
Orange Thyme
Rosemary Melon
Pumelo
Cucumber mint
Praline
Bacon
Chile and lime
Mole

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Just as a follow up to the use of vodka: I've tried many recipes using much higher abv spirits like everclear and such, but I've found that they tend to bring out a lot more of the undesirable flavors in these types of extracts. Stick with 50% or less.

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The difference between Vodka and something like Everclear is something that eludes my mind.

 

I know whisky (short for water of life) is distilled grains aged in oak barrels, and I know brandy is distilled wine (burnt wine), so is vodka unaged distilled grain spirits, distilled potato spirits, or what?

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Vodka can be made with just about anything...typically grain or potatoes, which is then distilled repeatedly until most of the flavor is stripped out, then I believe it's diluted to the proper ABV with distilled water. I had a grape-based vodka recently though, but most people complained that it had too much flavor.

 

Everclear is about the same idea but at a much higher ABV.

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Cool

Vodka = very neutral (or rectified) spirit? I guess it sounds better than 'ethanol'.

So infused vodka, and absinthe made of essences, or simple macceration are basically the same thing? While what we call absinthe is an infusion (via maceration), followed by distillation, with an optional infusion (maceration) afterwards?

 

I thought that vodka was something Soviets made with potatoes, but that was more of an impression, than anything learned.

 

My head hurts. Lemme go back to simple 5000 psi pressure vessels. :)

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Thanks for the bitters-making tutorial, Brian. I'm hoping to have the time and space to do this next year.

 

I had a grape-based vodka recently though, but most people complained that it had too much flavor.

 

My favorite vodka is Tito's, which is corn-based, but is made in a pot-still and retains a very nice flavor. I couldn't say it vodka purists would say it's too much flavor, but it's the only vodka I've had that I'd even think about sipping on neat or on the rocks.

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I dabbled with vodka a few years ago but got bored by the lack of flavor and louche. My favorite was Hangar One's Fraiser River Raspberry. There was a vodka thread a few years ago as well, which I found to be quite helpful.

 

Kudos to Brian for posting the recipes. I've got some ideas but am swamped with busyness for the next three weeks. Hopefully after that I'll get a batch or two going.

Edited by baubel

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My favorite vodka is 190 proof Everclear cut 50/50 with spring water.

 

I'm a cheap bitch. Everclear is the same price so why not get twice the volume for the same money?

 

Some people still fall for the hype. <shrug> JMO

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Vodka can be made with just about anything...typically grain or potatoes, which is then distilled repeatedly until most of the flavor is stripped out, then I believe it's diluted to the proper ABV with distilled water.

Yup. And some folks make shitty ass sugar beet vodka. Blech.

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Here is a recently blogged cocktail with absinthe and bitters:

 

 

 

Lords of Misrule

1.5 oz Vodka

0.25 oz Vieux Carre Absinthe

1 oz Grapefruit Clove Syrup

2 dashes Rhubarb Bitters

 

Shake ingredients well with ice and pour into a champagne glass. Top with seltzer and garnish with orange peel.

 

NOTES: Pretty damn good. I had been trying to think of something to make with a grapefruit clove syrup and I just kept coming back to greyhounds. I don't usually make much with vodka because it doesn't bring a ton to the table, but I liked it in this case, and think this could end up being a pretty damn tasty brunch drink. I'd also like to try it with champagne instead of seltzer, but I didn't want to open a whole bottle for a one-glass test drink. Maybe also try with gin instead of vodka, but not necessary. Easy to drink, and the grapefruit went surprisingly well with the Absinthe.

 

Grapefruit Clove Syrup

Juice and zest 3 large Ruby Red grapefruits, and simmer in water for about 20 minutes with a handful of cloves and 3 or 4 peppercorns. Add a cup of sugar and simmer for an additional 10. Strain twice and bottle.

 

LINK

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I love the IT Crowd, Bauble (and Black Books as well) :laugh: I can see you like your brit comedy straight. How about Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister or The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (very funny).

 

Sorry, I'm off topic. Don't be bitter. Is that close enough?

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I've never heard of those before, but I'll be looking into them. Thanks!

 

Grapefruit clove syrup sounds interesting, Louchey, thanks for posting that!

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YW!

one time I did a water drip through a strainer with some cloves, was kinda interesting.

I think I'll give this recipe a try.

 

edit

and another thing to try is frozen kumquats to a drink, will add some chill without watering down, and of course adds some citrus and bitterness.

Edited by TheLoucheyMonster!

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Vodka can be made with just about anything...typically grain or potatoes, which is then distilled repeatedly until most of the flavor is stripped out, then I believe it's diluted to the proper ABV with distilled water. I had a grape-based vodka recently though, but most people complained that it had too much flavor.

 

Everclear is about the same idea but at a much higher ABV.

 

 

Yup. Everclear is, at its heart, the easiest to obtain neutral grain spirit one commercially finds. EC has a myriad of uses, and I find myself employing it for an ever-widing array of tasks: Shelf-stabilization of non-alcoholic liquids is a biggie. Macerations of any kind (typically, as stated above, diluted down to 75/25 or 50/50, depending on goal), making tinctures/bitters, and as a low-weigh fuel for camping- The SO and I do some light/ultra-lightweight camping, and EC is wonderful as a cooking fuel.

 

By various twists in federal and state laws, EC is surprisingly well-made, neutral, and pure. Unlike a low-grade vodka, it is stripped of really EVERYTHING, making it damn-near inert. For the tool-based purposes mentioned above, it is great.

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Cool

Vodka = very neutral (or rectified) spirit? I guess it sounds better than 'ethanol'.

So infused vodka, and absinthe made of essences, or simple macceration are basically the same thing? While what we call absinthe is an infusion (via maceration), followed by distillation, with an optional infusion (maceration) afterwards?

 

I thought that vodka was something Soviets made with potatoes, but that was more of an impression, than anything learned.

 

My head hurts. Lemme go back to simple 5000 psi pressure vessels. :)

 

 

Mostly, yes. You've about got it.

 

In many ways, virtually all spirits either start as a form of NGS, or take NGS, and adding 'stuff' ('stuff' being anything- juniper, wormwood, coriander, caraway, nacho cheese sauce) to it. Whisky, for example, starts, in many ways, as just poorly recified NGS. Don't start setting me alit! Really! It's NOT 'neutral', in that it wasn't distilled all the way to 95%- depending on type/region of whisky it will be, it is brought up to 70-85%. The GEM/flavor is in that retained 10-25%. An 'ultra-turbo-mega-unicornsweat' vodka, on the other hand, does thier best (for some godforsaken reason) to get rid of ALL of that extra essense, flavors, notes, etc, to get to as close- via many redistillations- to 95.6% as they can.

 

My comment on whisky is to illustrate a point, and confirm what you are noting above. The 'poorly recified' part is, absolutely, the most important part, and is what makes whisky/brandy/rum the amazing catagories of spirits that they are (and what, to me, makes vodka so absolutely uninteresting).

 

Also, your life cycle for absinthe is essentially correct as well. Gin, minus the coloration step- unless you're one of those tendy bastards I see popping up lately... :thumbdown: ... is the same thing.

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Hey Brian, have you ever tried making brandy-based bitters?

 

I was thinking of using a recipe like yours, only increasing the amount of alcohol (brandy) to make a sort of "potable bitters" which I can use in ounces or half-ounces instead of dashes. The idea being that I can add this to wine to make a vermouthy concoction, or use it in cocktails.

 

Is this a flawed/bad idea?

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Not a bad idea, but it wouldn't necessarily be a bitters at that point. More of an infused spirit, or even an amaro. I've made bitters with pretty much each of the major base spirits, and then some. Each provides a different profile which can be better for certain ideas that I've got in my mad scientist's brain. You just need to experiment a little, and probably tone down the amount of herbs as well as the infusion time if you want to use them in larger doses as a vermouth or amaro.

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