A few months ago, my husband and I were sitting at the bar at Old Major in Denver when we noticed a bottle of Root Beer Bitters behind the bar. We inquired what the bitters were used for, and were told that the bartenders use them to make Black Manhattans.
From then on, we’ve been on a mission to include root beer bitters in our home bar so we can make our own Black Manhattans!
Problem #1? I couldn’t find Root Beer Bitters online for less than $17.
Solution #1: We decided to make our own. Making bitters is a simple (yet complicated) process that requires infusing bittering agents and flavor agents into a high-proof alcohol for two weeks while shaking every day, then simmering the hard ingredients in water, then infusing the water and hard ingredients for an additional week while shaking every day, and then combining the final product with simple syrup. This process takes 25 days.
Problem #2? The ingredients cannot be found at your local supermarket or spice shop. And the ingredients aren’t cheap. And you have to buy in bulk. And this isn’t like buying supplies to bake your first cake – you will likely never use these random and difficult-to-find ingredients again.
Solution #2: We decided to create an Etsy shop where we other people who are interested in cocktail experimentation can buy just the ingredients necessary to make their own bitters!
Our Root Beer Bitters recipe was derived from Brad Thomas Parsons’ “Bitters” book. I did a lot of research and read as many reviews as I could about the recipes in “Bitters.” One review said to not add water, another review said to infuse each ingredient separately, and another review said to not infuse each ingredient separately or the flavors will not come together properly. Finally, I spoke with a bartender who had the Bitters book behind the bar, and she recommended following BTP’s recipes to a T. So we got started.
Step 1. We infused sassafras, sarsaparilla, and a host of other ingredients into a high-proof bourbon for two weeks and we shook the jar daily.
Step 2. We strained the liquid and simmered the hard ingredients with water.
Step 3. We infused the water and hard ingredients for an additional week, shaking the jar daily.
Step 4. We strained the liquid and added the water to the original bourbon infusion, added rich simple syrup, and let stand for 3 days.
Step 5. We bottled our bitters in a beautiful Japanese dasher bottle and used them in a Black Manhattan! Yum! The bitters taste and smell more cinnamon-y than root beer-y, so we are going to tinker with the recipe next time by bumping up the sassafras, sarsaparilla, and licorice root, and downplaying the cassia chips and cinnamon stick (I don’t think you need both).
Check out our Esty Store if you are interested in making your own Root Beer Bitters or Key Lime Bitters (perfect for a Dark & Stormy or other rum cocktails)!
 Death & Co, Modern Classic Cocktails (2014), recommends using Japanese dasher bottles because they perform uniform dashes of bitters. Plus, they’re super cool looking.