Grapefruit bitters add brightness to your cocktails

By / Wine + Drinks / April 2nd, 2019 / 9
Bitters grapefruit lemon

When I started behind the bar, some 20-plus years ago, there was always one constant, no matter where I worked — one dusty little bottle of Angostura bitters.

Nobody ever used it. Few probably knew why they even had it. Bar owners must have bought it as a talisman or in accordance with some long-standing bar tradition. But then, somewhere in the early years of the new millennium, a few curious souls dusted off the bottle and decided to see if a Manhattan could be improved by following its original recipe and adding a dash of bitters.

It was nothing less than a transformation and, it turned out, wasn’t even the only application. Bitters add a much-needed dimension of flavour to a range of cocktails, from sturdy, spirit-forward numbers that need a little perking up to sweet tiki drinks, in which sugar spikes are corrected by a dash of bitters.

Angostura is hardly the only brand anymore, either, with hundreds of new craft bitters companies producing esoteric flavours such as jerk spice, chocolate mole and cranberry bog. Seriously. Sometimes it seems as if a crazy new label is being launched daily. Rather than trying to keep up (an impossible task), most bartenders buy the old standards and pick a few aromatic concoctions that really speak to them.

In Toronto, few brands can boast the loyalty that Coster’s Prescription Bitters have garnered. It’s a boutique bitters brand with a clutch of devotees who love the signature flavours: Burnt Citrus, Coffee and Smoke and Blackstrap Ginger. Mark Coster, founder, started making bitters to learn more about the taste elements he was adding to his cocktails.

“When you make your own, you think of flavours in a much more visceral sense than when you’re just buying off the shelf,” he explains. “It’s good to understand the process.”

Coster warns, though, that it took time and a fair bit of trial and error to figure out how to balance some of the more complicated flavour profiles he works with. His extremely popular Burnt Citrus bitters was a happy accident. He forgot to take his citrus peels out of the oven and discovered he liked the flavour better anyway.

Coster is kindly saving our readers a little trouble by passing on his tried-and-true formula for grapefruit bitters, perfect for adding a touch of brightness to both gin and tequila cocktails.

Coster’s Prescription Grapefruit Bitters

Zest from 5 large grapefruits
1 stalk lemon grass
1/4 tsp gentian root
750 ml overproof vodka
4 heaping tbsp honey

In 3 separate mason jars, divide vodka into volumes of 400, 200 and 150 ml. Add grapefruit zest to the mason jar with 400 ml of vodka. Chop stalk of lemon grass and add to 200 ml jar of vodka. Add gentian root to the 150 ml jar. Let all infusions sit in a dark, cool place for a week.

When infusions are ready, add all 3 to the 4 tablespoons of honey. Mix and gently heat in a saucepan for 5 minutes. Cool and bottle.


Christine Sismondo is a National Magazine Award-Winning drinks columnist and the author of Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History as well as America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

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