Bitters, a long time herbalist staple, have become quite the art form. I love bitters to help improve digestion, support the liver and gallbladder, and even with a bit of mineral water for an afternoon pick me up. Did I mention cocktails?! As a long time bourbon fan, the old fashioned is a staple that can be made almost a thousand different ways! Bitters can be formulated so many different ways to enhance a variety of flavors.
A Classic Old-Fashioned
2 oz. Bourbon of your choice (you can also use rye if you prefer)
1/4 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes of bitters
splash of mineral water or club soda
orange peel and/or cherry to garnish
A few notes: Traditionally, instead of simple syrup, bitters were muddled with a sugar cube. You can substitute this if you do not have simple syrup. If you are a simple syrup maker, this is a great place to add different flavors. Some of my favorite regulars are: rosemary, lemon balm, rose, mint, and holy basil. When people ask what kind of bourbon to use…use what you like! From Knob Creek, to Eagle Rare, to Jack Daniels…there are so many flavors to appreciate. Also, this can be made as a mocktail with the addition of mineral water or ginger ale.
If you are keen to make your own bitters, there are few boundaries and many possibilities! There are entire books on the making of bitters and can be a great place to start. You can go simple, like the following recipe, or you can get complex.
1 1/2 cups dandelion root, chopped
Peel of 1 orange
3-4 cups of bourbon or brandy to cover
Chop all ingredients and place in a quart mason jar. Cover with alcohol and label and cap it. Shake regularly. It will be ready in 2-4 weeks. I usually leave my the entire 4 weeks. Strain, squeezing well in cheesecloth and enjoy. This is a lovely, mild bitter with a wonderful flavor. Excellent for those just getting use to bitters.
A more complex recipe-
I love using the plants around me whenever possible and this blend is inspired by that.
Appalachian Mountain Bitters
1 part dandelion root
1 part burdock root
1 part yellowdock root
1/2 part gentian root
1/2 part spicebush berries
1/2 part balsam fir needles (or pine needles)
1/2 part cinnamon
Mix all together and place in a mason jar, covering with alcohol of your choice. I prefer whiskey or brandy. Label and let sit for 4 weeks. Strain and enjoy!
The only caution I will give with bitters is that they tend to be cooling and drying, so if you are a cold type person…add some warmth to keep the digestive fire strong. Cinnamon is a wonderful warming demulcent, cardamom, ginger, and cayenne can also be added.
Now, for those of you who are not into DIY, come check our 2 favorite cocktail bitters lines. The Bitter Housewife has my favorite Barrel Aged Bitters, along with a Cardamom Lime and Rogue Dead Guy Bitters. And Strong Water has a delightful line of unique bitters including Creole, Cacao, and Bonfire. There is a blend for most every taste.
Happy gathering and Cheers!