The Botanist.

Wild. Foraged. Distilled.

Foraged Island Botanicals
The first and only Islay dry gin


Make Your Own Bitters

6th March 2017
by Ellen Zachos in Techniques.

Anyone who appreciates a craft cocktail knows that bitters are essential to the well-stocked liquor cabinet. Fortunately, no matter where you live, there are plenty of bitter ingredients out there just waiting to be foraged for, and turned into unique, local cocktail ingredients. 

Commercial bitters are based on long lists of tropical ingredients like chinchona bark, cascarilla, and quassia bark, none of which I can harvest locally. I suggest starting out instead by tincturing just a few foraged ingredients, so you can taste the different flavors you’re working with.

Half of your solid material should be the “bitter” ingredient, and the other half can be split however you like - I divide the remainder between a fruit and a spice.

Some people make their bitters by combining individual tinctures in specific proportions, and others macerate their chosen plants and mushrooms together in one, multilayered, mega-tincture, letting the flavors blend synergistically. I’ve experimented with both, but I prefer the latter. There’s something slightly magical about how flavors blend when tinctured in a single container. [see Ellen's article about tinctures >> ]

Either way, if you’re going to move from tincture to bitters, there’s one more step. The most important difference between tinctures and bitters is that bitters are usually ever-so-slightly sweetened. You can do this with a little simple syrup, or, make a decoction of sugar, water, and the solids you’ve strained out of your base tincture(s).

Bitters Recipe

Here’s a recipe for simple, foraged bitters made by tincturing three of my favorite local ingredients. Feel free to follow it verbatim, or substitute your own local, wild edibles.

Fill a jar with eight ounces of neutral grain spirit, and add one ounce of chopped, dried, dandelion root (the bitter), ½ ounce of dried sumac berries (the spice), and 1 ounce of chopped, fresh or frozen crabapples (the fruit). Cover the jar, shake it, and store it out of direct sunlight. Shake it every day for a week, then taste it. If the flavor isn’t strong enough, close it back up and taste every two days. Your bitters should be done after three weeks, at the latest.

Strain off the solids, and move them to a saucepan. Measure the alcohol, then set it aside. Here’s where the sweetening comes in, and I like to do it with a decoction. [see picture: sassafras twig decoction in progress]

sassafras twig decoction in progress

Measure out twice as much water as you have alcohol, and add it to the pan with the solids. For every four ounces of liquid, add one teaspoon of sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Then, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the liquid sit overnight. Strain the cooled liquid, and combine it with the reserved, infused alcohol to reach an ABV of 35-45%, in the proportions described below.

Pour your bitters into small, colored glass bottles, and store them out of direct sun. Cheers!

Bitters - which alcohol to use and why

Like tinctures, bitters were first sold as medicine. Angostura bitters (probably the best-known brand) were created to treat stomach ailments for sailors, long before bitters were used as a cocktail ingredient. Medicinal tinctures are generally made with flavorless spirits, like vodka or Everclear. Most commercial bitters are also made with neutral grain spirits. When making your own bitters, Everclear 151 is the easiest to work with because not only is it neutral in flavor, but it has an ABV of 75 percent, which simplifies your math. (Yes, there’s math in making bitters!) Commercial bitters have an ABV of between 35 and 45%. With Everclear 151, when it’s time to dilute your bitters to the appropriate ABV, just add an equal amount of water-based solution to the infused spirit, and there you are at 37.5 percent. If you’ve used a 100-proof spirit, add ¼ ounce of water-based solution for every ounce of infused, 100-proof alcohol. This will give you a final ABV of 40 percent. Once you get comfortable playing around with different flavors, you might try using a non-neutral spirit as a base. Rye, rum, and bourbon all make tasty bitters.

Read more from Andy Hamilton about making bitters from Alexanders (carrot family) >>




Carbonated Spruce Gimlet

The recipe for a wild native twist on a classic Gimlet.

Read more

New sizes of The Botanist include a Magnum

We are delighted to be able to announce that we have introduced a number of new sizes for The Botanist, the first and only Islay Dry Gin.

Read more

Richard and Mavis Retire

We enjoyed a very splendid cake last week, to mark the retirement of our botanical scientists Dr. Richard and Mavis Gulliver.

Read more

Foraged Drinks
Gin Hog Zinger

An original cocktail made by Fraser for today's Botani

Read more

Live Reviver

This is a really simple foraged cocktail, that uses the proportions of the corpse reviver, hence it's name.

Read more

Belmont Berry Fleur

We adapted this recipe from Harry Cr

Read more

Our Foraging
The Rumex Cube

It was only recently that I discovered you could eat dock. My way in was through the stems. 

Read more

Kate's Wild Rosehip Syrup

Rosehips are one of autumn and winter’s brightest hedgerow bounty.  In the UK, our gardens, school yards and pathways are surrounded in s

Read more

How to Make Infused Gin

Our homemade rose petal-infused gin has been a hit as of late on the Laddieshop's Botanist tours.

Read more


TASTE Festival

The Botanist, Islay’s first and only dry gin will be offering a wild experience like no other at TASTE Festive this year, bringing Islay

Read more

Shadow Session 8 at Chambar, Vancouver

Live at Chambar restaurant, Vancouver, Canada Join them on Thursday 16th November

Read more

London Cocktail Week dinners at Sager + Wilde

After a recent trip to see us at the distillery on Islay and come out foraging, Chris Leach, head chef at Paradise Row, and Marcis Dzelza

Read more