Making Bitters for Cocktails

IN

You will need both the roots and leaves for a Dandelion bitters – but not the flowers.  Dandelions have a long taproot which is reasonably easy to dig out of soft soil using a trowel.  Fresh young leaves are best.  We used 5 medium sized roots each around 10cm long and a few hefty handfuls of leaves.  We used just the leaves of Bog myrtle and the bright green tips of spruce gathered in Spring.

Back in the kitchen we washed the roots and leaves thoroughly and cut the roots into manageable thumb-length pieces.

Into an airtight container, such as a Kilner jar, cover  the foraged roots and leaves in a neutral spirit (we used Bruichladdich Bere Barley new make spirit from our stills – very oily, sweet and citrus at 68%ABV.  You can experiment though – try The Botanist, or a vodka.  In some countries (e.g. the USA)  it is possible to obtain a neutral grain spirit such as Everclear 151.  Your local pharmacy may be a useful source, but make sure to say you want to drink it!).

We made individual bitters from Dandelion, bog myrtle and spruce tips. These can be blended to taste if required.

Leave the container in a cool place to macerate for at least 3 weeks, giving it a daily shake if at all possible.

After the three weeks the next thing you need to do is lower the ABV to 35-40%  which is the average for bitters.   To do this – strain the solids from the alcohol and put the solids to the side (you’re going to use them again).  Measure the volume of alcohol left.  You’ll need to work out what volume of your chosen water-based solution (with an ABV of 0%) you need to add to the spirit to come up with an ABV of 35-40%.  This could be plain old water or it could be something infused such as foraged dog-rose water.  You’ll need to know the ABV of your spirit and the total amount of strained spirit you’re working with.   For example, adding 500ml of water to 500 ml of alcohol at 75%ABV, would result in an ABV of 37.5% which would be perfect.

But don’t add the water to the alcohol just yet!  First add the solids you drained from the alcohol to the water and heat, simmering for about 15 minutes.  Then strain the solids again and discard.  At this stage you can add a little sugar to the liquid to balance the bitterness, but since the spirit used at Bruichladdich had a touch of sweetness to it we didn’t add any. For 500 ml. of decoction, Ellen suggested using about 50-100 ml. sugar.  Whisk it into the hot decoction to dissolve.

Now combine the botanical infused alcohol with the water based solution and you have bitters.

With thanks to Ellen Zachos

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