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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters: Part 3

You've made it to day three of our Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters primer! Congratulations. Pat yourself on the back, and get ready for the grand finale: Bitters.

Just a few bitter-making ingredients

Bitters Basics:

  • Use whole spices, herbs, and botanicals (not ground) for easier straining. Roughly chop everything if you want to increase surface area and infuse faster.
  • What type of alcohol should you use? Use high-proof (between 50% and 60% ABV is best) to extract all the flavor. If you are making lighter bitters (like floral or fruity), use light spirits (vodka, gin, white rum). If you are making darker, heavier bitters (dried fruits, cacao, root-heavy) try rum, whiskey, or brandy. If you’re just starting out, vodka is a safe, neutral bet.
  • For the most control over the final product, infuse each ingredient separately and then combine them together at the end. Each spice, herb, and botanical releases flavor at different rates, so extracting flavors separately gives you more control when blending.

Bittering agents usually make up 10 to 50% of the blend and may include plants like angelica root, burdock root, calamus root, cinchona bark, citrus peel, gentian root, licorice root, orris root, quassia bark, sarsaparilla, wild cherry bark, and wormwood.

Other ingredients round out the bitters and may include just about any herb, spice, flower, fruit, or nut. Use your imagination!

  • Spices - allspice, aniseed, caraway, cardamom, cassia, celery seed, chiles, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel, ginger, juniper berries, nutmeg, peppercorns, star anise, vanilla beans
  • Herbs & Flowers – blessed thistle, chamomile, hibiscus, hops, lavender, lemongrass, mint, rose, rosemary, sage, thyme, yarrow
  • Fruits - fresh or dried citrus peel (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit), dried fruit (apples, cherries, figs, raisins)
  • Nuts - toasted almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.
  • Beans - cacao beans, cocoa nibs, coffee beans

Basic Bitter Recipe:

1. Use 1 to 2 teaspoons dried botanicals per 4 ounces of liquor. Infuse each botanical separately, shaking daily, until flavor is at the desired strength. (For example: gentian takes about 1 week to extract, orange peel takes about 3 weeks)

2. Strain through coffee filter or cheesecloth.

3. Blend infusions together until you get desired balance of flavors.

4. Bottle and store in a cool, dry place. It will lasts for years, so be sure to label your finished product!

Sources: thekitchn.com, spiritsandcocktails.wordpress.com, neighborhoodnotes.com, Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons


Thanks for reading our primer on Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters. Hopefully we gave you just the push you needed to start experimenting with your drinks. Interested in learning more? Comment with any questions, and check out these great resources: The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier, The Drunk Botanist by Amy Stewart, and Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons.

This post is part of our series on simple syrups, tonics, and bitters. For others in the series check out:
Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters: Part 1
Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters: Part 2
Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters: Part 3


Kara Elder grew up playing in the kitchen cupboards and reading cookbooks for fun while watching her mom cook tasty Mexican meals. After graduating with a degree in Russian, she found herself increasingly interested in reading food blogs and planning menus. Kara, her mom, and her sister started a food blog of their own, The Troika Table. Kara is a Bazaar Spices Team Member and also works for Joan Nathan, a DC-based cookbook author and food writer. 

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