Bitters Kits and Cocktail Recipes

bitterskitAlways a hot holiday gift, I’ve expanded my offering of DIY Cocktail Bitters Kits to include new flavors and Mini Bitters Booster Kits. (Underlined text all links to the corresponding item in my online store if you are looking to purchase)

If you’re wondering how to use them, you can start off by replacing the Angostura, orange or Peychaud’s bitters in most any classic cocktail, and here are three excellent drink recipes (1 strong, 1 light and 1 bowl of punch) for each of the flavors I offer.


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Bitters Making Workshop at Batch Made Market

I was invited to present a workshop on how to make cocktail bitters at home during the inaugural Batch Made Market in San Francisco, and it was a big success!

We did a quick overview of bitters’ history and uses, then dug into the tools, processes and testing methods for making bitters. It was a fun event, with close to 50 people attending, despite it being advertised as capped at 15, and it had sold out in a matter of minutes online. Twice as many people were standing crowded into the tent as were seated, but I had thought this might happen and brought enough tasting cups and handouts for fifty students.

The handout has a lot of good info, so I thought I should share it here as well. Click image below for PDF.


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Cranberry Bitters for Thanksgiving and Christmas Cocktails

cran3Problem: too much Beaujolais at family Thanksgiving last year, and too few cocktails.

Solution: homemade cranberry bitters to craft some festive holiday drinks.

The holiday season – and the stress that comes with it – are nearly upon us, so most of the instructions in this recipe involve hitting ingredients with a hammer or jabbing them with a sharp stick. After that you just wait, shake, and blend.


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Ice Cream Bar Pairings

Ice Cream Bar (815 Cole St. at Frederick), a throwback to the 1930’s soda fountain/ice cream parlor is just about to open in Cole Valley, and while the ice cream sundaes deserve their own write-up, the soda program from Texas/Rickhouse barman Russell Davis is mind-boggling.

Everything on the menu is reconstructed from century-old recipes. More than a dozen flavored syrups are made with fresh produce and without cooking to preserve the crisp flavors and silky smoothness, and they offer two dozen house-made extracts and over 75 house-made tinctures to be incorporated into a custom frappe, float, milkshake, malt, crush, phosphate, lactart, egg cream or soda. There is no other place creating these drinks in this way, but I expect the success of Ice Cream Bar will launch retro lunch counters and convince cocktail bars all over the country to start in-house soda programs in the very near future.

The amount of effort that goes into every drink is remarkable.  They whip cream in a shaker, and what’s more, milkshakes are made not with ice cream, but by shaking raw eggs and cream with hand carved blocks of ice!

They don’t have a liquor license (although a beer and wine license is pending), but if one were to perhaps, theoretically sneak a flask into ICB, the possibilities would defy the imagination. Having just tasted the entire menu, I recommend the following hypothetical boozey enhancements:


Peche No. 3 (cherry and anise frappe) – St. George Absinthe

Too Good to be True (butterscotch malted) –  Pappy Van Winkle 15 year (keeping in the spirit of the name)

House Built TonicPlymouth Gin (it’s a no-brainer)

My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend (roasted pineapple and pink peppercorn lactart) – Malibu (and I feel no shame)

Russel’s Sassafras Root Beer – (going out on a limb here) Smith and Cross Rum

Breakfast Soda (orange thyme crush) – Siete Leguas Blanco Tequila

For Bobby Long (chocolate hellfire phosphate) – Del Maguey Mezcal Vida

Touch of Grey (creamed candy capped mushroom phosphate) – Remy Martin Cognac 1738 Accord Royale(because mushroom soda is already so absurd)





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Aromatic Garnish

Last week I attended a tasting for Bloom Gin, a floral London Dry from the world’s only female master gin distiller (update: or so they claim. See Chad’s comment below), which is about to launch in the US.  Among a flight of  cocktails, there was something simple yet remarkable.

The Bloom G+T was garnished with half a fresh, ripe strawberry that totally changed the experience of drinking gin and tonic. It’s not something I order very often any more, but I expected it to taste like any other, and it probably would have, but for the interplay of rich strawberry fragrance with the crisp juniper, citrus and quinine flavors, making for a completely unique experience.

Like the strawberry, you can use an aromatic garnish to make a decent drink into an extraordinary experience. The scent of your garnish could complement or contrast with the flavors of the cocktail, crafting very different sensory adventures, so just play around with the possibilities until you find something that excites you. Some options include citrus zest squeezed to release its oils; a dash of bitters or a spray of absinthe from an atomizer atop a foamy cocktail; green herbs like mint or basil, clapped between your hands to extract the oils; edible flowers; and fresh cut fruits like apples, pears or berries.



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Properly Pickled: Vinegar in Cocktails

I’ve mentioned using vinegar in cocktails before, and it remains a pretty prevalent trend. Most often you see these cocktails described as containing a shrub, but sometimes the menu will come right out and list vinegar as an ingredient. This may keep the weak-of-heart at bay, but it is a time-honored and chemically sound approach to brightening a libation.

At Tales of the Cocktail this year, an entire 90-minute seminar was dedicated to the use of this soured wine by-product, and although the first cocktail they served us was offensively sour for a Saturday morning, I got over it and got a lot from the discussion. Sorry there aren’t better photos, but it was an hour and a half of PowerPoint.

There are several examples of vinegar drinks in cocktail history far predating the modern mixology trend. Almost 500 years BC, the Greeks were drinking Oxymel, a mix of vinegar, honey and water, which was still being consumed in Rome by Pliny the Elder half a millenium later with a little coriander and a new name, Posca. Even early American settlers were tempering their rum with apple cider vinegar and molasses, and calling it a Switchel.

Essentially, a cocktail without acidity will be flabby, backboneless swill, which is why most drinks include citrus, but lemons and limes can get old after a while (both literally and figuratively), so vinegar is an awesome alternative.

Unlike citric acid in lemon, lime or orange juice, or the malic acid from grapes or apples that might be found in an ingredient like cider, the tartness of Vinegar comes from acetic acid that is also a great appetite suppressant (perhaps to be avoided if you run a restaurant’s bar), and is thought to have a variety of other health benefits.

How to use vinegar in your cocktails:

1. Straight from the bottle (based on molecular weight 1 oz lemon juice can be replaced with ⅓ oz vinegar).
2. Create a shrub by macerating fruit in vinegar for a week or two.
3. Cook up a gastrique, like a shrub, but simmered down to a thicker consistency, and generally sweeter .
4. Kombucha is created by the same process as vinegar, from sweet tea instead of fruit, and is available in a variety of flavors.
5. Make a tincture using vinegar in place of alcohol. The solvent power of acetic acid leeches the flavor from herbs and spices quite well. We used a white vinegar fennel tincture and a balsamic cacao tincture in seminar.

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Homemade Bitters

I’m setting out to divine my own recipes for cocktail bitters, so the first logical step was to start with a standard, traditional recipe before branching out to make my own magical concoctions.

I have plans for a batch of smoked lemon bitters, and maybe some barrel aged banana bitters for tropical tiki drinks, so to ensure that I understand the process and proportions, I started by making a batch of Regan’s Orange Bitters.  Here’s a pictorial procedural of the month-long process, with a recipe adapted from Ardent Spirits.


Regan’s Orange Bitters (Recipe No. 5)

Day 1: Place 8 ounces dried orange peel, 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 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 and 1/2 cup water into a half-gallon mason jar, push the ingredients down so that they are covered by the alcohol and water.  Seal the jar.


Days 2-14: Shake the jar vigorously once daily.





Day 15: Strain alcohol from dry ingredients through a cheesecloth and squeeze to extract as much alcohol as possible. Store the alcohol in a clean mason jar and seal tightly. Muddle in a mortar and pestle until the seeds are broken. Place dry ingredients in a saucepan and cover with 3 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat, cover, turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool, still covered (about 1 hour). Place dry ingredients and water into the original mason jar that contained the alcohol and seal.

Days 15-21:  Shake the jar vigorously once daily.





Day 22: Strain the water from the dry ingredients through a cheesecloth.  Discard the dry ingredients and add the water to the alcohol. Put 1 cup granulated sugar into a small, non-stick saucepan and place over a medium-high heat.  Stir constantly until the sugar becomes liquid and turns dark brown.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for two minutes. Pour the sugar into the alcohol/water mixture.  At this point the sugar may solidify, but will quickly dissolve.

Days 22- 28: Allow the mixture to stand seven days.





Day 29: Pour off the non-cloudy liquid, leaving any sediment resting on the bottom. Measure the bitters (there should be about 12 fluid ounces), add ½  that amount of  water, and shake thoroughly. Pour the finished bitters into a bitters bottle.

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Maraschino Cherries

The florescent pink orbs you find in jars at the supermarket are an affront to the proper cocktail.

Rather than buying “maraschino cherries” from your grocer, buy firm, fresh cherries when they are in season, or a bag of dried bing cherries if you are too late, and then soak them in booze.

Maraschino liqueur works like a charm, but it’s expensive. You can also use a 4:1 blend of bourbon and honey or the remnants of a bottle of port. If you want to go crazy, you could use clear creme de cacao for chocolatey cherries.

Dried cherries can be stored in a jar or bottle of booze indefinitely, and fresh cherries in booze can be jarred and preserved with proper canning techniques.

There is no real recipe here because you don’t need one.  This is a really hard project to screw up.



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