Cocktail Knowledge: How To Make Your Own Bitters

Howells & Hood General Manager Andrew Macker has a wealth of cocktail knowledge and experience, and often uses homemade touches to add something special to a seasonal drink at the restaurant.

Here, he shares how to make your own bitters using Fernet, an Italian digestif. By making your own bitters you can play with the flavors that you would like to accentuate or balance, as well as having custom additions for your home bar and cocktails.

Making Your Own Bitters

My house-made bitters are typically an infusion of an alcohol starter (vodka, grain) and herbs, fruit peels, and barks. These are very easy to create at home, and are a lot of fun too. The recipe of your own bitters will depend on the flavor you want to achieve. For me, I like to take things a bit further and make an actual digestif, which can then be both the base of the bitter element for a cocktail, and also function as a standalone after dinner drink. For that, I love to use Fernet. You can make my favorite version of this at home with the following recipe:

How To Make Your Own Bitters with Fernet

Homemade Fernet Bitters Recipe

1 bottle of Amaro Nonino (you can find this at a Binny’s for about $40)
3 large mint sprigs, leaves and stems, cut into ½ inch pieces
3 bay leaves
2 Rosemary sprigs, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 large Ginger Root, peeled and sliced
1 large pinch of Saffron
The peel of 1 orange, 1 lemon, and 1 lime
2 tablespoons of whole cloves
2 tablespoons of whole juniper berries
2 tablespoons of dried thyme
(optional) 3 oz of Green Chartreuse
(optional) 3 oz of Black Sambuca
20 dashes of Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients and let steep for seven days (at this point the fresh herbs will become bitter, giving the Fernet its backbone). Every day, make sure you check the liquid and keep the ingredients submerged, covered and refrigerated. Strain the liquid, keep cool and enjoy!

With this recipe there is a ton of room for interpretation (add sage / remove rosemary etc.), so play around and have fun!

Take a quick look at Andy making a variation of these bitters using a classic spring ingredient: ramps.

Use this unique touch along with the correct cocktail-making techniques and you will standout among the mire of mediocre cocktails!