The bitters materials arrived a week ago Thursday, but other projects kept me from launching the experiment until this Wednesday night. I had fun jarring, labeling, and tasting all of the different components. Then I measured out the ingredient and assembled the mixes. It took only a few minutes - I just tossed everything together and shook it up, in one case toasting the spices first.
I cut down the amounts by quite a lot, using about 1 - 1.5 cups rye whiskey and an equal reduction in spices for each recipe. I used Rittenhouse, but I think any 100 proof rye would work fine. If you can't find 100 proof, just use a little less water at the end. Bitters recipes are still experiments, and ingredients can be varied to taste. The first recipe, for aromatic bitters, comes from Robert Hess, a well know spirits writer. The second, from "The Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics" (Chronicle Books, 2006) by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz.
-- House Bitters
*8 cups rye
*3 tsp gentian
*1 cup chopped ginger
*16 sticks cinnamon
*1/4 cup whole cloves
*8 whole star anis
*6 Tbs cardamon pods
1. Place all ingredients, except for the sugar and water, into a large mason jar and seal. Store for 2 weeks, shaking the jar once a day.
2. Strain the liquids/solids mixture through cheesecloth. Squeeze hard to extract as much juice into the reserved liquid as possible. Place the dry ingredients into a saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
3. Allow to cool completely, then pour the water and solid mixture into another mason jar. Store for 1 week, shaking the jar once a day.
4. Strain the water mixture through cheesecloth. Discard the solid ingredients, and add the water to the previously reserved alcohol.
5. Put the sugar into a small non-stick skillet and stirring constantly over a medium-high heat, allow the sugar to melt and then turn to a rich brown color.
Quickly remove from heat and allow the melted sugar to cool for a couple of minutes.
6. With the sugar still slightly warm, pour it into the water and alcohol mixture. It will probably crystallize at this point, but with continued stirring it will eventually dissolve.
7. Allow this mixture to rest for a couple of days, then skim off anything that rises to the surface, and gently pour (or siphon) the clear liquid from the top into another container, trying to avoid as much of the sediment on the bottom as possible.
8. Measure the amount of liquid you now have, and add half that same amount of water.
-- Dr. Schwartz's Cherry-Vanilla Bitters
Makes 6 cups
*2 teaspoons quassia
*2 teaspoons cardamom seeds
*1 1/2 teaspoons anise seed
*1 teaspoon grated ginger
*3 cups 100-proof rye, preferably Rittenhouse
*5 vanilla beans
*1/2 cup cherry bark
*3 cups water
1. Toast quassia, cardamom, anise, gentian and cassia in a dry frying pan over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant. Cool and transfer to a sterile mason jar. Add the ginger and rye, screw on the cap, shake well and store in a cool, dark place. Agitate once a day for one week. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth and transfer to a clean jar. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
2. Cut the vanilla beans in half lengthwise and add them to the rye mixture along with the cherry bark. Seal and store again, shaking once a day, for another two weeks. Strain the rye through cheesecloth and transfer liquid to clean mason jar (do not throw out the cherry and vanilla mash). Cover and set aside for a couple of weeks. (No need to agitate.)
3. Take the cherry-vanilla mash remaining in the jar and transfer to a medium saucepan. Add the 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. While the mixture is simmering, smash the vanilla beans against the sides of the pot with a muddler or wooden spoon. Cool completely and transfer to a clean jar. Store in a cool, dark place for another 2 weeks, agitating once daily.
4. Strain this mixture through several layers of cheesecloth, as many times as is necessary to remove all sediment from the vanilla beans. Finally, combine the liquid with the reserved rye mixture and transfer to an empty bitters bottle.