Traditionally they're considered medicine and used as a digestive tonic for the occasional upset of overeating. In the Victorian era they found their way into cocktails. Once the Manhattan was invented they were assured their place in every bartender's arsenal.
After doing a bit of research online I found a few recipes I wanted to try. I was recommended to try the Dandelion Botanical Company for my bittering herbs and flavoring agents (I would also recommend Mountain Rose Herbs). My intention was to follow a few recipes and then continue to experiment on my own. The primary bittering herb is gentian root, the stuff that made Angostura so famous. I also purchased chinchona bark, the principal ingredient in creating tonic water (another experiment for later), sarasparilla, devil's club root, black walnut leaf and wild cherry bark. (The catalog had other things I just couldn't resist ordering including sandalwood powder, patchouli leaf and osmanthus flowers - yet another project).
The recipe I settled on, amongst others, was Woodland Bitters. I loved the idea of the earthy devil's club root with wild cherry bark and toasted nuts. I also made a classic Angostura style bitters as well as Cherry Hazelnut Bitters. If I didn't think I'd be inundated with bitters for the rest of my life I'd be experimenting with many variations (figs, citrus, cranberry, wormwood, etc.), and it's nowhere near Christmas where I could at least hand them out as presents.
- 2 cups overproof bourbon (such as Wild Turkey 101)
- 1 cup pecans, toasted
- 1 cup walnuts, toasted
- 4 cloves
- Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
- 1 whole nutmeg, cracked
- 1 vanilla bean, split
- 2 tablespoons devil's club root
- 1 tablespoon cinchona bark
- 1 tablespoon chopped black walnut leaf
- 1 tablespoon wild cherry bark
- 1/2 teaspoon cassia chips
- 1/2 teaspoon gentian root
- 1/2 teaspoon sarsaparilla root
- 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- In a 1-quart glass jar, combine all of the ingredients except the syrup. Cover and shake well. Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking the jar daily.
- Strain the infused alcohol into a clean 1-quart glass jar through a cheesecloth-lined funnel. Squeeze any infused alcohol from the cheesecloth into the jar; reserve the solids. Strain the infused alcohol again through new cheesecloth into another clean jar to remove any remaining sediment. Cover the jar and set aside for 1 week.
- Meanwhile, transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes; let cool completely. Pour the liquid and solids into a clean 1-quart glass jar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 week, shaking the jar once daily.
- Strain the water mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel set over a clean 1-quart glass jar; discard the solids. If necessary, strain again to remove any remaining sediment. Add the infused alcohol and the syrup. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Pour the bitters through a cheesecloth-lined funnel or strainer and transfer to glass dasher bottles. Cover and keep in a cool, dark place.
So far my bitters have been aging for a little over four weeks. I think I'll skip parts 3 and 4 and just let them macerate for four weeks and strain thoroughly before adding a bit of water and maple syrup.