Home-made bitters – the results

December 17th, 2007

A few weeks ago I wrote about my attempts at home-made bitters, a long process evolving steeping spices in various alcohols, lots of filtering, and lots of waiting around. After nearly a month of work the process finally came to an end today. That’s right – they’re ready for tasting!

The mixture of water and spices which I created at the end of the last post spent a week macerating, and then had to be filtered again and added to the previously filtered alcohol/spices mixture. Burnt sugar, created by merely heating up some sugar in a pan until it liquefies and turns a deep brown colour, was then added and left to sit for a few days. Finally today the entire solution was filtered again, and then put in to small bottles ready for use.

I’m not going to conduct a strict comparison of these bitters like I have previously, because aside from anything these bitters are entirely unique and given the variations in how I’ve made them may taste nothing like the original creators intended. However, I have tried the bitters both neat and in cocktails and have set out my thoughts on them below. To use an old cliché though, your mileage may vary…

Hess House Bitters

Hermes Orange bitters bottle with Hermes Aromatic bitters bottle in background

The Hess House Bitters have a sharp spice to them, with a fairly strong bitter finish. Comparing them to other bitters, they seem most like a less sweet version of The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic bitters. They also bear a certain similarity to Hermes Aromatic bitters, though where the Hess bitters end with heavy bitterness, Hermes end with an increasingly spicy fire.

In a Manhattan the Hess bitters seemed a little underpowered, provide some extra depth but not as much as I’d like. In an Old Fashioned, the bitterness worked well against the sweetness of the Bourbon, but again they lacked a certain something. Combined with other bitters they might work quite well though – some further experimentation is called for.

Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 5

Hermes Orange bitters bottle with Hermes Aromatic bitters bottle in background

These orange bitters are initially fairly sweet, with an orange flavour combined with a slight spice. This spice develops as time passes, and a clear bitterness slowly reveals itself, but never becomes particularly strong. Compared to commercial bitters these are clearly – and expectedly – most similar to Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6, though the No. 6 bitters have a more defined spice, and overall seem more complex.

In a Martini these bitters worked really nicely, bringing the gin and vermouth together along with a subtle, but just present, orange hint. I found it best to be rather generous with them, using more than I perhaps would with most other bitters. I also tried them in an Old Fashioned but found they lacked the depth to really stand up against the bourbon, adding little overall flavour to the drink.


After investing a lot of time, and a reasonable amount of money, creating these bitters I was somewhat nervous to see how they would taste. As it turns out both are fairly interesting concoctions, and while neither of them are really a match for any of the commercial bitters brands I own they nonetheless make for an interesting alternative.

I am now keen to learn more about the individual herbs and spices which make up the bitters so I can start to experiment with my own recipes. I think I’m going to start by infusing each ingredient in a neutral spirit so I can see what flavours they provide, and perhaps play about mixing these infusions together.

I will definitely be making smaller batches though – I now have almost 30 bottles of home-made bitters, and I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with them all. Anyone up for swapsies? Jimmy?

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Posted in Bitters

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3 responses to “Home-made bitters – the results”

  1. Dominik MJ – the opinionated alchemist Dominik MJ - the opinionated alchemist says:

    Really nice experiment – though I would rather read, how your personal recipe for bitters will be…

  2. Rick Rick says:

    Jay, I’d love to give your bitters a try, but (and Jimmy’s going to smack me), I haven’t whipped up any of my own batches yet.

    I do, however, have some 6 month old pimento dram that I made …

  3. Jon Roe Jon Roe says:

    Hi Jay,

    I’m playing around with bitters my self, but I have a hard time finding the right packaging.. Where did you get your bottles from?

    Jon

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