When I was young, I had this friend whose favourite saying was “don’t be bitter, be better”. She’d pull out this little gem whenever I was annoyed at someone (which, as a teen, was probably most of the time). As you can imagine, it never really had the desired effect, and instead of making me rise above and embrace a better, more mature version of myself, it made me want to pants her, then yell in her face how daaaare you…you be better! It is, hands down, one of the most irritating sayings, other than maybe “I could give a rat’s ass” because let’s be honest, if you’ve got a pocket full of rats’ asses you’re handing out, I don’t think we should be friends anymore.
Make your bitters better
(Take that stupid saying that haunted my teenage years!) Did you know you could make your own bitters? You sure can! Have you ever noticed that little brown bottle suspiciously hanging out at every cocktail bar or well-stocked home liquor cabinet? Yup. That.
Bitters are relatively easy to prepare and play around with. All you need are a few different aromatics, some glass jars with lids, and vodka. Oh, and time. You definitely gonna need some time.
Listen, I’m not suggesting you go out with intention of cracking the ultra secret recipe for Agnostura bitters, which experts believe contain up to 40 different ingredients. I’m just saying, if you want to try something a little mad scientisty a simple bitters is for you!
Do I need bitters?
I’m not a mixologist, but I’ll tell you this: bitters are the je ne sais quoi of a drink. The point isn’t to be blown away by them, rather it’s just a lovely little secret addition in there that elevates the concoction to the next level. If you’ve ever tasted bitters straight up, they tend to be herbal, floral, and of course, bitter. Straight up they’re pretty overpowering, but in a drink, they’re just right.
How to make your own Lavender Bitters
If you want, bitters can be really complicated, involving hard to find ingredients. But me, being the sucker for the simple (lazy gal’s) life, I wanted to keep my bitters basic. For these lavender bitters, I decided I wanted it to be mostly floral with a hint of citrus. I wanted a floral punch that would carry through a cocktail but not be so overwhelming that it tasted like drinking soap (never a good thing). So, I chose dried lavender (from my garden, obviously), orange peel, fresh thyme, and peppercorns.
I put a handful of each into separate glass jars and covered each aromatic with vodka before popping lids on the jars. I gave each jar a good shake every day or so, and within a week, the liquid began to change colour (the lavender and thyme went brownish, the orange went a lovely orange hue, and the pepper went really dark brown). Giving the jars a good whiff every few days also helped to tell how steeped the liquid was. In total I spent 6 weeks, shaking and smelling, until I felt that the aromatics had steeped enough. Ideally, you’re looking for the vodka to smell like the aromatic more so than actual alcohol.
I strained the liquid into new glass jars and got down to the task of blending the different flavours into one bitters. This is entirely personal taste, but I ended up with a blend of 60% lavender, 30% orange peel and 10% thyme. I ditched the pepper because it was just, well, too peppery for what I wanted. The end result is a lavender bitters that’s super flowery with a bright finish. It would be just as good jazzing up some lemonade. Seriously.
I stored the bitters in a dark brown bottle, mostly because everyone else seems to be doing it (dark bottles tend to stave off rancidity longer. It’s science.) My bottle has a pipette with it so I can very accurately dole out the bitters in my drinks, but being totally exact isn’t necessary. In fact, when a recipe calls for a dash, there’s a pretty wide margin for error.
A dash of bitters
If you’re into essential oils, then you probably know that it takes around 30 drops to make 1 ml (how I remember this stuff, but keep calling my daughter my husband’s name, I’ll never know). A dash, can be figured out the same way: one dash equals about 10-18 drops, give or take. That’s what I love about a dash: it’s so easy going. Dashes are a little more free flowing, you can add a few dashes or even just a single dash to your beverage.
Once your bitters are bottled, you can keep ’em indefinitely. If they last that long.
Need some recipe inspiration? Check out my Lavender Orange Bees Knees.