Anyone who’s worked in a bar or pub can probably attest to seeing that small bottle, with the yellow lid and often well worn, off white, label sitting on the back bar. It’s not often used (unless working in a busy cocktail bar) and just seems to be there. That bottle is Angostura Bitters, 

Bitters are aromatically infused botanicals used for flavouring cocktails and drinks. An excellent way of describing them, which I saw on a website, was that they’re “salt and pepper” for making drinks and cocktails. They are normally high on alcohol content and can typically come in at a whopping 30-45% ABV. Some of the best-known cocktails made with the addition of bitters include Whiskey Sours, Manhattan Island and most notably, the Old Fashioned. An alcohol-free cocktail you may be familiar with is “Lemon Lime and Bitters”. The cocktail contains some form of carbonated liquid, usually soda water or lemonade along with lemon and lime juice and a dash of bitters. The drink is often referred to as non-alcoholic because it contains such a small volume of bitters across such a large drink, even if they are high in alcohol content. Nevertheless, I decided to do some research and see if it is possible to make a truly alcoholfree “Lemon Lime and Bitters”. 

To give a better understanding of how these flavourings can be replicated in an alcohol free sense, I spoke with Ian and Carly Blessing. Ian and Carly have recently started a business, “All The Bitter” which creates high-quality tasting non-alcoholic bitters. The Blessings were kind enough to answer any questions I had about non-alcoholic bitters in general as well as their company. They founded their company, based in Chico California after working as a sommelier at the French Laundry, a prestigious three Michelin star restaurant. The restaurant is owned by Thomas Keller, the only American chef to own two restaurants with three stars. Below are the questions and answers Ian and Carly were generous enough to share.

Tell me about yourselves and how you came up with the idea.

“Our lives had pretty much revolved around wine until we had our first son, Jack, which is when we both decided to quit drinking. We missed the flavours and the ritual of alcoholic beverages, but not the negative consequences that came with them. Fortunately, pretty quickly we discovered that non-alcoholic alternatives have come a long way in recent years! We dove right into the beer (amazing), wines (lacking), and spirits (exciting).

After years of both serving and enjoying cocktails in restaurants, it was an absolute joy to learn that we could craft the same high level of drinks at home. The only thing missing from the marketplace was bitters! You’ve got everything you need to make virtually any cocktail—whiskey, gin, tequila, sweet vermouth, triple sec, even absinthe—but we realized there was a surprising lack of alcohol-free bitters on the market. For such an important cocktail ingredient, this was a real shock.

We decided that with our expertise in the beverage world, and our newfound obsession with non-alcoholic drinks, we should be the ones to fill this void. Our core lineup of bitters is inspired by the classics found behind every bar—Angostura, Peychaud’s, and Regans’ Orange—which means that anyone, either at home or in a restaurant or bar, can now complete a fully alcohol-free bar and make virtually any cocktail. Recognizing that folks who quit or reduce their drinking are generally mindful of health, we’ve made our bitters functional as well. While they taste great and are intended to be used to flavour cocktails, beer, tea, and sparkling water, they have incredible health benefits as well including digestive aid, liver cleansing, and detox.”

Are you the first of your kind?

“I won’t say we are the first of our kind because Dram Apothecary in Colorado has been producing some excellent alcohol-free bitters for a little while now. Our line has some significant differences, however—it is designed specifically to complete a zero proof bar for both homes and bars and restaurants. The flavour profiles are unique and complex on their own, but they are designed to be direct alternatives to the three classic flavours of bitters that you find in almost all cocktail recipes—Angostura, Peychaud’s, and Orange.

As far as I know, we are also the first type of bitters (alcoholic or otherwise) that is designed equally as a flavouring agent and a herbal tonic. Generally, bitters fall into two categories: cocktail bitters intended for flavouring, and medicinal bitters intended to promote digestion, detox, etc. The medicinal bitters generally don’t taste very good. All The Bitter includes functional herbs like dandelion root, burdock, milk thistle seed, and yellow dock which aid in digestion, liver cleansing, and detox, but is flavoured like classic cocktail bitters. They’re not only great in cocktails/mocktails but are an incredible addition to beer and turn ordinary sparkling water into a sophisticated, easy-to-make drink. Think LaCroix, but grown-up, plus health benefits.”

How is made? (As much as you can say without giving away any inside secrets)

“After a year of research and development–and many years of practical experience in the field–we put together over 100 test recipes, experiments, and single-ingredient extracts. We’ve now landed on formulas for the three flavours—Aromatic, New Orleans, and Orange—that we’re thrilled with. Each flavour includes over 20 botanicals including herbs, roots, spices, fruit, flowers, etc, designed to be both delicious and functional.

We make our bitters in small batches with ingredients that are either organic or wild foraged. Everything is done by Carly and myself, from grinding whole spices to bottling, labelling, and finally shipping the product to our customers. Each batch takes between 6 and 8 weeks to make—it’s a slow, hands-on process full of intention.

Flavours and profile of your product:

We’re launching with three flavours–Aromatic, New Orleans, and Orange—inspired by the classic bitters used in most cocktail recipes.

Aromatic is wonderfully spicy, filled with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and holy basil. Bitter roots like gentian and dandelion add balance and depth to zero-proof cocktails. This is what you’d reach for when making an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. It’s also our favourite to use in lighter beers like Bud Zero, where it adds an entirely new dimension.

New Orleans is inspired by the 19th-century apothecary Antoine Peychaud. It’s bright and complex with flavours of anise, sour cherry, hibiscus, and schisandra berry. If you’re making a Sazerac cocktail, this is the bitters of choice. It’ll liven up beer, soda water, and tea as well.

Our Orange bitters are packed with both bitter and sweet orange peel, complicated by cardamom, caraway, coriander, and lemon balm. Ginger adds a little bite. Perfect for upgrading a Negroni, gin martini, or stouts and porters.”

And perhaps most importantly, where can people get it?

“All The Bitter will be available for purchase directly on our website at Launching later this year, folks can sign up for email updates at our website or follow along with our Instagram and Facebook pages @allthebitter.”

As the wider drinks industry, from beers to wine and spirits embraced and adapted to the move by consumers to opt for a more health-conscious drink choice it seemed only a given that this would find its way into the bitters sector too. Going forward there is little doubt that alcohol-free bitters such as the ones from All The Bitter will become commonplace in bars and homes alike as mindful drinkers put their twist on classic cocktails. The idea of being able to enjoy such cocktails as the Manhattan or Old Fashioned without the high strength alcohol is one that many will embrace, long may it continue.