Homemade Cocktail Bitters

Basic homemade bitters recipe

​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Infuse: 456 hrs
Total: 456 hrs 20 mins
Servings: 200 servings
Yield: 2 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
3 Calories
0g Fat
0g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 200
Amount per serving
Calories 3
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 0g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 0mg 0%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 1mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Bitters are essential in the bar and a key ingredient for many cocktails, from the martini to the old-fashioned and beyond. While it's great to have popular brands like Angostura or Scrappy's in stock, it's quite easy to make your own using this basic bitters recipe.

Creating homemade bitters is simple, though it takes about 20 days to complete one batch. Most of the time is hands-off as you wait for the botanicals to infuse the alcohol and then the water. These are nonpotable bitters used by the dash to accent beverages and food; they're not meant to be drunk on their own. Be sure to use grain alcohol, such as Everclear, that's 151 proof (75.5 percent ABV) or stronger. In a pinch, a 100-proof vodka will do.

This recipe yields an aromatic style of bitters. Quassia bark and gentian root are the bittering ingredients, while the remaining botanicals—from orange peel to caraway seeds—add depth to the flavor. The recipe can be personalized by using a variety of herbs and spices to create orange or lavender bitters or fun combinations like coriander-lime.

Great for cocktails, bitters have culinary uses in sauces, soups, dressings, and pie fillings as well. Just a couple of drops can enhance the flavor of savory preparations, and bitters are used to flavor sodas and ice cream, too.

Ingredients

Steps to Make It

Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, it is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for infusing.

Make the Alcohol Infusion

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for Homemade Cocktail Bitters
    The Spruce / S&C Design Studios
  2. In a 1-pint (or larger) jar, add the grain alcohol and all of the botanicals. Seal the jar, shake, and let the mixture stand in a cool, dark place for 14 days. Shake it vigorously once a day.

    Spices in a Mason jar with grain alcohol
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Strain the infused alcohol into a clean jar through cheesecloth to remove the botanicals. Gather the cloth into a ball and squeeze it to release as much liquid as possible.

    Alcohol and herbs are strained through cheesecloth
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Save the strained alcohol infusion for later. Label the bottle so you don't mistake it for something else.

    Mason jar and label
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Make Aromatic Water

  1. Use a muddler or mortar and pestle to break up the strained botanicals as much as possible.

    Muddle spices
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, add the water and botanicals.

    Spices and water in a saucepan
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Bring the water to a boil. Cover and lower the heat. Allow it to simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.

    Pot is covered while ingredients simmer
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Pour this mixture, without straining, into a 1-pint (or larger) jar. Cover and allow it to sit for 5 days in a cool and dry place. Shake vigorously once a day.

    Pour mixture into jar
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Strain the infused water through cheesecloth and discard the botanicals.

    Strained liquid
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Finish the Bitters

  1. Measure the infused alcohol and combine it with an equal amount of aromatic water in a 1-pint (or larger) jar.

    Save strained water

    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add the sugar. Stir constantly and allow the sugar to caramelize until it becomes liquid and dark brown, about 3 to 4 minutes.

    Making Caramelized Sugar for Homemade Cocktail Bitters

    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Add the caramelized sugar to the alcohol and water mixture—the caramel will solidify, but it will dissolve within a few minutes.

    Caramelized sugar, alcohol, and water in a jar
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Shake the bitters, then strain through cheesecloth to remove any sediment. Pour into a bitters bottle or small decanter with a tight-sealing lid.

    A decanter with homemade bitters
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. The bitters can be stored for up to 12 months unrefrigerated in a cool place. Use in your favorite cocktail and enjoy.

    Make a cocktail with bitters
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Tips

  • It's unlikely that you will use all of the water. The suggested volume allows for some loss when the water is heated and infused with an excess if you'd like to cut the bitters further.
  • When using 100-proof vodka, blend the alcohol infusion with just half the amount of aromatized water.
  • Bitters are designed to be strong, and taste-testing them straight can burn your taste buds. A good way to taste the flavor of your experiments is to add several drops to a small amount of plain soda water.

Recipe Variations

  • Anise seeds are a good substitute for caraway seeds.
  • Dandelion root is another bitter flavoring option. Avoid using cinchona bark; as advised in homemade tonic syrup, using too much can be toxic.
  • Increase any of the spices to create bitters with a concentration of that flavor. For instance, coriander-lime bitters and cardamom bitters are popular flavors among commercial bitter makers.
  • To make orange bitters, increase the dried orange peel to 1 tablespoon or more.
  • Switch to dried grapefruit, lemon, or lime peel, or use a combination of citrus peels.
  • Lavender bitters can be made with about 1 tablespoon of culinary lavender buds.

Can I Replace Bitters With Something Else?

There is no great substitute for bitters because it's a unique ingredient with a strong character and flavor. You may get some tartness from a citrus peel, but you'll never achieve the complex flavor of a couple of dashes of bitters.

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