Cherry bitters isn’t exactly on every store shelf, but it’s surprisingly useful. I just ran out of the batch I made last year, and I’m about to make another! You can use homemade cherry bitters instead of Angostura in your Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or Champagne Cocktail to give your cocktail a hint of fruit while still doing what bitters does best.
I used Bing cherries, because that’s what is usually around. But go with whatever kind of cherry (or mix thereof) that you’re into. I live in the Bay Area, so finding gentian root was as easy as hopping over to some herbal shop in Berkeley. But you can also order them from Lhasa Karnak. California is also an easy place to find 151-proof spirits, so if that’s not around your neck of the woods, then go for the highest proof vodka you can get.
This column was a fun excuse to make bitters the authentic way–with obscure bittering ingredients like gentian root and quassia chips. In my book, I have two great bitters recipes using easy-to-find grocery store items. They do the job and do it well. But the cocktail geek in me was happy to play around with weird tree bark for an traditional yet still totally original hardcore bitters recipe. (Don’t worry: It isn’t hard or expensive.)
Even though you only use a dash or two at a time, bitters can make or break a cocktail. Angostura bitters is the default, but orange bitters are actually very versatile.
Orange bitters are basically my cocktail Superman. When I’ve screwed up a drink by making it too sweet or gotten so close to perfection only to end up with something flat-tasting, orange bitters have swooped in to save the day. Just a drop or two can add the right depth or bridge together ingredients that aren’t quite living up to their mixological potential. But orange bitters are so much more than a way to fix a bad drink—they’re an essential part of so many balanced cocktails because of their deep, citrusy, spicy, and complex flavor.
DIY vs. Buy: Should I Make My Own Orange Bitters? on Serious Eats
Photo by Liam Boylan