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by Columbine Quillen on April 15, 2011

Many people asked me at the Second Annual PDX Cocktail Camp if I was going to put the information from Jennifer Colliau (an amazing mixologist who also owns Small Hand Foods, a small company out of California that makes pre-prohibition syrups) and my presentation on my blog. As I know that I would do Jennifer a disservice as trying to replicate her amazing explanation as to the intricacies of sugar and the science of osmosis, I’ve decided it best to only write about my side of the presentation.

There are two mediums which you can use to extract flavors in cocktail development and they are water and alcohol. Both are a solvent and the way that solvents pull flavor is that they have more positively charged ions than whatever is in them. Positively charged ions are like popular girls, all the flavors just want to hang out with them. In water, you can change the polarity by heating up the water. If you think about making tea, a tea bag doesn’t work very well in tepid water – but it works brilliantly in hot water. That is because when you heat up water, you are positively charging the ions.

To extract flavor into water you have two options. Make a tea so that the botanicals are directly in the water and after boiling and steeping you strain them out. There is nothing wrong with this method as it is easy and not very time consuming. But, it is the case that whatever you make will not have as long of a shelf life because there are still tiny bits of botanicals in the water (which can go bad). To maximize shelf life, I recommend simple distillation where you place a clean brick at the bottom of a stock pan, on this brick you place a collection bowl, in the bottom of the pan you place your botanicals and water (I like to use 1 cup botanical to 2 cups water), then you cover it with a concave lid. Turn the heat up so that you are getting steam without a boil. The steam will hit against the concave lid and condense into your collection cup. This water has no residual botanicals in it and has an extremely long shelf life.


The other solvent used in cocktail extractions is alcohol and concerning polarity the higher the proof the better extraction you will get. I have tested every spirit under the sun and I’ve been the happiest with Monarch 151, as it is very inexpensive and it does not have the metal lid that makes it nearly impossible to pour it from the bottle (like Bacardi 151). Obviously the easiest way to extract flavor is to let the botanicals steep in the 151 and cover tightly so you don’t get any evaporation.  As you are making your own bitters for your own flavor preference, I would recommend tasting the extraction each day and when it gets to a flavor you like – take the botanicals out.

One thing you will find in the basic steeping method is that if you leave citrus peel for too long you will get a bitter flavor from the tannins in the peel. One way of only extracting oils and ensuring that you are only getting a really nice bright flavor is by using this evaporation technique (taught to me by an amazing herbalist Jeanine Pollack who wrote the book Healing Tonics). The diagram below shows the technique with string, but I learned from Jacqueline Patterson (Lillet Ambassador) that you can also use cheesecloth. (She saw this technique in an old Italian cookbook, which she couldn’t read, but she figured it out by looking at the pictures.)

Anyhow, fill the bottom of the container with spirit that is at least 80 proof. If you want to make triple sec, place one cup sugar and two cups vodka in the bottom of your container. If you want to make “Grand Marnier” place one cup sugar and two cups brandy in the bottom of your container. Do not stir the spirit and sugar together. Now, either using string or cheesecloth, allow your citrus to be suspended above the spirit. Cover the container very tightly (I use plastic wrap with a rubber band and another lid). Allow to sit for 10 days. If you are using a glass container, you will see the essential oils leach out of the citrus skin and drip into your spirit. After 10 days, you will have a beautiful extraction.

If you are wondering how to make bitters, make a bunch of different extracts and start mixing them together. Just make sure that one of the extracts is bitter (like citrus peel, wormwood, or quinine) and you have made a bitters. Easy as that!

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Rose Petal Water

1 cup rose petals
2 cups water

Place a clean brick at the bottom of a stock pan, on this brick you place a collection bowl, in the bottom of the pan you place the water and rose petals.  Cover with a concave lid (so that the bottom of the lid is closest to the bottom of the pan).   Turn the heat up so that you are getting steam without a boil. The steam will hit against the concave lid and condense into your collection cup. You can speed up the process by placing ice on the top of the lid.  Depending on how high your heat is and how large your collection bowl is, you’ll have a small bottle of rose petal water within an hour.

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Triple Sec

1 cup white sugar
2 cups vodka
1 organic orange

Place the vodka and sugar in a glass or metal container. Suspend the orange over the spirit (make sure that it doesn’t touch).  You can either place four skewers in the orange and string the orange up using the skewers, string, and duct tape.  Or you can use cheesecloth. Cover the container very tightly (I use plastic wrap with a rubber band and another lid). Allow to sit for 10 days. If you are using a glass container, you will see the essential oils leach out of the citrus skin and drip into your spirit. After 10 days, you will have a beautiful extraction.  Do not mix the sugar together with your infused spirit, strain the liquid from the sugar, bottle, and enjoy!

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“Grand Marnier”

1 cup white sugar
2 cups brandy (I like Paul Masson – great for the price)
1 organic orange

Place the vodka and sugar in a glass or metal container. Suspend the orange over the spirit (make sure that it doesn’t touch).  You can either place four skewers in the orange and string the orange up using the skewers, string, and duct tape.  Or you can use cheesecloth. Cover the container very tightly (I use plastic wrap with a rubber band and another lid). Allow to sit for 10 days. If you are using a glass container, you will see the essential oils leach out of the citrus skin and drip into your spirit. After 10 days, you will have a beautiful extraction.  Do not mix the sugar together with your infused spirit, strain the liquid from the sugar, bottle, and enjoy!

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Need bottles for your extracts and bitters? Check out Specialty Bottle out of Seattle, they have an amazing selection of small glass bottles.

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Links to blog posts that you might like if you liked this one

What are bitters?

How to make Baker’s Bitters

How to make Boker’s Bitters

Video and Recipe for Malheur Forest Bitters

http://www.lillet.com/

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