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It may be twisting the knife to say so when half the country is trapped under ice, but here in Southern California we have a certain problem when February rolls around. It's the peak of citrus season. We're simply buried right now.
This might seem like less of a problem than, say, getting snowed in for four days, but many folks here are at their wit's end to avoid wasting fruit. They squeeze backyard limes for cocktails, lemons for lemonade, and grapefruit for breakfast. They supreme, preserve, sauce, and candy, but the fruit bowl never empties...
To combat the dangers of citrus burnout, I suggest making your own citrus bitters to put those extra fruits to good use. Making your own bitters just takes a little time, and most of that time is hands off. In just a few weeks you'll have a potent elixir ready to add great flavor to your next cocktail.
This recipe gets its inspiration from Brad Thomas Parsons' Bitters book and his recipe for sweet and delicate Meyer lemon bitters. While I've made the recipe straight from the book before, I've marked up the margins with my own notes over time and ended up with a pretty different formula. I wanted my bitters a bit more bitter, with some added accents of orange and makrud lime to make for a more complex citrus fragrance.
Meyer lemons have a pronounced floral aroma when compared with regular Eureka lemons. In this recipe, the makrud lime leaves pierce through that perfumy nature with a sharp punch, while bitter orange, fennel, and spices create earthy undertones for balance. Though some bitters have sugar added, I aimed to reduce the sweetness here, and cut it out.
A few drops of these bitters in a gin and tonic adds some complexity and brightness to the drink, while mixing them into a Penicillin emphasizes a fresh lemony side of the Scotch cocktail.
A couple of tips to help you along the way: First, use a vegetable peeler to zest the citrus. Using a light hand while peeling will help keep the pith on the fruit and not on the zest. Second, invest in some cheesecloth. (It's not that expensive.) A small amount of cheesecloth will go a long way in keeping unwanted particles from entering your final product, and you'll find plenty of other uses for it in the kitchen.
About the Author: Elana Lepkowski is a Los Angeles based home-schooled mixologist who photographs and shares her cocktail recipes at StirAndStrain.com. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @stirandstrain where she sometimes forgets she needs a filter.