Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pucker up

I'm not bitter, I just like drinks that are.

These days, I've found myself dabbling more in cocktails than beer -- not just because of the ill-fated rhubarb sour ale (R.I.P.), mind you, but because there are so many elements to play with, so many variations. One recent discovery was the leftovers from the sour cherry bitters I made this past July. I mean, I was NOT about to toss the quart of not inexpensive, organic, local sour cherries from the farmers market into the compost bin once they'd done their work. Turns out the spiked cherries left at the end perfectly balance what I thought had already been the perfect cocktail: a limoncello tonic. I love this kind of kitchen kismet.

What's that? You'd like to make your own? Well, you're going to have to do some serious work to find some of these ingredients, let me tell you. Even my friend who is a professional herbalist didn't have two of them on hand, and hadn't even heard of one of the ingredients.

Well, okay, readers, I like you, so I'll tell you about the source I discovered for all things herbal. What? No, not THAT kind of herbal... though it is legal in the District. I mean my buddy at Blue Nile Botanicals, in a basement shop tucked away where you'd never expect it on Georgia Avenue, who sells every herb and spice you can think of, including those some herbalists have never heard of.

(Goodness, I'm so excited I just ended a sentence with a preposition!) Before I digress even further, possibly sliding further down a slippery poor grammatical slope, here's the recipe, adapted from a recipe on the Serious Eats blog:

Sour Cherry Bitters


1 1/2 cups sour cherries, halved and pitted
1 whole star anise, crushed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3" stalk fresh lemongrass, cut in small pieces
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 cardamom pods, crushed
1 teaspoon gentian root
1 teaspoon quassia chips
1 cup Bulleit rye whiskey


Put the cherries in a glass quart jar with 1/2 cup of Everclear. Shake. This is your cherry flavoring.

Put the anise, fennel, lemongrass, vanilla, and cardamom in a glass pint jar with remaining 1/2 cup Everclear. Shake. This is your spice mix.

Put the gentian root and quassia chips in yet another glass pint jar with the rye. Shake. This is your bittering mix.

Set all jars aside in a dark place at room temperature for 10 days.

Strain the spice mix and bittering mix through a fine-mesh sieve, removing solids, and into the cherry flavoring jar. Do not remove the cherries. Shake. You now have one jar that contains the strained spice mix and bittering mix along with the steeping cherries and alcohol.

Let this steep for an additional 2 weeks.

Strain out the cherries through a fine-mesh sieve, and then strain the rest through a coffee filter into the quart jar. (Save those cherries in the fridge for months, in a tight-lidded jar, and drop a couple in your limoncello tonics or any other cocktail that could use a bitter accent.)

Store your homemade sour cherry bitters in a dark place, at room temperature, for up to one year. It just might last that long, since you only use a couple drops in a cocktail. Oh, yeah, you'll want to buy an eyedropper for that because you're on your way to becoming an amateur mixologist. You're welcome.

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