Most people just think bitters are for fancy craft cocktails or your aunt's Old Fashioned, but I find bitters to be a refreshing and aromatic addition to sparkling water.
Usually, but not always, containing an alcohol base, bitters are basically herbs, roots, or other aromatics in a concentrated, or bittersweet form. Bitters have a long and slightly sordid history. Well before prohibition, they were used medicinally and the British added them to drinks to help cover the taste of quinine which was in tonic water and used to fight off malaria. When prohibition came along, bitters were still available since they were considered "medicinal" and despite their frequently high alcohol content are still sold as alcoholic non-beverage products and taxed as such. Totally weird politics going on here.
The best thing is, you don't need to buy the super expensive fancy bitters; you can make them yourself!
Fun fact: You can make your own vanilla extract in much the same way.
But back to the bitters. I decided to make Cardamom Saffron bitters. I have a lot of saffron from my travels to the Middle East and cardamom has such a vibrant, strong aroma, I knew this would be a safe combination to start with.
You should start with whole, green cardamom pods. The cardamom seeds sold with out the pod are not as flavorful. Using a mortar and pestle, break open all the pods.
Place the pods and seeds in your vodka and let it sit for 5 days, giving the bottle a shake every day.
After 5 days or so, strain the vodka through a mesh sieve with a coffee filter. You want a nice clear liquid. I strained it into my Pyrex bowl that has a lid so I didn't have to transfer the liquid again.
Next, you add your lovely saffron. This is for color as well as flavor.
This time it sits for only one day. All of the color of the saffron will end up in your bitters.
After one day, strain again with a coffee filter.
Your beautiful golden bitters are ready to use!
Cardamom Saffron Bitters
4 cups vodka
1/2 cup whole green cardamom pods
large pinch saffron
Break up cardamom pods with mortar and pestle. Add seeds and pods to vodka and store in a cool, dark place for five days. Shake the bottle a bit each day.
After 5 days, strain through a coffee filter lined mesh sieve. Add a big pinch of saffron and let sit another day.
Strain again and store in glass jars.
This flavoring is strong. You only need about 1/2 teaspoon added to a iced glass of sparkling water for a refreshing drink!