This is my first experiment in bitters. Early on in my cocktailian days I sought out Adam Bernbach of Bar Pilar. I was looked for a recipe for chocolate bitters and he made two different varieties. He gave me a sample of his regular cocoa bitters, but suggested I check out the bitters recipe in The Art of the Bar by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. The book did, indeed, have a recipe for bitters: Dr. Schwartz’s Cherry-Vanilla Bitters. While I wasn’t sure what I’d use these for exactly, having a recipe to ground me seemed like the best place to start my first effort at making my own bitters.
Following the recipe was easy. Though the process took the better part of 7 weeks, the actual work time was very limited, other than shaking the mixture once a day. It went in three two-week periods. Fortunately for me, the San Francisco Chronicle has posted a copy of the recipe (otherwise I’d have to type quite a bit).
I’m tasting the bitters for the first time and they came out great. They have a nice, deep complexity and the cherry-vanilla flavors came out with more of a kick than I’d expected. We’re not talking some kind of cream soda here, but a profile that brings out a more savor and spicy tone. I can see these being great in Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, as well as other whiskey-based cocktails or drinks where you might normally use Angostura bitters. I had them in a Rittenhouse 80-proof rye Old Fashioned last night, and it was pretty marvelous.
The full recipe is below the fold. I actually halved the whole thing, as I couldn’t see myself using 6 cups of bitters. But other than that I followed it loyally. Also, since some of the spices included are rare, I highly recommend visiting tenzingmomo.com, a spice and herb site that has become indispensable to me.
Dr. Schwartz’s Cherry-Vanilla BittersMakes 6 cups
From “The Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics” (Chronicle Books, 2006) by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz.
2 teaspoons quassia (see Note)
2 teaspoons cardamom seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons anise seed
Pinch gentian (see Note)
Pinch cassia (see Note)
1 teaspoon grated ginger
3 cups 100-proof rye, preferably Rittenhouse
5 vanilla beans
1/2 cup cherry bark
3 cups water
Instructions: 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.
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.)
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. 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.