How Alcohol Bitters Are Made

By James Madeiros


Bitters, once the sole province of masterful barroom mixologists, are returning to the spotlight thanks to the growing popularity of Prohibition Era cocktails and old-timey booze recipes that often include the herbal mixture.

Making bitters involves a delicate process of mixing herbal flavors, either through infusion or distillation, in a balanced base of water and nearly pure alcohol. The most coveted bitters recipes often include exotic herbs like cascarilla, cinchona bark, cassia and gentian.

Gentian, a popular herb in a many famed bitters recipes, is a flowering plant with several different species and grows on many continents. Its exoticism doesn’t stem from its rarity, as is the case with most other herbs found in bitters, but in its selective use. Originally, the combinations were thought to have restorative properties … or could at least fix an upset tummy.

To make Angostura bitters – arguably the most famous bitters in the Western world – this herb along with many others are crushed together and mixed with pure alcohol during an infusion process. After infusion, brown sugar and coloring are added, followed by distilled water to bring the alcohol content to 44.7% for bottling.

The Angostura recipe is top secret and, as the story goes, the company even has a standing agreement with Customs to not inspect its herb shipments when they arrive at the factory in Trinidad.

While you may not be able to replicate Angostura bitters, anyone can make their own at home by mixing your favorite herbs with a base alcohol – vodka and straight grain alcohol work best, because there is less flavor to cloud the herbs’ essences.

Legal Stuff: We should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).

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