DIY Holiday Gifts: bitter & boozy

Give the gift of creative cocktails this holiday season. With an endless list of possible flavour combinations, you can have fun experimenting with flavour-infused vodkas and bitters. And with several distilleries breaking onto the scene in the last few years, local vodka, even moonshine, is readily available.

By / Photography By Amy Zambonin | December 17, 2016

About this recipe

Orange bitters

3 medium-sized oranges
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole pieces star anise
1 tablespoon allspice
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seed
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
2 cups vodka or white whiskey

Preheat oven to 200F. Cut the peel from the oranges (reserve the oranges for another use) and place them onto a parchment- lined baking sheet. Bake the peel for 2½ to 3 hours or until dried.

Place the orange peel, spices and alcohol into a clean glass jar. Tightly secure a lid and place into a cool, dark place for about 3 weeks, turning the jar over every other day. After 3 weeks, strain the contents of the jar through cheesecloth into another clean jar or bowl. At this point the bitters can be used as is or, for less-potent bitters, place the orange peel and spices into a small pot with a cup of water. Bring the liquid up to a simmer then turn off the heat. Allow the peel and spices to steep for another 3 to 4 hours. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth into the alcohol mixture. Keep the bitters in a clean glass container and mix into your favourite cocktails.

Coffee vodka

3 cups vodka
1/3 cup dark roast coffee beans, crushed
optional: 1 vanilla bean, ½ cup simple syrup

Candy cane vodka

3 cups vodka
8 candy canes

Blackberry sage vodka

3 cups vodka
2 cups blackberries (or your favourite fruit)
2 sage leaves
simple syrup to taste

Prepare the ingredients before infusing — wash and cut fruit, break candy or coffee beans into smaller pieces.

Using a clean jar, pour the vodka over the flavouring ingredients and tightly secure the lid. Keep the bottle in a cool dark place for 3 to 5 days, shaking the jar occasionally. Taste test periodically to ensure the infusion doesn't go too far, becoming bitter.

When the flavour is to your taste, use a fine-mesh sieve to strain the vodka into a bowl and discard the other ingredients.

Add honey or simple syrup, if you like it sweeter and more like a liqueur.
To make simple syrup, boil 1 cup of water with 1 cup granulated sugar until the sugar has dissolved and let cool. Pour into clean jars or bottles with tight-fitting lids.

Local distilleries

66 Gilead Distillery (PEC)
66gileaddistillery.com

King's Lock Craft Distillery (Johnston)
kingslockcraftdistillery.com

North of 7 Distillery (Ottawa)
northof7distillery.ca

Top Shelf Distillers (Perth)
topshelfdistillers.com

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