Make Your Own: Bitters

wpid-fb_img_1410544375866.jpgOn July 24th 2014 I backed a kickstarter by Hella Bitters 

The thrust of the idea was to build a kit that gave the home kitchen all of the necessary items to make a simple cocktail bitters.

I have to say that when the kit arrived a few months later I was quite surprised with the quality of what I had purchased.

One basic kit contains a strainer, steel funnel, two infusion jars, 4 small dropper bottles and two spice blends to get you started.

The process is pretty simple.  With the kit you just dump the spice blend jar into the infuser, add your base spirit to fill it and wait about three weeks.  You put the jar in a dark temperature controlled place like the back of your pantry and take it out to shake it every other day or so.  You can age it longer or shorter depending on the spices involved and how much strength you want to impart on the finished product.


I read through the directions and, thinking that I knew better, did my first two infusions with everclear.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that once finished I would have to dilute the product at least 1:1 to bring it down to a usable strength and that the spice volumes in the kit were not prepared with this in mind.  My final product ended up a lot weaker than I expected and was ultimately a waste of good spices.  Now that I have learned from this mistake I will be using 80 proof vodka or rum for anything I do in the future.

Until you get the hang of things I would recommend small batches.  Say 4-6oz at a time is about right.  Having to eat your mistakes can be a very long and costly process.

I would recommend this kit to anyone who doesn’t want to do the work of making a kit themselves.  You can make do with mason jars and bottles from kitchen kaboodle but really the spice blends are the winner here.  The citrus blend and aromatic blend share some common traits.  Many bitters share some common base ingredients such as gentian or cassia bark, these aren’t flavoring compounds so much as base notes from which you build your flavors.

The blend I was most proud of was one I constructed myself.  It contains a fair bit of cacao nib, vanilla bean, allspice, cinnimon stick and a few other things.  I’m leaning towards a hot chocolate bitters in flavor and I think I got there.  The exception being I added a small corner of a star anise pod to the mix and it took over most of the more delicate flavors.

The kit that I purchased is currently going for $65 and is on back-order.  I hate to recommend a product that you can’t just buy but I would keep an eye on this and get an order in for when they do become available.

If you can’t wait for one you can assemble most of the hardware:

Stainless Steel Funnel  – $7
Small Strainer – $9
Dropper Bottles – $12
Infusion Jars  – $20

Total: $49 which leaves about $25 difference for buying bulk spices.



Botticelli: Drink Review – Turning Prayers into Sins


The Third of my drink reviews from my trip to Oven and Shaker is the Botticelli.

1 oz Vodka
1 oz Aperol Italian Bitters
0.25 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
2 oz Cava

Now if you’re like me at least two of the ingredients on that list are a bit unknown.  Aperol is similar to Campari at about half the strength, a bitter orange liqueur with a reddish coloration.

Cava is a sparkling wine produced in Spain.  Since it’s not from the Champagne region you can’t call it Champagne so it gets a more regional appellation but the taste and concept are pretty similar.

Like the French 75 this takes some citrus and a good quality spirit and adds bubbly to the mix.  Only here we have a much more complex blend of flavors and colors.  I like the pink hue that comes out of the Aperol and the drink itself is very well balanced on the tongue.  It isn’t really complex and doesn’t challenge any expectations.  Very light on the alcohol taste, the citrus sees to that but the overall made grapefruit juice taste good which for me is a miracle in itself.  As billed on the drink menu this is a Fresh and light drink, good for early on when you’re not sure you want something that is going to sour you on dinner or lunch.

Lacking two of the major ingredients i’m not likely to make one of these at home without some major modifications and that would take some experimenting that I don’t really want to do.

I would buy another the next time I go to Oven and Shaker but their list of awesome drinks has at least another 10 that I haven’t tried yet and this one isn’t fantastic enough to bring me back on its own.

5/5 Shakers on this one, brilliantly executed.

Evening Mocktail

As a first post I offer the following recipe which has been dubbed “refreshing”.  It contains only minor amounts of alcohol.

3oz Orange Juice
1oz Lemon Juice
Quarter Lime Wedge
1/2oz Grenadine
3oz Tonic Water
Dash of Orange Bitters

In an iced shaker combine Orange juice, lemon juice, squeeze lime wedge and 2-3 dashes orange bitters.  Rim collins glass with lime wedge, sugar part of the rim, attach lime wedge.  Strain shaker into glass, float grenadine, add tonic.

No name for this yet, I was shooting for Shandy-Beeches but I don’t think it’s there yet.  Maybe if I used sugar in the raw for larger grains.

For a full on cocktail I added about 2oz of Limoncello Crema from Ventura Limoncello Company.

A refreshing non-alcoholic treat
A refreshing non-alcoholic treat
A short glass of creamy refreshing awesome
A short glass of creamy refreshing awesome


The Old Fashioned


If you do even the most casual of research, the title “Old Fashioned” can be applied to a list of drinks as long as your arm.

Some include the makings of a fruit cocktail to rival a Hawaiian hotel Mai-tai.  Some are splashed with soda water and twists of this and that.  Over the years as things have progressed in drink culture the “Old Fashioned” has become more of an expression of the cocktail than a recipe itself.

Even the description of an Old Fashioned is vague enough to cover an entire range of drinks.  made by muddling dissolved sugar with bitters then adding alcohol, such as whiskey or brandy, and a twist of citrus rind.

Without even having to nit pick you have an open ended listing for the sugar, the main spirit and the type of citrus.  The only core components here are sugar and muddling.

The Dr. Cocktail recipe I snagged from my copy of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails doesn’t even get into amounts it simply decries the rather mishmash nature of the drink up to present and then exhorts the reader to make it as he selects which is 2 dashes angostura bitters, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, a few drops of water , a broad swathe of orange peel and a good rye or bourbon.

I made this version myself and I can say that it isn’t bad.  I used Regans Orange Bitters and the new bottle of Burnside Bourbon I picked up.  I’m still a bit new at muddling but I’m going to poke around and see if there really is anything to it.  Soak the sugar with water until it’s moist, add bitters and muddle with orange peel.  An ounce and a half of bourbon and a short stir later and you’re in business.

After a few sips I can see the desire to play around with this.  Orange peel and orange bitters give it a nice aroma and the taste is fine.  A dash of Orange Curacao would I think give it the same effect and indeed that is common for a number of Old Fashioned versions.  As cocktails go this is about as simple as a pink gin.  Liquor + bitters = drink.  I have to say that if you’re buying a good rye or bourbon that there isn’t much of a need for the orange or the sugar.  They don’t offset the alcohol flavor in any way you’d note and they do play fast and loose with the bourbon flavors which can be quite subtle.

Given that bitters and a muddling stick aren’t going to be commonplace at the lower class of household bar I think this one can stay on the shelf and I’ll have my bourbon neat.