I decided to make homemade bitters but discovered that it will be difficult to source the ingredients, as Everclear isn’t sold in liquor stores anymore. Do you think homemade bitters are worth the effort?
I think homemade cocktail ingredients are worth the effort for two reasons. The first is to create something that’s either unique or hard to come by. The other would be for your own education. Let’s look at both.
First, let’s look at bitters. Broadly, they’re any concentrated flavor agent used to transform the flavor of a cocktail. Almost always, bitters won’t be palatable by themselves. Think about a bottle of hot sauce. A couple of drops on your tongue would probably be unbearably spicy, but those same drops stirred into a big bowl of potato chowder might add just the right tang and heat to your dish. The most popular bitters are orange bitters (which contain the concentrated flavor of orange peels, along with other spices) and aromatic (a mixture of bitter, pungent, and sweet herbs, spices, and botanicals.) You’re right in saying grain alcohol would be a crucial ingredient in bitters, both to dissolve and carry the flavor, and to act as a preservative. Most bitters are actually as strong as a normal spirit, but their flavor is so concentrated that you would never drink it alone.
Now, making your own orange or aromatic bitters, just to see if you can do it, can be a learning exercise, but otherwise probably isn’t “worth” doing. The people that sell these products for a living do so because they’ve spent decades and generations of their families developing the best blend of flavors; you’re probably not going to improve upon it. For academic reasons, you can attempt to make a recipe once or twice, if only to teach yourself that purchasing the stuff pre-made is a worthwhile expense.
Creating more outlandish bitters could be fun, though, and definitely “worth” doing. Let’s say you wanted to make a ginger-lemon bitters. You steep a couple ginger roots in hot water, zest in a few lemons, boil down the resulting tea to concentrate it, and mix it with a grain alcohol to preserve the flavor. Or maybe you’ve got loads of rose bushes and you want to try making a rosewater bitters. Either way, if you could create a unique cocktail ingredient that features a flavor you love, that’d definitely be a worthy endeavor.