Better with bitters

Add your own unique flavour to cocktails with homemade bitters. Here’s how

A variety of spices, herbs and other botanicals give bitters their intense flavour. Dan Toulgoet photo

Making your own bitters at home is a lot easier than you may think. However, we need to understand a few things first. Cocktails, by definition, are made up of four essential ingredients: spirits, sugar, water and bitters. Spirits are self-explanatory. The sugar and water elements can be exactly that or they can take on other forms, such as syrups and juices. Bitters are much more complex, though. Bartenders use bitters to bridge the flavours of spirits, sugar and water so they come together. The key to selecting the right bitter is to use one that complements the other three components in the cocktail.

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Bar Basics

What you need to know for making the recipes in The Alchemist.

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Essentials

Measurements: For the most part, our recipes are in imperial volume (fluid ounces, teaspoons and cups). We might occasionally use weight (for instance, an ounce of tea leaves for an infusion); in those cases, it will be noted.

Tools: The essentials are a cocktail shaker (cobbler or Boston), mixing glass, jigger, citrus juicer, Hawthorne and fine mesh strainers, muddler, bar spoon, sharp knife and vegetable peeler. Any special tools will be noted.

Glassware: You could fill your cupboards with different types of glassware, but you only really need three (aside from wine and beer): a stemmed “cocktail” glass, either the V-shaped martini or curved coupe; the short, stubby rocks or Old Fashioned; and the tall, narrow Collins.

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Cosy up with a good read

Whether you’re looking for a new recipe or a great gift, these boozy books have you covered

Canadian Spirits: The Essential Cross-country Guide to Distilleries, Their Spirits and Where to Imbibe Them by Stephen Beaumont and Christine Sismondo (Nimbus Publishing, $29.95)

Two of Canada’s top spirits writers have compiled a comprehensive guide to the assortment of hooch produced from coast to coast to coast in this country. This is the essential book about the industry’s history and its future, covering more than 160 producers ranging from the behemoth Hiram-Walker in Windsor, Ontario, to Vancouver’s tiny Odd Society Spirits. Available October 31.

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Scotch Rocks Punch

Justin Taylor’s Scotch Rocks Punch. Dan Toulgoet photo

This flavourful punch was created by Justin Taylor, general manager of The Cascade Room.

• 1 bottle (750 mL) blended scotch
• 1 cup Cynar amaro
• 1 cup apricot brandy
• 1 cup oleo saccharum
• 1 Tbsp Angostura bitters
• 4 cups cold water

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Punch it up with oleo saccharum

This ancient ingredient adds zest to your party drinks

Before you start, assemble your ingredients. Dan Toulgoet photo

Holiday entertaining is right around the corner and having a couple of easy, bold and delicious punch recipes on hand will really help set any party off on the right foot. It all starts with oleo saccharum.

Now, you might be wondering: What the heck is oleo saccharum? It is the Latin term for “oil sugar,” an ingredient that will change your home bartending.

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Spirit Free Gin & Tonic

Justin Taylor’s Spirit-Free G&T uses a homemade gin syrup. Dan Toulgoet photo

This zero-proof G&T will ensure all your friends can enjoy summer’s quintessential cocktail.

• 1 oz. spirit-free gin syrup (recipe below)
• 0.75 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
• 5 oz tonic water

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