Bitters are an essential tool for anyone dabbling in the world of cocktail creation.
In fact, in 1806 a cocktail was solely defined as “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind – sugar, water, and bitters.”
Bitters play a very fine balancing act between the different components within a cocktail, and just a few drops of the elixir can elevate a cocktail to world class standards.
Bitters, such as Angostura, are well established but I wanted even more control over the final flavour profile, (Think a spicy Jalapeno bitters or a smokey bitters) so I started experimenting and making my own. What I (not so) quickly discovered, is that this is a long and laborious task without a guaranteed positive outcome. The jar you store all your ingredients in must be agitated daily to disperse the flavours and tasted daily because the flavours change every day of ageing; for months, and after all that if you weren't happy with the final product, you just had to take note and start again.
So I started to search for a faster, more consistent way and not being unfamiliar with the occult ways of science, I headed in that direction.
In this instructable, I share with you my results. A bitters from start to finish in less than 2 hours with full control over the flavours and plenty of opportunity of experiment.
To note: I am a chef, not a bartender, but to me the two crafts are the same. A blending of humble ingredients through a variety of techniques to achieve insatiable flavour.
Step 1: Gather Your Tools & Ingredients
(Very important you use N20 chargers to achieve infusion, nitrogen has finer bubbles than carbon dioxide. Imagine the smooth foamy head on Guinness as opposed to say, Heineken.)
- Sharp Knife
- Spice Blender (If you don't have one I actually tried it with a pepper grinder and while it took awhile, it did work)
- Kitchen Scales (The more accurate, the more control you have)
- 350 ml (11.8 fl. oz) 40% abv unflavoured Vodka
- 25 gm (0.9 oz) Orange Peel (removing the white pith)
- 25 gm (0.9 oz) Lime Peel
- 7.5 gm (0.3 oz) Vanilla Beans
- 4 gm (0.2 oz) Gentian Root
- 2.5 gm (0.1 oz) Black Peppercorns
- 1.3 gm (0.04 oz) Cardamom Seeds
- 2.5 gm (0.1 oz) Quassia Chips
- 1.3 gm (0.04 oz) Cloves
- 90 gm (3.2 oz) Muscovado Sugar
- 1 gm (0.03oz) Celery Seeds
If you've never heard of Gentian Root or Quassia Chips, these are your bittering agents. If these happen to pique your curiosity and you want to know more about other weird and wonderful flora that are used in bar tending, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart.
Step 2: Safety First
Lets get this out of the way first, nothing's going to ruin the taste of your new bitters more than a black eye or a broken finger.
- Ensure the rubber o-ring on your iSi is in good condition (as in the photo), not looking worn and without any cracks to the rubber. These canisters achieve immense pressure and the smallest nick is vastly exaggerated under such conditions.
- Always make sure the gas from the canister is fully released before unscrewing the top; again, extreme pressure is dangerous.
- When releasing the gas, hold the canister upright. It's not dangerous to hold it upside down (in fact it's how they're designed to be used) but you will end up spraying your new bitters all over yourself. Only funny the first time.
Right, now that that's out of the way, lets get started.
Step 3: Preparing the Fresh Ingredients
Start by peeling the zest and removing any of the white pith from both the oranges and limes. Slice the peels into thin strips, then turn and finely dice. Finely dice the vanilla beans and mix them all together.
Step 4: Preparing the Dry Ingredients
Place all your dry ingredients, with the exception of the sugar, into a spice blender and coarsely grind. As mentioned earlier, it does work in a pepper grinder, you just may have a sore wrist by the time it's done.
Step 5: Use a Funnel to Add All Ingredients to ISi Charger
Once all your ingredients are ready to go, use a funnel and place them all in the iSi Charger.
Step 6: Charge!
Fasten the lid securely to your iSi Charger and then using the screw attachment, charge the canister with two N2O chargers one after the other. Just screw the charger in, you'll hear a brief hiss of air, then unscrew and repeat with the second charger. Discard the spent chargers.
Step 7: And Now, We Wait. (Briefly)
Give your iSi a swirl around to ensure all the ingredients are distributed evenly and then go do something else with your life. Set a timer for 90 minutes, or an hour and a half, for the infusion to take place; then come back.
This is where all the magic happens, under immense pressure and opened up with the fine nitrogen bubbles, the vodka readily takes on the flavours and colours of the ingredients and they happily give them away.
Step 8: Release the Pressure and Strain the Elixir
Fully release the pressure from the canister, upright, until the hissing stops then unscrew the lid. This will unscrew without any force. If it feels tight to remove, release the pressure again or risk the lid hurtling into the ceiling.
Strain the liquid into a vessel discarding any solids, making sure to enjoy the aromas and colours you've managed to produce in less than 2 hours.
Step 9: Enjoy! and Keep on Experimenting
You now have your finished bitters!
A couple drops in a Whiskey Sours or an Old Fashioned and you'll discover the meaning of harmony.
But you're not done here;
This is just an example of a recipe that's quite easy going and comfortable. Your imagination and willingness to experiment is your only limitation. Where as before, you would've had to add months of time onto your creation, you can now fail and try again at a much faster rate.
Try a chocolate bitters, or grapefruit. Try different varietals of oranges, maybe pineapple? Keep on trying until you're truly happy with your result. Write everything down as you do it. The smallest change can make a world of difference.
On that note, changing the yield will change the flavour. You can't simply double the recipe, this will increase the bitterness and reduce the aromas, and vice versa, but perhaps that's what you want to achieve.
I hope this has been a helpful instructable, I'm happy to answer any questions you may have about the process. Keep on trying to achieve perfection.