After making my first batches of bitters I really wanted to get myself familiar with the flavors of the individual components as well as a more basic "formula" so that I could start coming up with my own recipes.
After reading more on how bitters are made, the "theory" behind them, and different recipes I came up with simple formula that I can play with. Start with a main flavor profile, often a fruit, nut, aromatic herb or a combination of 2-3. Then add herbs and spices that compliment that flavor and finally add a bitter element or two. All of these elements are steeped in an alcohol base for roughly a month (there are different methods which I will play with eventually) and when it's finished steeping you lightly sweeten the mixture.
For instance grapefruit bitters starts with grapefruit in the form of zest and dried peel, then you add coriander and cardamom to compliment, hops and gentian root for the bitter element. Although many might argue that the hops is also a compliment. It's all sweetened with honey to heighten the floral elements of the ingredients.
So now that I have a basic formula to build on I need to understand the flavors of the individual ingredients more. I started with wild cherry bark, black walnut leaf, quassia chips, and gentian root. I put a few pinches of each into separate jars and covered with a few ounces of vodka. I have no intention of using these tinctures for anything other than palate education so I didn't worry about using high-proof vodka or Everclear.
After sitting for a week I tasted through them by adding a few drops to soda water. Wild cherry bark is much darker in flavor than I expected, more coffee and toasted nuts with only a subtle hint of sour cherry. The black walnut leaf was surprisingly bright, all I could think of was cream soda. Quassia was definitely bitter, but clean and almost grassy. The gentian root on the other hand was downright nasty, bitter enough to cause a gag reflex and almost musty or dirty in flavor. I can see how it would be used, but a little certainly goes a long way.
I'm going to let all of them except the gentian sit a little longer to see if any additional nuances come out over another week or two. The gentian I want to try again with more vodka to gentian ratio to see if I get anything else out of a less concentrated tincture.
And just for the hell of it I made a basil tincture by soaking fresh, torn basil leaves in Everclear overnight. The result is downright pretty. An amazing shade of emerald green, a bright floral nose with a hint of anise, and pure, clean basil flavor all the way. There will cocktails made with basil tincture this weekend for sure.
The basil also inspired me to make a coffee tincture to help figure out how to improve the coffee pecan bitters. I'm thinking shorter steeping time for the coffee so not as much acid leeches out, but it could also be different coffee altogether. Although I'm stepping into serious snob territory if I start specifying my coffee roaster for my bitters, however if it has to be done I'll do it.