Thursday, December 1, 2011

Easy Christmas Bitters Made at Home

Here is your chance to easily make your first bitters at home, if you haven't already.

Several times now I've written about making your own home-made bitters. The jist of the process is soaking a variety of herbs, spices, roots, etc. in alcohol to create a strong and bitter concoction which tastes delicious when added to spirits a dash at a time.

Well, I just realized a really easy way to make them: mulling spices. I'm talking about the packets of spices that you can find anywhere in supermarkets at this time of year. Occasionally you'll find a dissolvable powder that claims to be mulling spices, but I'm talking about the roughly chopped stuff that resembles (and can be used as) potpourri. The mix usually contains cinnamon, orange zest, cloves, allspice, and occasionally nutmeg.

What you have here is a pre-fabricated mix of a variety of spices begging to be soaked in alcohol. Simply pour the spices into a bottle or jar of vodka/grain alcohol. As we've learned, one wants to let the source soak in the booze for as long as possible... a week or two should suffice. When it's done, one only need strain the mixture through cheesecloth or coffee filter.

This soak will yield you a very potent tincture. All you need is to add some sort of bittering agent to your mulling spices in order to turn your resulting tincture into bitters. Derek Brown gives a short list of bittering agents here. You can also browse this list compiled by Darcy O'Neil to find a few more bittering options.

I added a few pieces of star anise to my mulling spices, along with some wormwood. Ten days later, I have my Christmas(y) bitters. A dash or two of the stuff to any drink gives it a nice merry touch. It's great in a rye Manhattan, and even better in a brandy Old Fashioned.

If you've never made bitters at home before, here is your golden chance to start. You can probably find some mulling spices on your way home. Look at the lists I provided to find a bittering agent you can procure. If you start now, you could have your easy Christmas bitters before Christmas.


  1. Is there a preferred amount of alcohol by volume for your white lightning?

  2. It usually doesn't matter. The more volume you have, the longer it will take to saturate, and vice versa. I used about 1/3-1/2 bottle of vodka with a bit of grain alcohol thrown in.