Bog Myrtle Bitters

IN

Ashley MacGregor has worked at the distillery since March 2015. She grew up on Dunlossit estate, the eldest of four, “spinning about the fields on quad bikes”.  She is still a bit of a petrolhead. She’s a dog owner, of “Barley”, an appropriately named pet for one who works at a distillery on whisky island. Three seasons ago, we started doing Botanist tours at the distillery, and Ashley has really taken to cocktail making, teaching herself, and exercising her arty side. Here she shares her recipe for DIY bitters, made with dried, intensely aromatic, bog myrtle leaves.

Also knows as sweet gale, bog myrtle, Myrica gale, is one of Islay’s characteristics fragrances, and a locally foraged ingredient in The Botanist Gin.

Ashley MacGregor [AM]: “Cocktail bitters” are simply bitter and aromatic herbs and spices infused or tinctured in spirits, blended with water and sweetened. Lots of people only know about Angostura bitters, but you can make your own and get a lot of variety into your drinks.  Usually for bitters you would use a high-proof neutral alcohol at least 100 proof or 50% alcohol by volume (ABV). You can also experiment with other spirits such as bourbon and rye or rum.

I changed things up a bit to try out a little experiment and used 80% botanist gin. It already has flavours from 31 botanicals, including bog myrtle, so to bring out the plant’s aromatic contribution to the maximum, I infused dried bog myrtle in the alcohol, and left it for longer than you would a more delicate herb or fruit.

 

Ingredients 

2 cups high proof alcohol of your choice. I used 80% botanist.

6 to 10 sprigs of Bog Myrtle. The more the merrier!

4 cups of water.

¾ cup sugar

2 mason jars

The process is staggered over 20 days

The process of making bitters is in several stages.  First you infuse your bitter aromatic plants in alcohol, and give it time. Then you reuse them, boiling in water, and leave them to steep for half the time again.. Then you blend those two flavoured liquids and add some sweetness, and leave all that to marry. And only then, can you bottle and use them, to add some captured plant mystery to your gin and tonic or cocktail. Here’s the full detail.

STAGE ONE Infusion. Gather the ingredients. Place the ingredients of your choice in a mason jar and cover them with the alcohol of your choice. (Neutral alcohol is the best option for more flavour from the ingredients.) Seal the jar and let the mixture stand in a cool, dark place for about 10 days, giving the jar a good shake once a day.

STAGE TWO Strain and Reserve. After 10 days, strain the alcohol through a muslin cloth into another mason jar to separate the liquid from the ingredients. Squeeze as much liquid out as possible. Label the strained alcohol infusion jar and store away for later.

STAGE THREE Water infusion. Muddle the bog myrtle that you removed above, to break up everything. Place the bog myrtle into a saucepan and add your 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes.Pour this mixture into another clean mason jar and let sit for 5 days. Shake once a day.

STAGE FOUR Strain and blend. After 5 days, Strain the water through a muslin cloth and discard the dry ingredients. Pour your infused water into the jar with the infused alcohol. Add equal amount of infused water with infused alcohol (1 part infused water to 1 part infused alcohol)

STAGE FIVE Sweeten. Place the sugar into a small pan over medium to high heat. Stir constantly and let the sugar caramelize until it becomes  liquid and brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

STAGE SIX Combination.  Add the sugar to the alcohol and water mixture. The sugar may solidify for a minute but will dissolve. Seal the mason jar and allow to sit for 5 days. Shake once a day.

STAGE SEVEN Bottle and use. After 5 days, strain your bitters into small bottles with a tight sealing cap and a dropper or aromatiser  if you can source one. Enjoy a few drops in your cocktail or gin and tonic.

 

With many thanks to Ashley MacGregor.

Another similar recipe with bog myrtle here >

And some folklore about bog myrtle >

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