Why This Recipe Works
- Lavender blossoms, juniper berries, and coriander add brightness and a floral aroma.
- Gentian root, a classic bittering agent, adds its characteristic astringency.
- An 11- to 13-day infusion perfectly captures the flavor of the zests, herbs, and spices.
Bitters are no longer a secret ingredient that only bartenders know about. But when most of us think about cocktails that take a dash or two of bitters, stiff drinks like a Manhattan and Old Fashioned mostly come to mind. While grapefruit bitters can add a nice finishing touch to those kind of "brown" drinks, where it really shines is the usually bitters-free zone of sparkling, light, refreshing and fruity drinks, the ones usually made with gin, tequila or rum.
"A few dashes of grapefruit bitters can put a so-so sparkling wine cocktail into fabulous territory"
Grapefruit is sweet, tart and bitter all at once, so it does triple duty as an ingredient. Grapefruit bitters have the same qualities as the fruit, enhanced by additional citrus and herbal, floral and bitter components. A few dashes of grapefruit bitters can put a so-so sparkling wine cocktail into fabulous territory or turn a limp paloma or gin & tonic into a bright and balanced thing of beauty.
What's Available to Buy?
Even though grapefruit bitters have been called for in cocktail recipes since the 1860s, many liquor stores don't carry them. Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters are the easiest to find, though I prefer the more unusual offerings from Bitterman's and The Bitter Truth—both of which contain hops for a bright, vegetal punch. I've never tried Scrappy's Grapefruit Bitters, but I'm a fan of their bitters in general. Collecting bottles of boutique bitters gets pricey, though.
If you're up for the (relatively minor) challenge of getting your hands on some gentian root, you'll be rewarded with a flexible cocktail ingredient that will liven up a variety of drinks. You'll have the magical power of grapefruit in a tiny bottle that will last you years. The adventurous can use this recipe as a jumping-off point for some grapefruit bitters experimentation. I stuck with milder flavors, but bolder spices like clove, anise, or cardamom would give you a warmer and deeper grapefruit bitters. If you have hops on hand from homebrewing, try throwing some in for an earthy effect.
DIY grapefruit bitters are really good at adding oomph to effervescent cocktails like the tequila-based Santa Carla or the zucca sprezzatura, an amaro-heavy spin on the Scotch and soda.
Since these bitters complement tequila and gin cocktails in particular, I like a few dashes of grapefruit bitters in my Pegu Club and margarita. They're also perfect for balancing fruity drinks like a hurricane or blackberry margarita. But don't limit them to cocktails made with clear spirits, as they are a necessity in the rye-based New Brunswick. Of course, a few dashes can also liven up plain soda water, too.
DIY Grapefruit Bitters Recipe
Grapefruit bitters do double duty, giving a little citrus lift along with the bitterness—perfect for sparkling cocktails and tequila- or gin-based drinks.
1 1/2 cups 100-proof vodka (see note)
Peeled zest from 1 grapefruit (see note)
Peeled zest from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms
4 dried juniper berries
1 fresh sage leaf
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons cut gentian root (see note)
1/4 cup light rum
2 ounces simple syrup (see note)
Place grapefruit and lemon zest in a sealable glass jar with the vodka. Seal and shake, then let the mixture steep overnight in a cool, dark place.
Add the rum, lavender, coriander, juniper, sage and gentian root. Seal and shake, then let this combined mixture steep for 10 to 12 days in a cool, dark place.
Strain through cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh strainer. Then bottle by filtering through a coffee filter. Add simple syrup to the bottle. Seal and shake, then let rest for 1 day. Store at room temperature for up to a year.
Citrus zester, sealable glass jar, fine-mesh strainer, cheesecloth, coffee filter
Specialty herb stores carry cut gentian root, but you can also order it online from Lhasa Karnak Herb Company. Be sure to purchase cut gentian root and not the powdered variety.
If 100-proof vodka is not available where you live, use standard 80-proof vodka.
I use Ruby Red grapefruit, but you can use your favorite variety. T
o make simple syrup, combine 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Cool before using. Simple syrup will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 0g||0%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|