DIY class teaches science of making bitters

Photo by Kate Payne. Austin author Kate Payne now has a line of bitters she's concocted herself.

Photo by Kate Payne. Austin author Kate Payne now has a line of bitters she’s concocted herself.

Kate Payne doesn’t like to let anything go to waste.

A local author who’s written about helpful tricks and tips in the kitchen and in the home with her “Hip Girl’s Guide” books, Payne has explored food preservation extensively and stumbled into a new project in the process: making her own bitters. An alcoholic mixture of botanicals and syrup, bitters have uses beyond flavoring cocktails, and she’s found making them herself to be fulfilling fun.

She’s now got a line of bitters, Salud, that she’s looking to produce on a wider scale. In the meantime, she’s offering a workshop on Tuesday for others who’d like to try it themselves (and it’s only got five tickets left, so hurry and grab yours if you’d like to attend). It’s not the first time she’s offering this class, either; her previous DIY bitters classes been met with lots of enthusiasm, she says, from people who like that they can make something seemingly difficult but very useful.

Photo by Kate Payne. Bitters, common ingredients in cocktails, are mixtures of a variety of different ingredients, from lemon to fennel to white dandelion.

Photo by Kate Payne. Bitters, common ingredients in cocktails, are mixtures of a variety of different ingredients, from lemon to fennel to white dandelion.

“Bitters have pretty cool benefits, whether you’re putting a couple of dashes in a cocktail or relying on them for digestion,” Payne says. “Bitters also help the liver do its job, which is good when you are drinking alcohol.”

So named for their bitter taste on the tongue, which once signaled that you’d just eaten something you shouldn’t have, bitters are still able to get the gastric juices in your stomach flowing to process the seeming unpleasantness out of your body. That’s why some people with digestion issues try them medicinally, rather than recreationally as an accent in a drink, by taking 1/2 tsp. up to three times a day. (Payne recommends taking them before mealtimes.)

Of course, bitters — which are often the smallest component in a cocktail, with 2 to 3 dashes added almost as an afterthought — are also important in drinks. Those three drops of bitters pack a punch of flavor that can help to right a cocktail overpowered by too much of another flavor.

“In the cocktail world, bitters are wonderful balancers, just as they are in your body,” she says. “They can tame something that’s cloyingly sweet or just tastes off.”

Her Salud bitters, whose dominant ingredients are all Texas-grown, run the gamut of flavors that bitters take on. The Aromatic expression is a soothing mixture of Meyer lemons, dandelion root, juniper and a variety of spices, whereas the Chile Lime carries more of a kick from limes, chiles, cacao and other ingredients that make it a solid accompaniment to your next Bloody Mary or margarita. There’s also Citrus, with grapefruit, dandelion root, white peppercorn and spices, and Floral, with lavender, Meyer lemon, Bachelor’s Button Flower, Agarita and additional spices.

Future Salud lines will focus on Mexican and Southwestern influences. She’s constantly experimenting, finding seasonal flavors from foraged items like prickly pear.

The class on Tuesday will offer a similarly wide variety of ingredients that people will be able to play with to make their own jar of bitters. The process might seem complex — especially when Payne starts using words like “tincture” and “decoction” — but she’ll break it down with each step and help you find just the right combination of flavors. Plus, you can feel free to bring your own wine or beer of cocktail fixings. To register for the $75 class, visit this Eventbrite link.


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