100 Techniques

Technique #74: Make Your Own Bitters for the Ultimate Cocktails

Cocktail bitters add sophistication and nuance to any number of drinks.

Published Aug. 19, 2023.

This is Technique #74 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master

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There are hundreds of different kinds of bitters available, with even more being crafted in small batches by inventive bartenders.

We thought it would be fun to create homemade bitters that were familiar enough to use wherever their commercial counterparts are called for, yet original and distinct enough to add their own particular character to cocktails.

And we’re more than happy to share the results.

Two bottles of bitters.
Bitters add nuance and complexity to cocktails.

Brew Then Let Steep

Making homemade bitters is not much more difficult than brewing tea. In testing, we first experimented by infusing high-proof alcohol with various flavoring agents—barks, roots, spices, herbs, flowers, fruits, and nuts—to create individual single-flavor tinctures. We then combined those tinctures into lots of different blends to figure out what particular combinations we liked best. 

Once we settled on some combinations, we switched to a more straightforward infusion technique of combining our flavoring agents in a single jar and covering them with 100-proof vodka; we let the mixture steep for a week or two before straining and sweetening. After fine-tuning combinations, concentrations, infusion times, and sweetener amounts, we had our recipes.

Use High-Proof Vodka

We suggest using high-proof (100-proof) vodka for bitters for faster extraction, although regular (80-proof) vodka will also work with an extra week of infusion time. Since alcohol is both a solvent and a preservative, it readily extracts the flavors of the flavoring agents and also ultimately preserves your finished bitters.

What's Your Favorite Flavor?

Woodsy, earthy old-fashioned bitters have notes of dried fruit and warm spices. Citrus bitters are made using a mix of dried and fresh zest. Our recipe for Cherry-Fennel Bitters includes sarsaparilla, almonds, and vanilla. In addition to using bitters in cocktails, think of them as food flavoring extracts: Add a few drops when churning homemade ice cream, or to heavy cream before whipping it, or to pound cake or any baked goods where extracts are called for.

The Science of Infusions

Bitters are made by infusing, or steeping, flavors into alcohol, in a similar way as we brew tea by infusing tea leaves into hot water or we make flavored oils. Alcohol extracts a lot of flavor without heat because it acts as a solvent. It’s also a preservative, so it keeps your infused bitters good for a very long time.


How To Cocktail

"Foolproof and high proof, this thoroughly researched and easy to follow volume will steady the hand of any home mixologist." — Publishers Weekly

Step by Step: How to Make Your Own Bitters

Making your own bitters for cocktails, as we’ve detailed above, isn’t too dissimilar from brewing tea. By steeping aromatics and flavoring agents in vodka, the alcohol extracts the flavors and creates a delicious mix-in for any drink. See the key steps below.

Step 1: Combine Alcohol and Flavorings 

Place aromatics in quart-size glass jar. Add vodka, cover with lid, and shake to combine.

Step 2: Let Steep 

Store jar in cool, dark place for 1 or 2 weeks, as directed, shaking mixture once every other day.

Step 3: Strain

Set fine-mesh strainer in medium bowl and line with triple layer of cheesecloth. Strain mixture through prepared strainer, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids.

Step 4: Store 

Pour infused vodka mixture into clean storage jar or bottle and add simple syrup. Cover and shake gently to combine.

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Recipes That Use This Technique

Now that you know how to make simple homemade bitters, here are a few of our favorite recipes to put your newfound knowledge to the test. Whether you want to add sweet-tart citrus bitters to your next cocktail, or a herbal and fruity kick from cherry-fennel bitters, try one of these tonight.


Old-Fashioned Aromatic Bitters

Intensely concentrated botanical elixirs added to cocktails in tiny amounts, bitters have the power to elevate a cocktail to a nuanced, distinctive libation.
Get the Recipe

Citrus Bitters

Once we established our method for making Old-Fashioned Aromatic Bitters, we returned to our botanical tinctures to explore more fruit-forward blends.
Get the Recipe

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