The availability of cocktail bitters in southern California is, at the moment, sparse at best. It seems that the cocktail boom has created a flood of new bitters makers everywhere but here. I imagine that in places like New York, bitters of every variety are flooding the shelves. In San Diego, I have found very few places that carry more than Angostura and maybe Peychaud’s. BevMo sometimes has a few more but there are still relatively few bitters on the shelves in San Diego. Seems like most of my friends order their bitters online.
On my last birthday my lovely wife gave me the Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas and that was the beginning. I had already been experimenting with infusions without any real direction. The bitters book opened my eyes to the possibilities and the allure of making my own cocktail bitters. I am hooked. I am a bitters maker.
Some of you may be asking “What are bitters?” The simple and quick of it is that bitters, once used historically as medicine, are now used primarily as a flavoring and bittering agent in cocktails. Like salt or pepper bringing the flavors of your food into balance, cocktail bitters give contrast and depth to your drinks. The majority of bitters on the market are composed of three base agents. The first is high-proof alcohol that is used as a base and provides the structure and shelf stable qualities of bitters. The second agent is the bittering agent; one or more bitter herbs that give your bitters, well, bitterness. The third is a flavoring agent – this is the character and personality. Aside from flavor and bitterness, your selection of herbs will also give your bitters a certain aromatic quality.
Soon I will discuss procuring and handeling off ingredients as well as the results of my experiments.