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Bitters: From Traditional Medicine to Cocktail Ingredient

Brew Your Own Bitters workshop shows attendees how to make their own bitters from native plants

Attendees of the Brew Your Own Bitters workshop examine various plants foraged from Stanley Park prior to the brewing process.
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Reported by Desirée Garcia

Bitters have transitioned from being a traditional medicine to a popular cocktail ingredient because of their ability to enhance the flavour.

On Feb. 22, the Stanley Park Ecology Society hosted its first Brew Your Own Bitters workshop, where over 15 attendees brewed their own bitters using plants native to Stanley Park.

How it’s made

Bitters are made by soaking plants or spices in a jar filled with high proof alcohol for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on desired taste. Workshop participants used local shrubs, chamomile and devil’s club, which can be found in Stanley Park.

Taylor Dewar, the workshop instructor and co-owner of Tailored Spirits distillery, said he believes there is a growing interest in making homemade bitters because they are easy to make and tailor to personal taste.

“I think something like this gives people the opportunity to do your own and make it a little more custom for yourself,” Dewar said.

Marc Smolinski, an award-winning mixologist and head bartender at Mission Kits restaurant, said in the 17th-century, bitters were used for their medical properties. For example, morning tonic was used to cure hangovers and in the evening, it was consumed as a digestive.

A cocktail isn’t a cocktail without bitters

Smolinski said in the mid-19th century bitters became an essential ingredient for a traditional cocktail.

“A lot of cocktails aren’t technically cocktails because they do not have bitters in them,” he said. “It’s the defining aspect now.”

Tricia Lundh, a workshop attendee, said while she used to purchase store-bought bitters, the cocktail culture captured her interest in making her own.

Lundh said that making your own bitters is simple and that she enjoys using the natural, basic ingredients.

“There’s a certain amount do-it-yourself and crafting kind of thing that makes it interesting.”

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