Making homemade aromatic bitters is an excellent way to slash your cocktail-making budget. You can infuse a spicy, herbaceous bottle of your own using mostly easy-to-find ingredients.
But before you get too excited, keep in mind that there’s no online recipe to make Angosturas, Peychaud’s, or any other popular brand of bitters. Their ingredients are closely guarded, but you can still make an equally delicious tincture.
We’re about to show you how to make your own bitters by infusing aromatic herbs and spices in a neutral spirit. They’re excellent for dashing into food, cocktails, and sodas.
No expensive equipment is needed to make bitters but if you can gather up everything on this list your life will be much easier.
- Mortar and pestle or spice mill
- Chopping board and knife
- Zester or vegetable peeler
- Sterilized 1-pint mason jar and small bottles
- Labels and a marker pen
- Coffee filters or cheesecloth
- Small funnel
- Syringe or dropper (for blending)
How to make homemade aromatic bitters
- 1 cup Everclear 151-proof alcohol
- 1 Tbsp quassia bark
- 1 tsp dried orange peel, grated
- 1 tsp cardamom seeds
- 1 tsp cilantro seeds
- 1 tsp caraway seeds
- ½ tsp dried gentian root
- 2 cups water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Add the botanicals and alcohol to a large jar and seal before shaking vigorously. Allow the liquid to sit in the pantry or a cool, dry place for 2 weeks, shaking every day.
- Using coffee filters or cheesecloth, strain the liquid into a second clean jar. Set the jar of liquid aside with the lid sealed.
- Use a mortar and pestle to crush the botanicals from the infusion then add to a pan, along with the water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Pour the liquid and botanicals into a clean jar and allow to infuse for one week with the lid on, shaking each day.
- Using a cheesecloth or filter, strain the liquid and discard the botanicals. In a jar, combine an equal amount of infused alcohol with the aromatic water, set aside.
- Scoop sugar into a small pot and heat on medium-high, stirring constantly. Heat until the sugar crystals turn into a liquid and caramelize into a dark brown color (4-5 minutes).
- Pour the sugar into the jar of alcohol and allow a few minutes for it to dissolve. Shake the jar then strain a final time to catch any leftover solids.
- Using a small funnel, pour the bitters into small bottles or a decanter and seal the lid tightly. Label with name and date, then store unrefrigerated in a cool position for up to one year.
Alcohol: High-proof alcohol is recommended for extracting flavor faster from the botanicals. A cheap bottle of spirits is all that’s needed, but make sure it is food grade. You may also like to make your own spirits with a moonshine still if you’re allowed to use one where you live.
Experiment: Before making the liquid sugar, taste test the infusion to check you’re happy with the balance. You can adjust the taste by adding extra botanicals and infusing them for longer if you’d like.
Botanicals: Try to use at least 6 botanicals when making bitters and at least one bittering agent. A good rule of thumb for quantities is two parts alcohol to one part fresh botanicals or five parts alcohol to one part dried botanicals.
Infusion: Another method of infusion is to tincture each botanical in a separate jar. Once they are ready, you can easily adjust the ratios to get a flavor that suits you.
Popular flavor combinations for bitters
Making bitters at home allows you to get creative with the flavor combinations. If you can’t find an ingredient like quassia bark then try one of the easier-to-find options below. Taste test the mixes and use sugar or molasses if you need to sweeten further.
Coffee bitters: 8 parts coffee bean, 4 parts coffee nib, 3 parts wormwood, 1 part cinnamon.
Orange bitters: 10 parts orange peel, 3 parts cardamom, 3 parts gentian, 3 parts cilantro, 1 part cloves, 1 part allspice.
Liver tonic: 4 parts dandelion root, 2 parts burdock root, 1 part fennel seeds, 1 part fenugreek seeds.
Lavender: 15 parts lavender, 8 parts orange, 2 parts ginger, 2 parts vanilla.
If you can’t find some of the lesser-known ingredients like gentian root or cinchona bark then visit a homebrewing supplies store or search online.
Commonly asked questions
What can I use for a bittering agent?
Some great bittering agents include dandelion root or leaf, burdock root, citrus peel, sarsaparilla, gentian root, licorice root, cinchona bark, and yarrow. An osage orange is a super-bitter option but tread with care using this ingredient as it can be a skin irritant. In addition to adding flavor, these ingredients will provide health benefits like improved digestion and liver cleansing.
How long do I need to infuse bitters?
Infusion times will vary from one day to 4 weeks, depending on the botanicals and spirits used. You’ll know it’s ready when you can taste the botanicals by adding a few drops to still water.
What can I use bitters for?
Bitters are commonly used to add depth of flavor to cocktails and food. Some people use them for a range of medicinal reasons such as helping with mild stomach upsets and hangovers.
What is the difference between lemon oil and lemon extract?
Making homemade bitters is a fun project that lets you experiment with flavor. Over time, you’ll develop the skills to create bitters that are a great match to your favorite cocktail.