Millionaire’s Bitters: Orange, Cardamom & Saffron

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A note from Maggie

Through my wholesome-food-kick, I drink spirits in moderation. I don’t limit bitters; on the contrary, I can’t get enough. If you’ve talked to me at one of my local events, you know I’m a big fan of a few drops of bitters in flat or bubble water to ease a long night of food and booze. I’ve even hugged my local bartenders a little tighter when they make me a faux cocktail filled with unique bitters, a little amaro, and imagination. I’ve got a few bitters infusing in my pantry too, and I’m about to add Sean’s version asap! xox

Bitters add the je ne sais quoi to a cocktail, that extra something that makes us go wow. Behind the scenes, bitters work hard – they can bring a shy rye out of its shell, calm a boisterous bourbon down, or rally up the ingredients of a cocktail so they’re all singing in the same key. They can be the difference between a good cocktail and an exceptional one, and yet we don’t often think about their importance. In a world without bitters there’d be no Old Fashioned or Manhattan or Sazerac or Champagne Cocktail or Pink Gin, and that sounds like no fun at all.

MORE: Simple syrups also do wonders at the home bar. Here’s a selection of our favorites.

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In the last few years, there’s been a bitter revival, giving us all access to this cocktail powerhouse, in amazing flavors and styles. We can pick up bitters in orange, chocolate, celery, rhubarb, cherry, or grapefruit from the store these days (and check out Urban Moonshine’s Maple Bitters in the Eat Boutique shop – truly great), so when it comes to homemade bitters, I think we should be a bit experimental and mix flavors you truly wouldn’t find anywhere else.

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I recently came up with this Orange, Cardamom & Saffron bitter. It’s the color of a West Coast sunset, at first gold, then orange, and later a deep red. It’s a bit extravagant, dropping $25 worth of saffron into every batch, but that’s why it’s called ‘Millionaire’s Bitters’. You could get away with less, or none, and it would become a stunning orange bitter instead.

I’m lucky to have some close friends with amazing liquor cabinets that are happy to tinker and invent new drinks over the course of an evening. We’ve come up with a few great cocktails with this bitter so far: a really unusual, slightly sweeter Orange Old-Fashioned that went down too easily, and I think we’re on to something with our Marmalade Negroni, too. Make sure to do your own experimentation.

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Some of the ingredients may be a little difficult to find in stores–though home-brewing shops may have a few–but you should be able to order them online. Before starting this recipe, Sean suggests that you first choose your base liquor. Vodka will give an uninterrupted, pure flavor, but he sometimes make this with a subtle whisky if he knows he’ll be using it in whisky cocktails.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup vodka or whisky
  • 2 tablespoons whole cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon gentian root
  • 1 gram saffron
  • 1 tablespoon cassia bark
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 cup dried orange peel

Directions:

  1. Pour the liquor into a jar or bottle. Lightly bash the cardamom pods and put into the liquor with the gentian root. Seal the container and let infuse for 3 to 5 days.
  2. Strain the cardamom and gentian through a fine muslin or cheesecloth and discard. Add the saffron, cassia bark, cloves, star anise, orange peel, and leave for another 4 or 5 days.
  3. The bitters are ready when they smell strongly of all the flavors – you want the saffron and orange to be dominant, the rest of the ingredients should just add a spicy, bitter depth. Strain the bitters and decant into small bottles or tinctures.
  4. Add to your next cocktail and see what happens! You only ever need about 4 drops to any cocktail, remember, a little goes a long way.
Photos taken and styled by Sean St. John.

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Comments

  • chezus

    I have been itching to make bitters at home – and this recipe makes it seem so easy. Thanks for the inspiration.