Douglas Fir Bitters: Recipe
1 cup 40% (80 proof) vodka
½ cup finely chopped Douglas fir needles (new growth)
1 tsp-1 Tbsp gentian, ground (depending on how bitter you like it)
1 Tbsp bitter orange peel
1 crumbled bay leaf
3-6 lavender heads
1 piece star anise (crushed)
1 Tbsp vegetable glycerine or honey (for a little sweetness)
Put all ingredients in a pint (16 oz) mason jar and let sit for 1-2 weeks. Strain using a piece of muslin or cheesecloth. Dispense into a 1 oz bottle and use in cocktails, or before meals.
I am obsessed with the taste of pine trees. (You may have noticed my post all about pine tree medicine.) I had originally intended to use blue spruce needles for this recipe, but couldn't find them. That's when I decided on the ubiquitous Douglas fir, and I am not disappointed with the outcome. Douglas fir has a fantastic sweet citrus aroma that's less turpentiney than other pines. It's a favorite of mine for infused brandies, cordials and honeys. You could most certainly use a fir or a spruce in this for a different flavor.
IDENTIFICATION OF DOUGLAS FIR:
The best way to identify Douglas fir is by the cones (see that picture up there?). Look for the three pronged banners sticking out of the scales. My students called these "squirrel butts," because I always like to teach people to look for the squirrel escaping into the cone. Needles are always single (not bound with other needles into a packet), and cones hang downward (not upward, like firs).
THE MEDICINE OF BITTERS:
Ok, you caught me. Douglas fir isn't really a bitter. What makes this recipe "bitters" is actually the gentian root and bitter orange peel. Before catching on as a trendy cocktail ingredient, bitters were popular as a digestive tonic and as a hangover remedy. In fact, in early American pharmacies, you could buy patent bitters in glass bottles that made all kinds of claims.
Bitters work by stimulating secretions from the digestive organs, and are thus best taken before a meal, when it will get the organs primed to do the best possible job. Obviously, bitters have a bitter taste, which is probably where the idea of spicing it up with other delicious things came from.
Gentian is considered by bitters makers to be the best bittering agent, but of course there are many other herbs you can use: Artichoke leaf (which is abundant at almost all times of year), dandelion, oregon grape bark, fringe tree (super strong, so only a little is needed), hops, blessed thistle, orange peel, horehound etc. They all have slightly different tastes and strengths, so it's nice to formulate around the particular bitter you've got. Be creative and use your tongue!