A long time ago, when the interwebs were young (2007), homemade bitters were the thing that the cool kids were all up in.  Fun times were had by all, and then everyone who didn’t work in a bar realized that a single bottle of bitters went a long way if crowds weren’t bellying up for them everynight, and more bottles had to be bought to store them, and, lo, significant others made statements in no uncertain terms about shelf space!  Also, with the advent of Bittermens, the Bitter Truth, and many other small bitters companies, the need just wasn’t as pressing.

So it’s been long enough now that it’s cool again, right?  Like the early nineties?  Because I’ve got some great plaid shirts, and my work boots are pretty sweet.

What I’m trying to say is that, a few weeks ago, I found myself with half a bottle of vodka (left over from making vanilla extract, if you’re curious) with which I refused to take up space on my dangerously overcrowded bar.  I also had been messing about with making my own wholegrain mustard (so easy, but thanks to my iron self-control this isn’t a food blog… yet), and remembered that Jay, from Oh Gosh!, had written about a mustard liqueur.  “Self,” I said, “it’s time to make mustard bitters.  Can you imagine anything better with a Gibson-type thing (the girlfriend has a thing about pickled onions, so we make a lot of Gibsons)?”  I said the parenthetical bit, too.

Into a jar went a whole ton of mustard seeds, a few lemon peels, some black peppercorns, and pinches of quassia, fennel, celery seed, and coriander.  I think I may have already had a couple of drinks when I put this together, since in retrospect it sounds a bit busy.  And, since I was getting back on the bitters train, I made some clove bitters with a little orange peel, cinnamon, black peppercorn, and quassia (and a bundle of cloves).  Both of them went into the back of the bar at the beginning of December, and I forgot about them.

The biggest surprise is that they seem to have turned out well.  The clove bitters are something like a cross between pimento dram (but dry) and Angostura bitters.  Taken straight, they numb your tongue because of the concentrated eugenol.  The mustard bitters are… not good straight.  They are spicy and bitter, and I think I’d leave out the coriander and celery seed, were I to make them again.  But, having tasted the Angostura orange bitters straight (don’t try it at home), I know that bitters often only come into their own in drinks.  And I was right.  In the Gibson they were destined for, these bitters really come alive.  The only problem is that, aside from the spiciness, they’re relatively non-aromatic – I think I should try increasing the lemon peel and fennel if I make them again.  But, with the 6 ounces I netted, I can’t imagine that will be soon.

Gibson House

  • 1 1/2 oz dry gin (Plymouth, if you ask me)
  • 1/2 oz dry vermouth (I like the revised Noilly Prat)
  • 2 dashes mustard bitters
    Stir all ingredients over ice for at least 20 seconds.  Strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with at least one cocktail onion (v. important).

This is fun.  The mustard bitters give it just a little more complexity, and a bit of sinus-clearing ability.