How are bitters made?

How are bitters made?

I talk a lot about what bitters are and how to use them, but what about how they’re made. I think getting a peek at the process takes away some of the mystery and makes them more approachable. And I’ve never bought into the philosophy of keeping things a secret, our recipes maybe, but not our process or our ingredients. In fact, I’ve been known to teach classes on how to make your own bitters. It's actually a pretty simple process, it just takes time. Coming up with the individual flavor recipes is where all the work is. 

In the simplest terms, bitters are an extract, meaning we extract flavor from botanical, plant based, ingredients. We get all the goodness we can out of them, layers of flavor and in some cases beneficial or even medicinal properties. If you start to think of them as complex extracts, you may find that you have even more ideas about how to use them, like baking and marinades, but that’s another article.

There are two main methods of making bitters, steeping a blend of botanical ingredients together in alcohol or steeping individual botanical ingredients and blending the extracts. We use the first method because I believe that when you steep all the ingredients together the flavors naturally balance themselves in way that is harder to do with individual extracts. 

Cardamom steeping in alcoholWe measure out all our dried roots and leaves, fresh fruit peels, and whole spices. Then crush or chop whatever needs it, like nutmeg and fresh ginger, mix it all together and dump it into a tank of high proof alcohol. The tanks are much like the ones used in beer making except we’re not fermenting anything. We let that sit for several weeks, pull off all the alcohol and make a second water extraction of all the ingredients. The alcohol extraction gets all the oils and bright top note flavors of the ingredients, where the water extraction pulls the deep, earthy, and bitter flavors.

We then blend these two extractions together, add a bit of sugar, and let it all sit for at least another week so that we can pull off most, if not all, the sediment. Since the ingredients are all plant based, they tend to break down quite a bit in both the alcohol and water. So if you ever see a bottle of our bitters with a bit of sediment at the bottom, there’s nothing wrong with it. The sediment is a natural part of the process and while we do our best to filter it all out we can’t always get it all before we bottle.

Once the bitters is bottled and labeled, it’s ready to send our distributors, our retailers, and you. 

Are our bitters different than others you can choose? We sure do like to think they are. Not only do we source high quality ingredients with the best flavor, we make a consistent, balanced product, that is easy to use. Bitters are used to bring balance to your drink, so you don’t want them to be harsh or sharp. That doesn’t mean they’re not bitter, instead it means the bitterness is complimented and supported by layers of flavor and complexity. We also make everything ourselves in our own facility. Nothing is farmed out and I personally taste every batch we make to ensure I’m proud of it.

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