Basic Homemade Cocktail Bitters Recipe

Basic homemade bitters recipe

​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  • Total: 2 hrs
  • Prep: 60 mins
  • Cook: 60 mins
  • Servings: 189 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
7 Calories
0g Fat
1g Carbs
0g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 189
Amount per serving
Calories 7
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 1g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 0mg 0%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 0mg 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 Sazerac and beyond. While it's great to have popular brands like Angostura or Scrappy's in stock, it's actually quite easy to make your own using this basic bitters recipe. Also, personalizing the recipe to your own taste by using a variety of herbs and spices will give you room to experiment and create many unique flavor profiles. While our recipe will yield an aromatic style of bitters with an emphasis on orange, experiment with something different like salty-sour celery or flowery lavender.

Great for overall use in a variety of cocktails, bitters actually have culinary uses in sauces, soups, dressings, and pie fillings—just a couple of drops can enhance the flavor of savory preparations and are used in flavoring sodas and ice creams, too. Don't be afraid to try them out.

Making homemade bitters is easy, but it will take about 25 days to complete your first batch of bitters; the joy of having your very own bitters is worth the wait. Because this process requires many steps over a few weeks, you will want to keep track of where you are by printing out the directions and checking off each step as you complete it. You'll need grain alcohol, alcohol obtained from the distillation of fermented grains, like Everclear (from corn)—typically 190 proof (95% ABV) or more. In a pinch, use a 100-proof vodka. Have a small funnel and recycled bitter bottles, or a bottle with a drip.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon orange peel

  • 1 teaspoon cardamom

  • 1 teaspoon coriander

  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway ​(or anise seeds)

  • 2 cups grain alcohol

  • 4 cups water

  • 3/4 cup sugar

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.

Infuse Alcohol With Herbs and Spices

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for alcohol infusion
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Place the spices in a Mason jar and cover them with the grain alcohol.

    Spices in a Mason jar with grain alcohol
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Seal the jar and let the mixture stand in a cool, dark place for 15 days.

    Jar with spices and grain alcohol is sealed
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Give the jar a good, vigorous shake once a day.

    The jar is shaken
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. After 15 days, strain the alcohol through a cheesecloth into a clean Mason jar to separate the liquid from the dry ingredients.

    Alcohol and herbs are strained through cheesecloth
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  6. Once the majority is strained, gather the cloth into a ball and squeeze it to release as much liquid as possible.

    Cheesecloth is balled up and squeezed
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  7. 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

Infuse Water With Herbs and Spices

  1. Muddle the strained ingredients to break up all of the seeds and create a fine mixture—almost like a slurry or paste.

    Muddle spices
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Place this paste into a saucepan and add 4 cups of water. You may not use all of this, but it's good to have an excess of aromatic water, just in case.

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

    Pot is covered while ingredients simmer
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Pour this mixture, without straining, into a jar. Cover and allow it to sit for 5 days in a cool and dry place.

    Pour mixture into jar
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Again, shake vigorously once a day.

    Shake jar
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  6. After 5 days, strain the water through a cheesecloth and discard the solid pieces.

    Strained liquid
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  7. Measure the alcohol mixture and add an equal amount of the infused water.

    Measure liquid
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  8. Save the excess water for cutting. Cover the alcohol mixture and set it to the side.

    Save strained water
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Caramelize Sugar for Sweetener

  1. Place the sugar in a small pan over medium-to-high heat.

    Sugar in saucepan
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Stir constantly and allow the sugar to caramelize until it becomes liquid and dark brown.

    Stirring to allow sugar to caramelize
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

    Remove saucepan from heat
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Combine the Three Mixtures

  1. Add the caramelized sugar to the alcohol and water mixture—the sugar may solidify for a minute, but it will eventually dissolve.

    Caramelized sugar, alcohol, and water in a jar
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Seal the jar and allow the mix to sit for another 5 days.

    Lid on jar
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Once again, shake daily.

    Shake daily
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Finally, after 25 days, strain the mixture of alcohol, infused water, and sugar, and pour into a bitters bottle or small decanter with a tight-sealing lid.

    A decanter with homemade bitters
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Cut the bitters with the extra infused water, or plain water, following a 1:2 ratio. For each cup of bitters, add 1/2 cup of infused water.

    Pitcher of liquid and bitters in jar
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  6. Your bitters can be stored for up to 12 months unrefrigerated in a cool place.

    Bitters in a decanter ready for using and storing
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  7. Use in your favorite cocktail and enjoy.

    Make a cocktail with bitters
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Can I Replace Bitters With Something Else?

Not really. Bitters have such a strong character and flavor that attempting to find something in your kitchen to replace them is pointless. You may get some tartness and sourness from a citrus peel, but you'll never achieve the strength and flavor of a couple of dashes of bitters.