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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

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Several herbs sit on the surface of the liquor invigorating flavor and aroma.
Several herbs sit on the surface of the liquor invigorating flavor and aroma.

Concocting something bitter

 I’ve decided to extend my repertoire of homemade goods into the liquid realm. After visiting a friend in New York who makes positively everything from hot sauce to hard cider to jams from scratch, I’ve embarked on the creation of bitters.

Bitters, used most commonly in drinks like the Manhattan, Hot Toddy or Old Fashioned, is a liquor dabbed in small quantities to cut through sweet flavor with just the right amount of sour spice. If you look on the Internet, you’ll find methods ranging from 10 step infusions to dropping fruit in grain alcohol. They run the gamut of complexity and simplicity and I was hoping for something in the middle, a recipe that posed a slight challenge without draining me physically and financially.

Pulling a recipe from a dry, witted food blogger living New York City, the marinating mixture I chose calls for about 20 herbs, spices and roots, each to be added and strained at certain points over a 3-4 week period. On the surface, it sounds slightly labor intensive but really, once you find the ingredients, it’s less than an hour a week of your time.

The ingredients on the other hand, were a slight challenge. I started at the Spice House, made my way to Outpost, El Rey and Attari Market. The key ingredient, a bittering agent like gentian, angelica or quassia, was the one elusive item, even at a Chinese Herbalist out on Hwy. 100. The only option is to order it online or have someone in a larger city, pick some up at an herb shop and send you a sampling in the mail.

And so the great experiment has begun. I have large jars of whiskey and rum sitting on the counter stewing and soaking, ready to be mixed in three or four weeks.

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