Aromatic Cocktail Bitters: Not Just For Martinis

If you haven’t already heard me geeking out about my new e-book, then brace yourself.  Over the last several months I have been experimenting with making my own cocktails at home, including figuring out recipes for various liqueurs, and even Irish Cream.  And the final result is my Natural Cocktails E-book!

Today I am sharing a recipe excerpt from Natural Cocktails.  I cannot tell you how much fun I have had researching, reading, shaking cocktails, and playing with recipes for this book!  But the most fun of all?  Making my own cocktail bitters.

Cocktail bitters are added to a drink in dashes or drops, to enliven the flavor and deepen the overall taste of the cocktail.  Aromatic Bitters are the most common kind of bitters, the standard used most often in cocktail recipes, especially in classic cocktails. 

Common brands of aromatic bitters include Angostura or Paychaud’s, who insist that they use the original recipes from before 1900.  There are also famous orange bitters by Regan and Fee Brothers that are harder to find, but worth seeking out. These four bitters are the typical bitters you will find at a local bar or liquor supply store.

Of course, I find that it’s a lot more fun to make my own homemade bitters so I can be nerdy at home shaking up a cocktail I invested my own creativity into making.  Plus, homemade bitters are fresher, and I don’t have to wonder what is in the recipe since I am the artisan in question!

In addition to this recipe for my homemade Aromatic Bitters, I have two orange bitters recipes just waiting for you try in my Natural Cocktails book.

You can create any flavor of homemade bitters you can dream up, from grapefruit, orange, and Meyer lemon to root beer, lavender or other herb blends.  I have been like a kid in a candy store while shopping for herbs, spices, and barks to make my own bitters, imagining different cocktails, teas, and drinks I can add my homemade bitters to.  But most of all, the Aromatic Cocktail Bitters have been my current obsession.

Aromatic cocktail bitters–the kind you don’t sip but add in dashes to enliven a drink–were an essential ingredient in classic cocktails, and are now back and bigger than ever. .

Just as restaurant menus herald the local farmer who grew the heirloom carrots featured in that night’s special, cocktail menus increasingly single out house-made bitter and those made by artisanal producers… .

(from Bitters, A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas by Brad Thomas Parsons)

Cocktail bitters are not just enjoying a revival, but are part of a movement that we all can feel as real foodies.  We feel the call of traditional foods and practices, to get rooted to our ancestors and our bodies on a deep level.  Bitters were historically used medicinally, partly to settle stomachs and aid in digestion.  A few drops of bitters in a glass of water is believed to help your body feel settled and relaxed.

You can use Aromatic Bitters in classic cocktails like Martinis and Manhattans, but also as a digestive aid when sipped in a Bitters and Soda: several dashes of bitters over ice in a tall glass, then filled with mineral water.

Equipment Needed:

Aromatic Bitters
(for use like Angostura or Paychaud’s)

2 tablespoons dried orange peel
zest of one orange
1/4 cup dried sour cherries
6 cardamom pods, cracked
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and seeds scraped out (use both)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (cassia) chips
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon quassia chips
1/4 teaspoon gentian root
pinch dried black walnut leaf (buy spices here)
2 1/4 cups rye whiskey
1 cup filtered water (buy water filters here)
2 tablespoons Dark Simple Syrup, recipe below

  1. In a quart glass jar, combine all the spices together.  Pour the rye whiskey over the spices, adding a little more if needed to make sure they are completely covered.  Seal the jar with a storage cap and leave at room temperature, in a dark place, for 2 weeks.
  2. After 2 weeks, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a new clean quart mason jar to remove the solids.  Repeat this process until all the sediment is removed.  Squeeze the cheesecloth over the jar to get all the liquid out of the solids.  Cover the jar with a storage lid again (it will be just liquid this time), and set aside.
  3. In the meantime, transfer the solids you strained out of the rye mixture into a saucepan.  Add the cup of water.   Over medium-high heat, bring the solids mixture to a boil.  Then cover the saucepan, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool completely.  Then pour the contents of the saucepan (liquid and solids) into a new clean quart glass jar.  Cover with a storage lid and set aside.
  4. You should have two jars now: one with rye liquid (no solids), and one with water and solids.  Place them both on the counter at room temperature, in a dark place, for 1 week.
  5. After the 1 week, strain the water and solids through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a new clean quart mason jar to remove the solids.  Repeat this process until all the sediment is removed.  Squeeze the cheesecloth over the jar to get all the liquid out of the solids.  Discard the solids.  Pour this liquid into the jar with the rye liquid in it.
  6. Add the dark simple syrup to the jar, stirring to combine.  Cover with a storage cap, and shake to combine further.  Set aside on the counter at room temperature for 3 days.
  7. At the end of the 3 days, skim off any solids that float to the top, and again, pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer to remove any sediment that still remains.
  8. Pour your finished bitters into smaller jars, and if desired, fit them with bottle stoppers so the liquid doesn’t come out too quickly.

Dark Simple Syrup

1 cup filtered water (buy water filters here) 1 1/2 cups whole cane sugar (buy whole cane sugar here)

  1. Boil the water over high heat, then pour in the whole cane sugar and stir until dissolved, less than 5 minutes.
  2. Pour into a pint glass jar, cap tightly, and let cool completely.  Dark simple syrup lasts several weeks in the refrigerator.

This recipe is an excerpt from my e-book Natural Cocktails.  Click here to see more details on cocktails, bitters, homemade liqueurs, and more!

Photo credit: StudioCentric Photography

This post is a part of Pennywise Platter, Full Plate Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Thank Your Body Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Monday Mania.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.


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  1. Wow, Kehdahl, doing the research for this book must have really, really sucked!! 😉

    I am so happy you did this however! I have stayed clear of alcohol for a couple of years because of adrenal issues and although I’m still not better, sometimes I just want a cocktail. I’ve never been a big wine drinker; I like mixed drinks! But I stayed away from all of it because I didn’t feel comfortable knowing where the mixers, etc came from. Now I will! Cool idea! I hope you sell a million copies!!

    • Well, it’s a burden I must bear 😀

      I feel the same way! I love mixed drinks, but not all the junk they put in the mixers and such. Plus, I cannot tell you how much tastier a Mojito is at my house than ANY restaurant I have ordered one at. It’s seriously amazing, as usual, just how good REAL FOOD is!!

  2. Um, Champagne Cocktail here I come! I can’t wait to see what else you come up with. 😉

  3. What!! A cocktail book! Kendahl, you are so rad. I assumed your new ebook in the works was the next volume of Real Food 101. Which would be awesome. But this is just…. SO COOL! I can’t wait to read it and try out the recipes!!

  4. Too cool for school! We love bitters and Manhattans — will have to try this.

  5. Kendahl, can’t wait for the book! I love mixed drinks but like you can’t take the junk put into the mixers! Thank you for being a martyr for all of us!!!

  6. Kendahl,
    Do you have an experience with Aperol? I’m looking for a way to replicate the flavor (not necessarily the color) without the artificial dyes. Thanks!!


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