The Bitter Gardener

citrus bitters

Bitters are handy in cocktails and cooking — or even to just flavor water for drinking. This is my first batch of bitters, and the result is satisfying.

Making your own bitters means you have control over the ingredients. Most of mine come from the garden and are organic. More on that in another post.

You have solvents, bittering agents, and flavoring agents. You can make separate tinctures and then combine, or just throw everything in a single canning jar and hope for the best (which was my approach for this batch of citrus bitters). Making separate tinctures gives better control (different ingredients infuse at different rates), although it might be that the flavors combine better when infused together.

My main solvents were Everclear grain alcohol and  unfiltered semi-sweet sake (in a ration of about 2:1). I think next time I will try substituting mirin for the sake to get a result that is less cloudy.

My bittering agent was wormwood (the extremely bitter ingredient in absinthe). My flavors were lemon, bitter orange, lime, tangerine, cardamom, allspice, cloves, coriander, cinnamon, and anise seed.

You shake the jar every day for a week or so (most sites advise two weeks or more, but I feel Mark Bitterman — more on him in a moment — is right when he says a shorter time gives fresher, less tannic flavor. Then you strain, first through a gold coffee filter and then through cheesecloth, bottle, and label. Some people simmer the macerated ingredients and use the resulting water to cut the alchohol, but I see no advantage in that compared to cutting with a solvent with a lower ABV (in this case the sake).

I consulted many websites, but my main guides were Mark Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters and Amari and Will Budiaman’s Hardcrafted Bitters. I particularly like Bitterman.