05 October 2011


It seems bitters are very much back in fashion once more, not only that, but bespoke bitters seem to be the way the trend has gone. Why get boxed into a pre-made brand when you can create something to your own specific needs with relative ease?

The most arduous part of any bitters is how time consuming it can be. Maceration can last anything from 5 days to 3 weeks and making sure you hit that sweet spot between flavours is also a process that seems as though it can only be overcome with trial and error.

We thought we'd give you a brief run down of Bitters and then follow it up next week with some of our own techiniques and recipes we have used in the past.

Bitters originally were marketed as potent medicinal substances. Originally drunk on their own, they eventually became used as digestifs and a way of settling one's stomach after a meal.

They are produced mainly using bitter and aromatic plants and fruit extracts and/or distillates, fruit juices, essential oils, with or without the addition of sugar or glucose syrup. Products of this type are for example Boonekamp, English Bitter, Spanish Bitter or Angostura (which was named after a town in Vnezuela which today is Ciudad Bolivar). Angostura to this day is the most popular cocktail spice made from bitters and other aromatic botanticals. Originally made in 1824 by a German physician. While bitters can be a very simple set of ingredients, basically consisting of:

Bittering agent - Gentian, quaissia, wormwood, quinine etc
Flavour - O.j peel, grapefruit, angostura bark, cinnamom etc
Solution - vodka, whisky, gin etc

You can also create a much more complex flavour, simlar to angostura who use approximately 21 ingredients in their bitters.

We also seem to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance in the "old school" bitter making a come back and attempting to impede on Angostura's market in the shape of Bokers bitters which were infact the same bitters used by Jerry Thomas way back when.

We found this, potentially quite old recipe for Angostura:

4500g Angostura Bark
3000g Carobe
3000g Sandalwood, red
3000g Raisins
2000g Sweet orange peel
1500g Bitter orange peel
1500g Bitter orange fruit unripe
1500g Galanga root
1500g Gentian root
1500g Cinchona bark
1500g Vanilla beans
1000g Cinnamon bar, ceylon
1000g Lemon peel
1000g Massoia bark
750g Ginger root
750g Caramom
700g Mace
700g Clove buds
500g Cedoary root
60l Alcohol 96%
40l Water

Process: Macerate for approx 5 days; expression of soaked botanicals required. Alcohol recoverey by dry distillation of botanicals is recommended. Chill-filtration of macerate is important to avoid sedimentation of insoluble extractives.

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