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Chris Amirault

All About Bitters (Part 2)

355 posts in this topic

Great to have just found this thread, I've just started making and enjoying bitters. First experiment was Earl Grey bitters, started out just as loose earl grey in vodka, infused for 3 weeks. Obviously this is quite a pure flavour, I might mix in a little quassia bark infusion (quassia I managed to get 250g for £3 on eBay, bargain), and maybe some orange peel to bolster the bergamot/citrus element of the earl grey.

Next experiment is going to be a more traditional aromatic bitters as a replacement for Angostura, might play up more on the fragrant/floral aromas.

Looking forward to getting more inspiration from this thread.

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Hey, very cool!

I made some bergamot bitters a while back and they turned out quite nicely.

I was only whipping up a tiny test batch, and not really steeping anything.

Happened to have some oil of bergamot on hand, so I put that in some gin, let it sit overnight and ran it through a paper filter to catch the oils. I added some earl grey tea for color and extra bergamot flavor, and rather than spending weeks steeping quassia or gentian, I just dashed in a bunch of pre-made bitter tincture.

Then, I wanted to give it a little extra complexity and dual flavors, so I rummaged through my fridge to see what weird stuff I had on hand: strawberry shrub.

Reduced that, added it to the earl grey.

Voila, Strawberry/Bergamot Bitters.


-Tyler

Drink Instigator

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Some of you will have heard of, or seen, Dr. Heather Duncan's Christmas Bitters on my webpage, I know this because a fair few of you have been in touch about them. Other than the first few bottlings that were made in 2009 they've not been available, that was until The Elves returned this month to make a small batch. Yes you did read that right, Elves. :wink:

Well, we all like to know the story behind the creation of our favourite bottlings right? And we all like cocktails. And music. And bitters of course. Why not take a few minutes to have a read (and a listen) of the story of Dr. Heather Duncan's Christmas Bitters.

http://thejerrythomasproject.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-bitters-by-heather-duncan-and.html


Edited by evo-lution (log)

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

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Hey, very cool!

I made some bergamot bitters a while back and they turned out quite nicely.

I was only whipping up a tiny test batch, and not really steeping anything.

Happened to have some oil of bergamot on hand, so I put that in some gin, let it sit overnight and ran it through a paper filter to catch the oils. I added some earl grey tea for color and extra bergamot flavor, and rather than spending weeks steeping quassia or gentian, I just dashed in a bunch of pre-made bitter tincture.

Then, I wanted to give it a little extra complexity and dual flavors, so I rummaged through my fridge to see what weird stuff I had on hand: strawberry shrub.

Reduced that, added it to the earl grey.

Voila, Strawberry/Bergamot Bitters.

I'm trying to hunt down some fresh bergamot fruit, not quite sure where to look though! With the earl grey, I hoped that the bitterness of the tea itself would be enough, and it was. With the trad bitters I'm trying next, I'll use some of the earl grey as an element of the bitter extracts (the other probably being quassia), as it should partner nicely with the citrus peels I'll be using.

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hello, my name is alex waldman.

i'm a bartender (craft cocktails) in istanbul.

out of both curiosity and necessity i've been making my own bitters for a while now.

i've got a question about Regans' Orange #5, and by proxy all bitters containing fruits, i suppose.

i'm sure you're all familiar with the recipe.

in the final stage of the recipe- after the macerated alcohol has been combined with the macerated water- there is a separation stage where a large layer floats to the top and is subsequently skimmed off before final fine filtering, diluting, and bottling.

my questions are these:

1) is the stuff i'm skimming off pectin from the fruit peels?

2) does pectin (or whatever the jelly is) bind more readily to water or alcohol- and thereby is the liquid in the jelly mostly alcohol or water?

3) wouldn't this jelly be useful for something?

thanks,

alex

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Alex, since you're only taking off the barest outside oily layer of the peel, there is not an appreciable amount of pectin present in citrus bitters. At least not that I have ever noticed.

Strawberries, on the other hand, will precipitate a nice big glob of pectin in any liquor they are infused in, if left long enough.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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thirtyoneknots--

the dried orange and lemon peels that i'm using have a good portion of the pith as well as the outside oily layer.

i should've shot a picture to explain more thoroughly, but in the final separation stage of my orange bitters (lemon too) the water and alcohol are combined (totalling maybe 800ml), left to sit undisturbed after 2 days the top 350ml is a gelatinuous mush that according to the recipe is to be skimmed off and discarded. after the layers have separated i stick the jars in the fridge overnight to set the jelly even more for easy separation.

so the question remains, if this gelatinous material is not pectin then what is it?

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thirtyoneknots--

the dried orange and lemon peels that i'm using have a good portion of the pith as well as the outside oily layer.

i should've shot a picture to explain more thoroughly, but in the final separation stage of my orange bitters (lemon too) the water and alcohol are combined (totalling maybe 800ml), left to sit undisturbed after 2 days the top 350ml is a gelatinuous mush that according to the recipe is to be skimmed off and discarded. after the layers have separated i stick the jars in the fridge overnight to set the jelly even more for easy separation.

so the question remains, if this gelatinous material is not pectin then what is it?

Pectin is concentrated in the pith - so I think it certainly is pectin you are seeing.

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Alex,

I had the same problem with my first batch of Regans' #5.

I used Gary's process for orange bitters and root beer bitters, and the same process which is essentially replicated for every recipe in the new "Bitters" book: steep solids in alcohol 2 weeks, simmer and steep same solids in water 1 week, combine the tincture and the infusion, sweeten.

There is definitely a difference in how the solids break down in water as opposed to the alcoholic tincture. The orange peels (and the sassafras to a lesser extent)turned into a gelatinous mush which I never should have combined with my lovely tincture. It wasn't a matter of skimming precipitate off the top and bottom; the bitters were a mess throughout. I threw the bottle of orange bitters out, as it was so incredibly goopy and disgusting, no amount of cheese cloth could have salvaged them. It was too thick to go through any strainer (mesh, Brita, coffee filter) but too homogeneous to put through cloth (all the goop and solids went right through.) The root beer bitters were salvageable, if slightly murky.)

I've had far more success with bitters since that failed batch of Orange. But I am wary of following this procedure for the recipes in the "Bitters" book until someone can help me figure out what went wrong. I simply plan to monitor the water infusion and strain it obsessively before ever adding it to the tincture.

With any luck my Campfire Bitters will not suffer...

Best of luck!


-Tyler

Drink Instigator

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I intend to pop back in and write some more on what is happening when I have a little more time but, long story short, there is no need to macerate the botanicals separately in water which is essentially creating the problem. I see this (and the botanical/boiling water technique) recommended in various recipes and it isn't worthwhile.


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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Yes. I don't quite understand this step. Unless you are using absolute alcohol for the infusion step, then you are already macerating the botanicals in water.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Yes. I don't quite understand this step. Unless you are using absolute alcohol for the infusion step, then you are already macerating the botanicals in water.

Water will be added to dilute to bottling strength after the original maceration in (high-proof) alcohol.


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

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Yes. I don't quite understand this step. Unless you are using absolute alcohol for the infusion step, then you are already macerating the botanicals in water.

Water will be added to dilute to bottling strength after the original maceration in (high-proof) alcohol.

The point I was making is that one could theoretically have a "macerate in water" step if the idea was that the original step would extract alcohol-soluble compounds and the water step would extract water-soluble compounds. But, unless the original alcohol infusion was in absolute alcohol (i.e., 100% ethanol) then the botanicals were already being infused into water. This, then, would render an additional water-only infusion superfluous. I presume this is the theory behind this practice?


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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The point I was making is that one could theoretically have a "macerate in water" step if the idea was that the original step would extract alcohol-soluble compounds and the water step would extract water-soluble compounds. But, unless the original alcohol infusion was in absolute alcohol (i.e., 100% ethanol) then the botanicals were already being infused into water. This, then, would render an additional water-only infusion superfluous. I presume this is the theory behind this practice?

Who is going to have 100% ethanol?!?

If you're macerating in, let's say, 75%abv spirit you'll more than likely want to dilute with water to a lower bottling strength for a number of reasons, namely the flavour difference between aromatic compounds at differing strengths. For the bitters I produce there is a dilution step however it doesn't involve separate water macerations or the boiling water stage which is unnecessary and serves no purpose.


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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The point I was making is that one could theoretically have a "macerate in water" step if the idea was that the original step would extract alcohol-soluble compounds and the water step would extract water-soluble compounds. But, unless the original alcohol infusion was in absolute alcohol (i.e., 100% ethanol) then the botanicals were already being infused into water. This, then, would render an additional water-only infusion superfluous. I presume this is the theory behind this practice?

Who is going to have 100% ethanol?!?

That's exactly my point! Since you're using, let's say, 75% ethanol, you're already infusing into 25% water. This means that there isn't any point in doing a separate infusion into water -- which is what a bunch of these recipes say to do -- because you've already infused into water. That's all I'm commenting on, and we're saying the same thing: that it's not necessary. I'm simply pointing out that the spices, etc. have already been infused into water by virtue of the fact that there is water in the alcohol used to do the initial infusion.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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That's exactly my point! Since you're using, let's say, 75% ethanol, you're already infusing into 25% water. This means that there isn't any point in doing a separate infusion into water -- which is what a bunch of these recipes say to do -- because you've already infused into water. That's all I'm commenting on, and we're saying the same thing: that it's not necessary. I'm simply pointing out that the spices, etc. have already been infused into water by virtue of the fact that there is water in the alcohol used to do the initial infusion.

I get what you're saying but that's working on the presumption you're bottling at around 75%abv...


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

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Why is that? Yes, sure you're likely to reduce the proof for bottling by adding water. But that seems entirely separate from the question of whether it makes any sense at all to infuse the spices into 100% water separately from infusing them into 75% alcohol (which, of course, is 25% water) in order to get some kind of qualitatively different "water infusion" that is added to the flavor profile.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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If you're macerating in, let's say, 75%abv spirit you'll more than likely want to dilute with water to a lower bottling strength for a number of reasons, namely the flavour difference between aromatic compounds at differing strengths.

This confuses me. Are you saying that diluting with water as a final step would change the flavor in the cocktail (other than increase the amount needed)? The contribution of the alcohol in the bitters would not materially change the water/alcohol ratio of the final drink. It would seem that the any difference would disappear once a dash or two goes into the glass.

Now back to the misunderstanding already in progress.


Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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Why is that? Yes, sure you're likely to reduce the proof for bottling by adding water. But that seems entirely separate from the question of whether it makes any sense at all to infuse the spices into 100% water separately from infusing them into 75% alcohol (which, of course, is 25% water) in order to get some kind of qualitatively different "water infusion" that is added to the flavor profile.

This forum can be odd sometimes. Forget the 75% / 25% thing, to dilute to bottling strength (whatever that may be) you're going to be adding additional water which has no flavour.

So, one of the reasons for the separate water infusion (as I understand it) is so you are adding a flavourful water to the infused spirit, thus not diluting the flavour by so much. In essence you have infused spirit and infused water but it's an unnecessary step as I've mentioned previously, doubly so with the boiling water step added

This confuses me. Are you saying that diluting with water as a final step would change the flavor in the cocktail (other than increase the amount needed)? The contribution of the alcohol in the bitters would not materially change the water/alcohol ratio of the final drink. It would seem that the any difference would disappear once a dash or two goes into the glass.

I'm sure you're aware that the flavour of any spirit changes considerably dependent on the abv, and this does have an impact on the drink. In the development of any bottling the abv is a major consideration for this reason..


Edited by evo-lution (log)

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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The reason an overproof bourbon changes a cocktail is because it significantly raises the final proof of the drink and significantly reduces the dilution of the flavor components by having less (unflavored) water.

A dash of bitters does not change the final proof of the drink. You could easily compensate for the lack of dilution by using less (say 1 dash of 75%ABV bitters rather than 2 dashs of 37.5% ABV bitters made my diluting the 75% ABV bitters 1:1 with unflavored water). Both would create essentially identical cocktails.

So I can see diluting bitters to make them appropriately potent (a dash should be a reasonable dose), but not to change the flavor of them. Maybe I'm missing something.


Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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Out of curiousity, have you put this in practice?

The flavour of the bitters will not be the same across different strengths when you consider the various botanicals that are used in their construction, and that is a consideration of the producer prior to settling on a final abv.

One dash of 75% abv bitters is 75% abv, two dashes of 37.5% abv bitters is still 37.5% abv. It doesn't get stronger because there's twice as much, it's still 37.5% abv. And I can assure you there will be a flavour difference between those two strengths...


Edited by evo-lution (log)

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Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

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No, I'm an engineer, not a bitters maker. :smile:

Are you saying that if you take take your bitters prior to setting the final proof at, say, 75% ABV and put one dash into a Manhattan. Then dillute equal volumes of your bitters with pure water and put 2 dashes into another Manhattan, that these two drinks will taste different? That there is something magical about dilution in the bitters bottle that happens differently from the dilution that happens in the glass?

I think that I must be misunderstanding you. I obviously understand that during the infusion, different concentrations of alcohol will affect the infusion rate of different botanicals. I'm only referring to setting the final ABV once the bitters are made. I just don't see how that could differentially affect the flavor other than their overall concentration.


Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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No, I'm an engineer, not a bitters maker. :smile:

Are you saying that if you take take your bitters prior to setting the final proof at, say, 75% ABV and put one dash into a Manhattan. Then dillute equal volumes of your bitters with pure water and put 2 dashes into another Manhattan, that these two drinks will taste different? That there is something magical about dilution in the bitters bottle that happens differently from the dilution that happens in the glass?

I think that I must be misunderstanding you. I obviously understand that during the infusion, different concentrations of alcohol will affect the infusion rate of different botanicals. I'm only referring to setting the final ABV once the bitters are made. I just don't see how that could differentially affect the flavor other than their overall concentration.

I really don't understand how you're not getting this?

You are adding a specific flavour, and that flavour is dependent on the final abv. The flavour of 75% abv bitters will be vastly different to that of 37.5% abv bitters. Two dashes of 37.5% abv bitters will not give you the same flavour as the 75% abv bitters as the two dashes of 37.5% bitters are still 37.5%, or in effect doubled of that particular flavour that the 37.5% abv offers.


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Say you start with 75% abv infused alcohol as your bitters base. You can , for example, dilute it with 50% water to end up with a 50% abv bitters which is now comprised of 1/3 water and 2/3 original infusion. Or you can keep it at full strength as a 75% abv bitters.

No one is arguing that the 75% abv bitters and the 50% abv bitters won't taste different straight out of the bottle.

So now let's say that you add 0.5 ml of bitters to 10 ml of water. In the case of the 75% bitters, we now have 10 ml of water and 0.5 of the original infusion. In the case of the 50% bitters, we have 10.16 ml of water and 0.33 ml of the original infusion. Effectively what we have done is dilute the original infusion by 20X in the version using the full strength bitters and by 30X in the version using the 50% abv bitters. That's a pretty big difference, and depending on taste thresholds and the intensity of the original infusion, these two glasses of liquid might taste very different.

Okay. So let's equalize the dilution of the original infusion in the finished drink. Let's take 0.5 ml of the 75% abv bitters and dash that into 15 ml of water. And let's take 0.5 ml of the 50% abv bitters and dash that into 10 ml of bitters. Now both drinks have 30X dilution of the original infusion. Is it your contention and experience that these two drinks would taste different? I won't say that it's impossible, but I will say that I'd have to taste it to believe it. I haven't had the ability to compare herbal infusions at different proofs, but I do know that 100 proof Wild Turkey diluted down to 80 proof is indistinguishable from 80 proof Wild Turkey and I assume that similar mechanisms are at work.

It seems to me that the point of diluting a botanical infusion has to do with two things:

First is economics and ease of production. Its easier and less expensive to make a very concentrated infusion that is then diluted to bottle proof than it is to infuse at the strength and intensity you would like to sell. This is why, for example, megabreweries often ferment extra-high-strength beers that are diluted with water at bottling.

Second is for use "in the field." One would like for a bitters to have an intensity that contributes the correct amount of flavor, aroma, etc. to drinks when used in the convenient and expected amounts. An especially intense bitters might be tricky to use if there is always the danger that a dash will overwhelm the drink. One problem I have with a lot of modern bitters is that they are diluted too much, so that 4 or 5 dashes are needed where 2 with a "standard" bitters would suffice.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Sam and I are assuming that when you dilute to bottle strength that nothing louches or precipitates out. Obviously if flavor components become solids in suspension or settled to the bottom of the dasher, then the flavor of the two end drinks could well be different.


Edited by EvergreenDan (log)

Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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