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Hess' House Bitters

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First published by:
Robert Hess
on 4 Feb 2009
Last revision by:
Robert Hess
on 4 Feb 2009
13 people found this article useful.

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Hess' House Bitters

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Bitters are relatively easy to make at home, although difficult to master. The basics are pretty simple; you start out with a collection of spices, add a bittering agent, soak this in alcohol for an extended period of time, strain, and then add water and sweeteners. The most important part is the choice and amount of spices, then you can select what type of alcohol to use, and how to sweeten it, and finally if you want to try to age it at all. To help you get a good start, here is the recipe that I've been working on. I choose to use a high proof rye whiskey to add a little extra flavor; you could use any other spirit, or a 190 proof alcohol. The gentian is being the bittering agent, and might be difficult to locate. For the other spices, you could experiment with others if you feel so inclined.

Hess' House Bitters

  • 750 ml (1 bottle) rye whiskey
  • 2 tsp dried gentian
  • 1/2 cup fresh ginger (julienned)
  • 2 Tbs whole cloves
  • 2 1/2 Tbs cardamom pods (cracked)
  • 7 whole star anis
  • 7 sticks cinnamon
  1. Combine ingredients in a large jar and store for two weeks, shaking the jar each day.
  2. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth. Save both solids and liquid.
  • 3 cups water
  1. Add solids to the water in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, and simmer for half an hour.
  3. Strain the mixture and save the water (you can throw out the solids).
  • 1 cup sugar
  1. Put the sugar into a dry Teflon skillet. On a medium heat, gently heat the sugar until it just melts. It will turn brown, and get just slightly burnt.
  2. Allow the sugar to cool to almost room temperature, or until it is safe to handle.
  3. Remove the sugar form the skillet and place into a saucepan with the water.
  4. Bring to a boil, and then simmer until the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Allow to cool completely, and then add the alcohol mixture.
  6. Bottle for storage.

Recent Comments

By: Theo Terzopoulos Posted on 28 Jun 2010 6:37 PM

Would you say that it is acceptable to use flavour essences (i.e. highly concentrated fruit aromas, like the ones used in confectionery) for the production of homemade made lets say cherry bitters?

What bothers me is that I wouldn't feel they are "homemade" anymore but their aromas are unbelievable.

So far, the only true homemade product I've made with success is Limoncello which was indeed 100% homemade as even the lemon peels I used were from my garden.

By: Robert Hess Posted on 29 Jun 2010 11:10 AM
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I'd say this is almost a case of "the end justifies the means". Purests might say that only fresh products should be used, and in many/most cases I suspect they would be correct, but there are times when it might produce a better product if you use ingredients which have been professionally (commercially) prepared.

By: Theo Terzopoulos Posted on 29 Jun 2010 8:19 PM

Thank you Robert. Ideally I would like to use only 100% pure raw material.

In means that I would like to know even who grew them or handpick everything from a garden or a field.

The feeling of drinking that Limoncello that was made by handpicked lemons from my garden gave it the extra ingredient: Love

Now lets say I didn't use those lemons and bought some from the store. I know that these lemons were grown using pesticides, hormones an god knows what else in order to maximize size and minimize time of harvest. (Lemons are just a paradigm here).

Since the product was not 100% pure either way, I could have gone for "naturally flavored" lemon concentrate or something. I come to realize that homemade is a term that does not define the degree to what extent it is homemade but that the preparation was done by an amateur (amateur=lover of) for a small quantity end product. I always laugh when I see hundreds of stacked pies at the supermarket that have "homemade" printed on them. I think this must have been a big ass home where they were made ...

Anyways I think I am going for "the end justifies the means", will use the fruit extracts to try them and thank you for the recipe for Hess' Bitters!

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