Bitters started out in the early 1800’s as medicine, thought to cure all types of ailments from stomach pains to the common cold. Today they’re the cornerstone of craft cocktails. Like salt and pepper in cooking, even just a few drops of bitters can completely transform the taste of a drink.
We’re in our cocktail era and we’ve been enjoying building out our home bar. We have collected all kinds of bitters like spiced cocoa, rosemary habanero, and classic tiki but we couldn’t find Old Fashioned bitters that we really loved so we tried making our own!
The basics of making bitters is pretty simple! You just need a large jar, something to strain the ingredients through (like cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer), a neutral, high-proof alcohol (vodka works perfectly), and your preferred aromatics. With the simple application of time, your murky jar of fruits and spices will become, alchemy like, a concentrated flavor bomb.
Old Fashioned bitters are typically orange based with endless possible variations. We do a lot of mulling in the colder seasons so we took those flavors into our bitters and ended up somewhere amazing. Follow these steps for a batch of intensely orange, spiced bitters that are great in an Old Fashioned but also perfect for any fall beverage.
Autumn Spark Bitters
Peels of 4 large navel oranges
5 - 8 whole star anise
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tablespoon whole cardamom pods
3 - 4 cinnamon sticks
1 - 2 vanilla beans
Vodka or other neutral spirit (80 proof or higher)
Prep your orange peels by gently drying them in a 200 degree F oven for about 20-25 minutes. This will concentrate the orange flavor by pulling out the moisture and bringing the citrus oils to the surface.
Combine all of the spices except the vanilla and give them a rough grind with a mortar and pestle, a very quick blitz in a grinder, or put them in a ziplock bag and bash them a few times with a hammer or rolling pin. We just want to break them open and release the flavor.
For the vanilla beans, I had beans that I had scraped and used for caramel. The leftover hulls still had a lot of lovely flavorful oils left so instead of throwing them out, I tossed them in the jar. If you have baking projects that need vanilla beans, this is a great way to repurpose the used bean!
Pack your orange peels and spices into a 1 quart mason jar (or other ceramic or clay container with a tight seal) and fill to the top with alcohol. Give the jar a shake once a day and store it in a cool, dry place for anywhere from 4 - 8 weeks. You can open it up and taste your progress at any point!
When you’re ready to decant, strain your bitters through a fine filter such as cheesecloth. I used a reusable coffee filter.
Now you’re ready to make some spiced citrus magic! Try them in a classic Old Fashioned, a rum-spiked cider drink like the one below, or 7-10 drops in a glass of seltzer for a fresh taste of the season.
2 ounces rum (such as Owney’s Original)
3 shakes or 5-7 drops Autumn Spark bitters (or other orange bitters)
4 ounces sparkling cider (try Eve’s Cidery Autumn Gold)
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add rum, orange liqueur, and bitters.
Shake well and strain into a tall glass with ice.
Top with sparkling cider.
Garnish with an apple slice and enjoy!
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