The Southerner's Handbook

How to Make Your Own BBQ Bitters

Your secret ingredient for the perfect Bloody Mary and more

Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

The choice of spirits gives a drink its character and the mixers its balance, but the addition of aromatic bitters is what lends many classic cocktails their depth. These days, mixologists often make their own bitters by infusing Everclear or overproof whiskey with spices, botanicals, and seasonal fruit. At Proof & Provision, the cocktail bar tucked in the basement of Atlanta’s historic Georgian Terrace Hotel, barkeep Nate Shuman conjures a smoky sense of place with his distinctive barbecue bitters. Shuman adds a few drops to a wickedly alluring rye-and-mescal-based concoction that he calls the Plaza en Fuego, but you can also use this secret-sauce elixir in a Manhattan or anywhere brown spirits reign. Bonus: The added hit of smokiness and spice works great in a Bloody Mary.



    • 2 tbsp. black peppercorn

    • 1 tbsp. cumin seed

    • 1 tbsp. yellow mustard seed

    • 1 tbsp. black mustard seed

    • 2 tbsp. espresso beans

    • 2 dried chipotle peppers

    • 4 sun-dried tomato halves

    • 15 tbsp. dried oregano

    • 1 fistful thyme (stems and all)

    • Zest of 3 oranges

    • Zest of 3 grapefruit

    • 3 tbsp. gentian root

    • 4 bay leaves

    • 750 ml grain alcohol


  1. In a medium-size saucepan, toast the black peppercorn and the cumin seed until aromatic. Briefly toast the mustard seeds.

  2. Using a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle, crush the peppercorn, cumin, mustards, and espresso beans. Combine with remaining ingredients in a glass mason jar. Shake well and let macerate for 10 days (for best results agitate daily for 10 seconds). When finished, strain thoroughly through cheesecloth and use in cocktails.

Recipe from Proof & Provision in Atlanta, Georiga.