Thoughts on DIY Bitters

DIY Bitters

I’m teaching a class at the Woodford Reserve Distillery soon on the Art of Summer Culinary Cocktails. Since I was not the one to write the class description, I’ve had to do a bit of research to cover all of the topics authoritatively.

The DIY bitters part of the class has been the most challenging. There are plenty of DIY bitters recipes on the web, and some even reference recipes from the early days of bitters, but none are really the level of DIY-friendly that I’m looking for.

All of the recipes that I’ve found* suffer from a few fatal flaws:

  • Volume. The typical bitters recipe makes between 1 and 5 gallons of bitters. There’s a reason they come in 4 oz bottles.
  • Price. Due to the above problem, you’re typically looking at an outlay of $100+ for your custom batch. Sometimes less, but sourcing all of those ingredients pushes even smaller-sized recipes up towards that amount.
  • Time. More than a month for the final product? I’m all for slow food, but that’s a little ridiculous.
  • Risk. Bitters are hard to get right, especially the first time. You have to ensure that you add/remove each ingredient at the right stage of extraction otherwise you risk too light flavors or unpleasant ones. That’s just talking about each individual ingredient – you also have to perfectly balance the ingredients against each other to achieve the final product. Multiply risk by price and time and you get the potential for greatly disappointed DIY mixologists …
  • Monotony. The whole point of the exercise is to craft unique bitters to create exciting cocktails. If we were satisfied with Angostura and Peychard’s we wouldn’t be bothering with this. So why make a gallon for yourself?

To mitigate these issues, I’ve created my 12-Jar Bitters Recipe. It’s actually less of a recipe and more of a ‘mise en place’ setup for making your own bitters time and time again.

* That’s not to say that this is a new recipe, I just never found anything like it.

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