How to Make Cocktails Using Homemade Bitters

bloody mary
Photo: Natalie Stultz Photography
Enhance your medicine cabinet (and bar!) with homemade bitters.

Bitters have been in use since the Middle Ages, made by combining various plant botanicals and/or spices with 100-proof alcohol and letting them sit until the bitter and medicinal qualities have been extracted. Just a tiny amount of this can seriously aid your digestive system. They're also awesome for flavoring your favorite cocktails. And now, you can learn how to make and use them for yourself with the new how-to guide from the founders of the organic herbalist company Urban Moonshine, called DIY Bitters. Learn how to make tonics and syrups to enhance some of your favorite cocktails below!

Dark and Stormy "Extra Strength"

This is a more intense, gingery version of the classic cocktail. The bitter ginger syrup is clean, classic, and incredibly versatile. You can sip it mixed with apple cider vinegar and seltzer for a little afternoon pick-me-up, or with lemon juice and warm water in the morning, or even add it to vinaigrettes or sweet-and-sour marinades for a flavor kick.

bitter ginger

What You'll Need

Makes 1 cocktail

  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 6 tablespoons ginger beer
  • 1 tablespoon Bitter Ginger Syrup (recipe follows)
  • Lime wedge or candied ginger, for garnish


Directions

In an ice-filled glass, combine all the ingredients. Serve with a choice of garnish: A lime wedge is traditional, but candied ginger adds even more bitterness.

Bitter Ginger Syrup

Makes about 8 ounces

  • 2 tablespoons gentian tincture
  • 1/4 cup ginger tincture
  • 7 tablespoons raw honey


Directions

In an 8-ounce (240 ml) amber bottle, blend the ingredients together and cap for storage.

Homemade Gin 'n' Tonic

A gin and tonic made the way it should be. With complex botanical flavors, it's an excellent sipper. The tonic syrup used is so much healthier than what you find in the grocery stores. It aids digestion, stimulates a healthy appetite, and helps healthy bowel and kidney functions.

gin and tonic

What You'll Need

Makes 1 cocktail

  • 1 cup sparkling water
  • 2 teaspoons Tonic Syrup (recipe follows)
  • 3 tablespoons gin
  • Bitters, to taste
  • Lime wedge or cucumber slice, for garnish


Directions

Step 1: In a tall glass, make the tonic water by stirring together the sparkling water and Tonic Syrup.

Step 2: In a highball glass filled with ice, combine the gin and tonic water. Stir briefly, add a dash of bitters, if desired, and garnish with a lime wedge or cucumber slice.

gin and tonic

Tonic Syrup

Makes about 8 ounces

  • 1/2 cup simple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons cinchona tincture
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon grapefruit tincture
  • 1 tablespoon lemon verbena tincture
  • 2 teaspoons allspice tincture
  • 2 teaspoons rose tincture
  • 2 teaspoons juniper tincture
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom tincture


Directions

In a large measuring cup, thoroughly blend the ingredients together. Transfer to an 8-ounce amber bottle and cap for storage. To make tonic water, add about 1 tablespoon of tonic syrup to a 12-ounce (360 ml) glass of seltzer water.

Bloody Mary

Ah, the delicious weekend brunch standard. Adding bitters to your Bloody Mary brings out the component flavors and adds an extra bit of spice without having to add hot sauce. These bitters can be used in other cocktails, but they really work best with the savory flavors of the Bloody Mary.

bloody mary

What You'll Need

Makes 1 cocktail

  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 6 tablespoons tomato juice
  • 1 teaspoon Bloody Mary Bitters (recipe follows), more or less to taste
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Dill pickle spear, for garnish


Directions

In a mixing glass, combine all ingredients except the pickle and stir to combine. Transfer to an ice-filled highball glass and garnish with the pickle.

Bloody Mary Bitters

Makes about 7 ounces

  • 6 tablespoons horseradish tincture
  • 6 tablespoons celery seed tincture
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne tincture
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper tincture


Directions

In an 8-ounce (240 ml) amber bottle, blend all ingredients together. Cover and shake well. Use as a stock bottle for refilling either a 2-ounce (60 ml) dropper bottle or a small food-grade spray bottle. Use between 30 drops and 1 full teaspoon.


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diy bitters

Recipes and images excerpted from DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor - A Guide to Making Your Own Bitters, by Guido Masé and Jovial King (Fair Winds Press, 2016).