1.5.17 Bottled Up

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photos by gluttonforlife

The year 2017 is upon us! I'm a January baby, so this month always feels like a fresh start. I'll be turning 54 in a couple of weeks; well past the halfway mark, which is a bit startling somehow. I think about death a lot—have done ever since my father died when I was 26 (he was 64), and then my husband died when I was 40 (he was 41) and my mother died that same year (she was 76). For me, a big part of living is preparing to die and I don't feel this is morbid or maudlin. I want to die in peace and without regrets and this means striving to live in a state of grace. For those of you who haven't yet made it to this age and are curious about what lies ahead, here is what I can report: I have plenty of energy, dreams and plans. The world continues to be full of surprises and challenges. I am never bored. Slowing down is something I do to improve the quality of my life. There is always something new to learn, including about myself. The longer I live, the more I turn to nature for guidance, nourishment and wisdom. Any time I can be outside or interacting with plants is a source of joy for me and making bitters is an extension of that. 

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to infinity & beyond

The kind people at Infinity Jars sent me some samples of their pigmented glass jars and bottles, which are wonderful for preserving the quality of fragile herbs and oils. They are made of deep violet glass, which blocks out harmful visible light rays but still admits those proven to have preservative qualities. I love their screw-top jars for storing my special tea blends, foraged mushrooms and homemade cosmetics, and the small bottles with droppers are ideal for bitters.

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petal to the metal

If you missed my post a couple of weeks ago about bitters, it's here. The three different types I made—rose-citrus, warming spice and maple-fenugreek—steeped for about a month in overproof alcohol. Then I strained them and used the solids to create a water decoction to dilute the mix. I combined that with the infused alcohol and let that sit for another week. The results got strained several times through a double layer of cheesecloth to remove as much sediment as possible. To this clarified liquid, I added a bit of turbinado sugar syrup and, voilà, bitters!

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spice route

I received a number of delightful books over the holidays, including two from my husband: Naomi Duguid's wonderful Taste of Persia and Mark Bitterman's Field Guide to Bitters & Amari. The latter arrived after my bitter-making experiment was well underway and I was slightly distressed to read that Mr. Bitterman advises steeping bitters for days rather than weeks and recommends frequent tasting during the process. 

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Although the ingredients I used were all delicious, they were steeping in Everclear (191 proof) and Devil's Springs vodka (151 proof), whose overpowering alcohol taste really masks all other flavors. So it wasn't until well into the process—once the steeping was done and dilution had taken place—that I took my first taste.

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roots, barks and leaves

I was extremely relieved to discover that all three flavors had turned out quite well! They are intense and bitter but nicely balanced and imbued with discernible notes of the herbs, spices and aromatics I used. My next challenge is to come up with cocktails, and perhaps a dish or two, that show each one to its best advantage. 


I'm sharing one of my recipes with you, but feel free to use it as a template to create your own style of bitters. Perhaps you want a single flavor, something very fruit-forward or maybe a spicy version. If you're not a big drinker of spirits, a simple glass of bitters-&-soda on the rocks is a wonderful alternative. I drank glass after glass on New Year's Eve and ushered in 2017 with a clear head and stars in my eyes.


Warming Spice Bitters

makes about 4 cups
  • — 2 cups 151 proof vodka
  • — 1 teaspoon whole allspice
  • — 2 tablespoons cacao nibs
  • — 1 whole vanilla bean, split
  • — 1 stick cassia
  • — 3 star anise
  • — 4 cloves
  • — 10 green cardamom pods, bruised
  • — 1/3 cup raisins
  • — 1 ounce crystallized ginger, diced
  • — 1/4 ounce mace
  • — 2 teaspoons dried gentian
  • — 1/2 ounce fresh angelica root, diced
  • — 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  • — 3/4 cup turbinado simple syrup

Combine all ingredients through the molasses in a large, airtight nonreactive container and stir well. The solids should be submerged with an additional 1/2" of alcohol.

Store in a cool, dark place and shake daily for 4 weeks.

At the end of the 4th week, strain through a fine mesh strainer, reserving the solids and the strained alcohol in separate bowls.

Make the dilution liquid by combining the solids in a large saucepan with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil for about 15 minutes, then cover and cool. Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

Measure the strained alcohol and mix with an equal amount of the strained dilution liquid. Store in a cool, dark place for 5 days.

After 5 days, check for clarity (hold liquid up to the light) and strain one or more times through several layers of cheesecloth as needed to remove particles.

Add the simple syrup to the bitters mixture and stir well to combine. Transfer bitters to dark glass bottles with stoppers for easy dispensing.

Download recipe  Download Recipe


Happy Birthday to You! Enjoy growing older and wiser.
thefolia on January 5, 2017 at 10:57 am —
Thanks! Still enjoying the last couple weeks of 53...
laura on January 6, 2017 at 11:24 am —
petal to the metal. funny!
suzanne on January 5, 2017 at 5:11 pm —
Can't escape the copywriter in me!
laura on January 6, 2017 at 11:25 am —
wow that sounds delicious, would you recommend the Mark Bitterman book? I really want to buy a book on bitters but there are so many! Looking forward to cocktail recipes as I am getting bored of my usual: 1/3 glass waterkefir, 2/3 san pelligrino, tonic bitters and crushed dried rose petals as garnish....
annemarie on January 6, 2017 at 3:43 am —
The book is excellent. It's full of lot of useful information, including recipes (for cocktails, too) and reviews of an exhaustive list of bitters on the market. Just so you know, Pellegrino is owned by Nestle, a company I prefer to boycott and so may you. xo
laura on January 6, 2017 at 11:28 am —
A very interesting post. I just turned thirty and have been pondering mortality lately too. Good to hear you are feeling so full of vitality. I love being in the garden and wilderness as well, but I have been feeling very tired of late. Perhaps the sudden hot weather and Christmas family dramas are to blame. Love your photos of all the spices. Looking forward to seeing what delights you share in your next post.
Jo / The desert echo on January 6, 2017 at 8:52 am —
Thank you, Jo. Heat can be very enervating, so be sure you are cooling off as needed, and maybe supporting yourself with some hawthorn (tea or tincture).
laura on January 6, 2017 at 11:31 am —
Thanks for alerting me to this post. I'm enjoying your blog very much. Having made fruit cordials in the past and always using regular proof vodka, I'm wondering why the over-proof spirits and where do you get vodka like that? Thanks so much.
Inga on January 8, 2017 at 3:55 pm —
Using high-proof or overproof spirits speeds up the infusion process because they extract more flavor over a shorter period of time. They also act as a preservative, allowing the bitters to remain shelf-stable for much longer. Or so I've read...
laura on January 8, 2017 at 4:03 pm —