We now know bitters as the herbal alcoholic tincture that adds depth and deliciousness to a drink, but did you know that they were originally designed as a health tonic? Bitters were said to aid digestion and made popular by snake oil salesmen who sold them alongside their other “medical” potions and unguents. So pervasive was their reputation as healthful that during the early days of Prohibition, bitters could still be found in pharmacies—even though they are up to 90 proof!
There are a few famous and standard brands of bitters available commercially, but at PRINT. we also like to experiment and make our own. This gives us the chance to use local ingredients including herbs from our roof garden, and also play with different flavor profiles to complement our food.
Last year I wanted to make a classic bitters, so I gathered all of the necessary spices, roots, and barks, but I had difficulty finding a neutral high proof spirit to infuse them into, and ended up using high proof rum and whiskey, which lent their own flavors to the mixture.
This year, I am excited to use Industry City Distillery 95.6% alc/vol 191.2 proof, Technical Reserve, which has the high alcohol and neutral flavor profile perfect for making infusions and bitters. An added benefit is that because it infuses things so quickly, the flavors remain brighter and more vibrant. Here are some things we have tried so far, with pretty incredible results:
While cleaning up the garden for the winter, I hacked off the branches of our wormwood and mugwort shrubs, and let the leaves dry a few days, then infused them into the technical reserve for 24 hours and the result was this vibrant green bitter and vegetable extraction, perfect for making house made chartreuse, absinthe, or bitters. I also had lovage in the garden, which tastes like strong celery, and did an infusion with that which made incredible bitters reminiscent of a Cel-Ray soda, and these would be great for gin cocktails.
Some other infusions we tried: maple sugar for a maple citrus bitters, satsuma zest for citrus bitters. Many more experiments to follow, including a cardamom pod and citrus infusion for our holiday mulled wine.
Current Cocktails in which bitters are featured:
Cranberry Spritz: Blanc de Blancs, Brandied Cranberries, Grand Marnier, Citrus Bitters
Satsuma Old Fashioned: Dark Horse Rye Whiskey , Muddled Branded Cherries, Satsuma Segments, Maple Citrus Bitters
Santa Rosa: Pisco, Ramazotti, Spiced Hibiscus Agua Fresca, Absinthe Bitters