Bitters is an essential tool in creating balanced and aromatic cocktails. It consists of a high proof base spirit that is aromatized with a number of aromatics. Originally, like many liqueurs, apéritifs and vermouths, it was created for medical purposes. I can personally attest to the stomach soothing properties of bitters and soda when hungover. Never should you use more than a dash in any cocktail or drink as it is quite strong and will quickly overwhelm it. In my last post I talked about the whiskey sour at the Blind Pig where they use Angostura Bitters.
There are two major brands available commercially, Angostura and Peychaud’s, though these are difficult to find in the Philippines. Angostura is made in Trinidad and Peychaud’s is made in New Orleans. I find Angostura to be a bit dark and stronger whereas Peychaud’s is a little lighter and more floral.
As the name would imply bitters is, well, bitter. This bitterness typically derives from wormwood (also used to make absinthe) and gentian. Gentian is a flower native to Europe as well as Africa and the Americas. However if you’re like me you don’t have these things in the pantry so let’s just wing it.
You can use any kind of botanical you want. Citrus works especially well, also any baking spices, dried edible flowers, any dried fruits and herbs. I had some hibiscus (gumamela) that I purchased from Down to Earth in the Salcedo Market. To use this, lay the flowers out, preferably on a wire rack over a sheet pan and let them dry out completely. For a spirit base I used mostly dark rum to give it flavor, depth and color and strengthened that with a high proof vodka.
As is usually the case with my recipes these are approximate measurements. So don’t waste too much time trying to get it exact and take it as san opportunity to experiment on your own.
Jeremy’s Hibiscus Bitters
6 oz. dark rum
2 oz. high proof vodka
1 pack of hibiscus flowers, dried (about 25-30 flowers)
peel of one lemon
one knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
several pieces of cinnamon bark
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 pods star anise
Combine all of these ingredients in a liquor bottle and shake to incorporate. Store at room temperature and continue to shake it every day. I like to allow mine to infuse for about three weeks. However you can always remove or add ingredients to adjust the flavor and aroma. When you’re happy with the flavor and aroma, strain out the solids. Then line the strainer with a coffee filter and strain again to get a nice clear bitters. We’ll come back to this one in a few weeks.