Bitters are extraordinary, essential, and potent flavor extracts that transform any drink in which they’re mixed. They will also transform anyone able to make their own into a proper home mixologist.
Whether you want to round out your home bar or give a gift to someone you clearly treasure, making your own bitters is as easy as it is sexy and addictive.
THE INGREDIENTS FOR CHOCOLATE BITTERS
Most bitters recipes are a balance between bittering and flavoring agents. For today’s chocolate bitters, you’ll use gentian, wild cherry bark, and black walnut leaf to embitter your alcohol, while cacao nibs, cardamom, vanilla bean, and a cinnamon stick add the complexity, flavoring, and chocolate notes.
Not to discourage you from foraging for these (or any other) ingredients in the wild, but they can be easily ordered from Dandelion Botanicals, Tenzing Momo,or Mountain Rose Herbs.
In general, use organic, whole ingredients when possible – they’re better for you and are far easier to strain out of the mix.
THE BEST ALCOHOL FOR CHOCOLATE BITTERS
More important than which particular brand of spirit you use is the proof of the alcohol. Alcohol will pull essential oils (and flavors and aromas) from your ingredients, and using high-proof spirits will not only extract more of that flavor, but do so more quickly.
While vodka is typically used for bitters because its flavor neutral and versatile, for our Chocolate Bitters, I’m calling for a high-proof bourbon (or rye). This is a great compliment to our warm flavor profiles.
You should purchase the highest-quality spirits you can afford, as you want the most (and best) flavor to make it through to bottling. Knob Creek’s 120-proof single barrel bourbon, or the 100-proof ryes from Rittenhouse or Old Forester will always serve you well, especially if you have any left over.
HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE BITTERS
Having gone through the work of sourcing all of your herbs, roots, flowers, barks, fruit peels, and bittering agents, it’s all (almost) all over but for the steeping: Combine your dry ingredients with a high proof alcohol and let them sit for a bit.
Since different spices infuse at different rates, the steeping time will vary depending on the recipe. In the case of this recipe you’re waiting two weeks total, adding a second batch of herbs and spices halfway through. You’ll also need to shake the glass jar in which everything sits once each day.
There in that jar, day by day, the infusion will become more pronounced, flavorful, and complex, until – diggity doo – you have a true batch of bitters on your hand.
HOW TO BOTTLE HOMEMADE BITTERS
Now that you’ve put all that work into sourcing and infusing and waiting, you’re only a well-chosen bottle away from enjoying these bitters (or giving them away).
Boston round glass bottles, with their handy droppers and range of sizes, are the best combination of affordable, sourceable, and usable. This said, you can also go with more specialty bottles, too. Note that bright light can alter the flavor of the bitters, so dark (amber) bottles are best, or you can store them in a dark place.
As you’re not likely to use these Chocolate Bitters as often as Angostura or orange bitters, you can aim for smaller-size (2- or 4-ounce) bottles. If you’re giving these as a gift, a well-chosen larger bottle may make a better impression.
Specialty Bottle and Amazon are both good sources for a range of Boston Rounds, but Cocktail Kingdom has the truly specialty bottles you might be after if you are planning to give these away as gifts, or just show off.
OTHER HELPFUL EQUIPMENT
- One 1-quart sealable glass jar: Your glass jar can be clear, but if so, store the infusion in the dark while it matures.
- Cheesecloth or Superbag: Filtering your infusion is perhaps the most complicated step of the process, but it really isn’t complicated. Cheesecloth will work perfectly well, but you may find Superbags – very fine micron mesh bags – clarify more effectively and are much easier to clean out. Modernist Pantry is a great source for these.
HOW TO USE YOUR BITTERS
Whereas a standard like Angostura acts as an aromatic bitters, providing a bridge between your base spirit and your sweetener, these chocolate bitters fall on the “savory” side, adding layers of complexity while amplifying your base spirit.
These chocolate bitters are ideal for cocktails with brown spirits – accompanying an aged rum, or a good bourbon, for example. It can even be paired with a citrus bitters (orange, perhaps) to both brighten and deepen a spirit.
If you’re looking for more particular recommendations, try adding these to a Fall-Spiced Old-Fashioned, pairing it with sherry in the Chocolate Adonis, or going full chocolate for the Chocolate Sidecar.
HOW LONG WILL THESE BITTERS LAST?
The good news – if you’re someone who tends to use bitters sparingly – is that bitters will likely never go bad. You can check in on them in five years if you’d like, but because of the high-proof alcohol, they’ll have much longer than that in them. Best would be to enjoy often. You may as well.