First, what exactly are bitters? Bitters are an infusion of alcohol and herbs, spices or bark and are often at the heart of many good cocktails. A Manhattan is simply not a Manhattan without a few dashes of bitters. Popular commercial brands are Peychauds and Angostura, although in our house we love Seattle-based Scrappy's. If you're new to bitters, they come in a variety of flavors, from a standard orange or lavender to gingerbread or black pepper and fig. I use a few drops in many bourbon-based cocktails we do at home, or I'll even add a dash or two to soda water or tonic for a refreshing but complex afternoon mood-lifter. If you have cocktail fans in your life, they're likely quite familiar with bitters and would love to receive a bottle from your own kitchen!
To make your own bitters, you need a few things: a starter alcohol like vodka or grain alcohol, your favorite blend or herbs and bittering agents, time, and a nice bottle for presentation. Most bitters take about three weeks to properly age, so start now for holiday gifting! While most of the time it takes to make your own bitters is inactive time, thinking through your blend of herbs and spices can take a few minutes of study.
Here are a few great guides to formulas and recipes. Happy DIY gifting!