Easy Springtime Rhubarb Bitters
When spring rolls around, and you find yourself with a bit of extra rhubarb on hand, whip up a batch of these homemade rhubarb bitters. Your next whiskey sour or martini with a twist will thank me. Unlike many bitters recipes, with an ingredient list as long as your leg, these are a great foray into making your own bitters.
Which I’ve been doing a lot lately.
Two Christmases ago, my son-in-law gifted me with three different homemade bitters he had whipped up. Oh my gosh, they are great! I use them in cocktails, sparkling water, and even coffee. I enjoyed them so much that, as usual, the gears started going in my head, and I thought, “I need to learn how to make bitters.”
Lo and behold, it’s surprisingly easy.
I picked up the book, “Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas” by Brad Thomas Parsons.
Parsons gives an in-depth look into the background of bitters – where they came from, how we lost nearly all of them at one point, and the current renaissance of craft bitters that tipplers everywhere are sipping. It’s not uncommon to find “house-made bitters” as an ingredient in all but the diviest of bars these days.
His book is also jam-packed with recipes. And once you read a few, you quickly realize there’s an easy formula to follow. From there, it’s up to your imagination.
Lucky for you and me, this formula is pretty easy. Don’t let the ingredients intimidate you. They’re all easy enough to find at your local herbalist, Mountain Rose Herbs or good ol’ Amazon. You can slowly build your collection of bittering agents if you get the ‘bug’ and find yourself mixing up batch after batch of homemade bitters.
In the meantime, I can’t recommend Mr. Parsons's book enough.
However, I will note that Parsons’ recipes usually leave you with a batch of about 20 ounces of finished bitters. Now, look, I like orange spiced bitters and black walnut bitters just as much as the next hipster, but at a dash or two per cocktail, it will take me an eternity to go through that many ounces.
When puttering in my kitchen, I keep my recipes much smaller, topping out at about a cup of finished bitters. That’s enough for you to enjoy and to gift the other tipplers in your life. (Homemade bitters make a wicked impressive gift.)
Two of the first vegetables that pop up in gardens each spring are rhubarb and asparagus. After a long winter, we’re all ready for something green in our diet. Or even shockingly pink. I wanted to make a springtime bitter, and I kind of figured asparagus wasn’t the way to go.
Rhubarb has a bright, tangy flavor that seems perfectly suited for bitters.
Inspired by another rhubarb bitters recipe in Parsons’ book (with a huge ingredient list), I decided to putter around and create my own using only what I had in my pantry or fridge. The resulting bitters are exactly what the doctor ordered for all your spring drinks.
I let cinchona bark and horehound take care of the bittering for this recipe and added plenty of floral herbs from the pantry. A bit of lime zest helps to elevate the rhubarb, and a touch of simple syrup at the end leaves you with a punchy, aromatic bitter that plays well with gin and whiskey.
Use them in sparkling water after a heavy meal as a digestive.
Bitters and soda water are my go-to these days. I’ve cut back on the alcohol post-pandemic, but I still like to drink something more exciting than water at the end of the work day. Most mocktails are much too sweet for my tastes. So, I always have a bottle of bitters on the counter.
A quick note about alcohol
When making bitters, don’t use cheap booze. (You don’t need anything top shelf either.) A middle-of-the-road spirit will give you good flavor without breaking the bank. You want to use something 100 proof or higher, as the higher proof extract flavors much quicker and preserves your bitters longer.
Springtime Rhubarb Bitters
½ cup finely minced rhubarb
2 small chunks of cinchona bark
Pinch of lavender
¼ teaspoon chamomile buds
6 coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon grated lime zest
¼ teaspoon dried horehound
2-3 oz of 100-proof vodka
2 tablespoons of simple syrup
In an 8 oz jelly jar, add the rhubarb, all the herbs and the vodka. Place a lid and band on the jar, label it with the date and give it a good shake.
Store someplace cool and dark and shake it daily (or whenever you remember to, ha!) for two weeks.
After two weeks, strain the infused vodka into a clean jar using cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter. Place a lid on the jar and set aside.
Place the remaining rhubarb mash in a saucepan with 1/3 cup of water. Place a lid on the pan and bring the mixture to a simmer. As soon as it begins to simmer, turn the heat off and remove the pan from the heat.
Let the vodka-soaked ingredients come to room temperature with the lid on.
Pour the rhubarb mash and liquid into a new jar and put a lid on it.
Let this mixture sit for another week before straining. You may need to strain it twice to remove all sediment.
Add two tablespoons of simple syrup and the strained liquid from the rhubarb mash into the jar with the rhubarb-infused vodka. Stir well to combine. Label and date your finished bitters. You can leave them in the jelly jar or decant them into small dropper bottles.
If you have used at least 100 proof vodka, your bitters will keep indefinitely but will have the best flavor if they are used within a year.