When it’s too cold to spend weekends in Central or Prospect Park, and we’re too broke from political donations or Christmas shopping to take a vacation, indoor hobbies become an utter necessity. Some people knit scarves or make puzzles, others learn how to cross stitch, and still more binge on Netflix until their eyes glaze over.
If you need new inspiration for those idle hands, it might be time to get bitter — or rather, bitters.
This aromatic bitters recipe (see below) offers a master class in the craft, and it contains the bones of most other bitters recipes you’ll come across. With this under your belt, you’ll be slinging rhubarb Sazeracs, molé Manhattans, and blood orange Old Fashioneds in no time.
Ingredient Scavenger Hunt
Some of the ingredients require a little sleuthing, but luckily NYC is a great place to hunt for rare spices. Sahadi’s in Cobble Hill is a good spot for Brooklynites, while Manhattan folks can hit up Kalustyan’s. Both spots carry all the spices required for this recipe, and it’s easy to get only as much as you need (so you aren’t trying to use up a whole jar of juniper berries months from now).
You’ll also need to hunt down a bottle of overproof rum. (Any brand will work, but if Bacardi 151 smells like college to you, go for Gosling’s.) Lastly, you’ll need a dropper bottle, a one-gallon airtight jar (a large Mason jar will do), and a boat-load of citrus.
Also known as the step where you peel your way into a new set of blisters, if you aren’t careful. Remove strips of rind from all of your citrus. (Note: Peelers with swivel heads and sturdy handles work best.)
You’re done when you have a strange mound of bald fruit and a festive pile of carnival colored strips on your counter. At this point, you can dry the peels in the oven (for a concentrated flavor), or use them fresh. Toss the peels with all your other spices in a jar, cover with rum, and send yourself the high-five emoji: you just made bitters.
Waiting, Waiting… and Waiting Some More
The recommended steep time for these bitters is two to three months, during which you can keep your jar in tantalizing view or tuck it away somewhere dark and forgettable. If you caught the bitters bug, you can use this time to dream up what kind you’ll make next: cherry, chocolate, celery, and chamomile are great options.
Straining and Entertaining
Right around the time between Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day, it will be time to blow the dust off your jar and experiment with the fruits of your labor. Give the contents a good stir and pour them into a mesh sieve placed over a bowl or pitcher. Using a funnel or a pour-over coffee dripper lined with a coffee filter, strain the bitters into the dropper bottle. Go slow — you may have more bitters than will fit in one bottle. You can preserve the excess in any airtight container.
You will probably be eager to make bespoke cocktails for all willing test subjects at first, but once you’ve exhausted that urge, there’s still a lot more you can do.
Bitters were once marketed as medicine, and some people still do a few drops right on their tongue before tucking into a particularly rich dish. Bitters also had a heyday as a digestif, where barflies would often order a seltzer with a few drops of the aromatic tinctures to settle a full stomach.
You can cook with bitters, too. Dash them into a creamy cold brew, stir them into homemade whipped cream, or use them to spice up a holiday eggnog. We’ve even heard a rumor that Brooklyn pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds use Angostura in their famous Salty Caramel Apple pie. Anywhere that a dish is rich and full-bodied, bitters can probably help balance things out — just like making this recipe will (hopefully) cure your cabin fever.
(Adapted from the Waldorf-Astoria house recipe)
1/8 cup allspice berries
1/8 cup caraway
1/8 cup cardamom pods
1/8 cup celery seed
1/8 cup coriander seed
1/8 cup fennel seed
1/8 cup juniper berries
1/8 cup peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole nutmeg seeds
12 whole cloves
1 star anise
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
750 ml. overproof rum (Wray & Nephew white rum is ideal — if you can find it)
Peel citrus. (If drying them, place rinds on baking sheet. Bake at 200°F for approximately 30 minutes, or until about 60 percent dry. Don’t over-dry, or they will be less flavorful.)
Add all ingredients to an airtight glass jar. Submerge dry ingredients with a wooden spoon if necessary. Let sit for two to three months.
Strain twice, first through a fine mesh sieve, then through a coffee filter. Funnel into a dropper bottle. Bitters last indefinitely.
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