Cover – Bitter Bounty
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BITTER BOUNTY

Add aroma and flavor to cocktails and more.

WRITTEN BY ANN LINDEMANN
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO
ILLUSTRATION BY BAMBI EDLUND

Burdock root, milk thistle seed, and wormwood herb. When Janel Johnson ticks off her favorite ingredients, an unsuspecting listener might conclude that they’re for a magic potion lifted straight from the pages of a dark Grimms’ fairytale. Instead, these exotic herbs are found in bitters, a concoction which has a long history of curing ailments and flavoring drinks … but never casting spells.

“I’ve always been a do-it-yourselfer, and a few years ago I thought it would be fun to make my own bitters for cocktails,” the Carson City resident recalls. “But I didn’t have much luck finding milk thistle seed and burdock root in the supermarket down the road, and I had to order them online in huge quantities. For instance, I had to order a pound of an herb, and I only needed a teaspoon for the recipe!”

Johnson’s conundrum promptly turned into a business opportunity. She reasoned that other DIYers were probably facing similar ingredient-hunting challenges, and she created a simple bitters kit. Featuring the “weirdest” herbs, Johnson launched a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and High Desert Botanicals was born. She assembles bitters kits in a Carson City warehouse for the online business.

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Whether it’s for grapefruit ginger bitters or celery bitters, the process is similar.

“The basic process isn’t complex at all: Concentrated flavor extracts are created by soaking or steeping various herbs and spices in water or high-proof alcohol such as vodka,” Johnson says.

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These bitters are nothing like what’s in that dusty brown bottle that you remember from your parents’ liquor cabinet. Rather, Johnson’s favorites include grapefruit ginger bitters — light and refreshing, good with silver tequila and citrus — and celery seed bitters — great in Bloody Marys and sarsaparilla — adds a sweet, spicy note to whiskeys.

“Tasting as you go is important for achieving the right flavor,” she says.

Since the bitters are strong, the best way to taste is to add a few drops to a shot glass filled with club soda.

For a wide array of bitters kits, as well as a downloadable bitters-making primer featuring many interesting recipes, visit http://www.highdesertbotanicals.com

Frequent edible Reno-Tahoe contributor Ann Lindemann looks forward to creating her first batch of grapefruit ginger bitters.

Here are two of Johnson’s favorite bitters recipes:

Grapefruit Ginger Bitters

(Makes about 8 ounces)

Combine in glass jar:

1 cup 100-proof vodka

Zest and pulp from one grapefruit

Zest from one lemon

2-inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped

½ teaspoon dried lavender flowers

2 cardamom pods

3 dried juniper berries

1 fresh sage leaf

½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds

½ teaspoon gentian root

½ teaspoon quassia chips

Steep 10 to 12 days, strain, and filter.

Add:

2 ounces simple syrup or 1 tablespoon agave syrup

Sarsaparilla Bitters

(Makes about 8 ounces)

Combine in glass jar:

1 cup vodka

1 teaspoon sassafras root bark

2 teaspoons sarsaparilla root bark

1 teaspoon wintergreen leaf

½ teaspoon licorice root

1 whole star anise

1 teaspoon crushed ginger

1 sprig spearmint

2 teaspoons mild molasses

¼ vanilla bean

Steep 10 to 12 days, strain, and filter.

Add:

2 ounces simple syrup, or 1 tablespoon agave syrup, or 1 ounce Grade B maple syrup.

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