You can break any cocktail down to four essential parts: liquor, sugar, water and bitters.
Since those first three are self-explanatory, let's take a look at bitters, the so-called "spice rack of the bar" -- a highly concentrated blend of spices, herbs and alcohol we've been using as medicine and a cocktail ingredient since about the early 1700s, according to John Mariani's Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink.
Terrible on their own, bitters are delicious when added to a drink and even more fun to make yourself; as long as you have those key three elements, you can make bitters from just about anything (even crickets, apparently).
These early spring months are the best time to make your own if you want to make your own summer cocktails, because bitters take anywhere from two to four weeks to infuse and macerate within the alcohol. Serious Eats recommends you store yours in a dark place and shake your jar up once a day for four weeks.
For example, you can make your own orange bitters, celery bitters, smoked barbecue bitters, you name it. How Sweet Eats has some great recipes for making cherry vanilla, grapefruit, chocolate or strawberry ginger bitters.
Even better, since any cocktail really only needs about two drops of the stuff, yours will last you a very long time.
Some of the ingredients you'll need (tonka beans, quinine) are pretty obscure and impossible to pin down at your neighborhood supermarket, so we recommend ordering your spices online. There are also relatively affordable DIY kits that have all the tools and ingredients you'll need, such as these:
Dash Bitters Kits ($24.99 – $44.99, Dash Bitters)
Old School Bitters Kit ($28, Makers Kit)
Make Your Own Bitters Kit ($48, Food52)
Bitters-Making Kit ($9.95 – $24.95)
See how it's all put together in the video above, and happy summer drinking!