Non-Alcoholic Bitters: A Complete Guide - Boisson

Non-Alcoholic Bitters: A Complete Guide

Posted by Boisson Staff on

Bitters are a common ingredient in classic cocktails, but they are the best friend of the modern bartender, as well, and an essential part of any nonalcoholic bar, right next to the club soda. Some have transitioned into a mainstay for cocktail lovers, like Angostura, Campari, and bitter orange, while others remain more obscure and niche. They add complexity and depth to any alcohol-free cocktail. But what are they, exactly?

What are bitters?

Bitters are aromatic infusions made from herbs, spices, and even nuts and fruits. They can be made with barks, roots, and botanicals as well. In order to produce the full flavor of a bitter, the source ingredients are usually steeped in alcohol in order to extract and concentrate flavor but there are many non-alcoholic bitters out there, as well.

They don't have to be bitter: they can be tart or sharp, as well. The flavors are strong so that just a few dashes can develop complexity of flavor in non-alcoholic cocktails. They were originally made from ingredients like citrus peel, honey, cinnamon, and other spices, and there was, historically, a huge variety in their various tastes and uses, primarily as digestifs and medicines. Angostura bitters and orange bitters, among other traditional bitters, were originally developed as patent medicines. But, by the mid-19th century, the primary use of bitters was in cocktails.

Non-alcoholic and alcoholic bitters are used in cocktails today because of their intensity and flavor profile. While they are an acquired taste on their own, when added to a cocktail, they make for a fun and complex cocktail. There are five basic categories of bitters: aromatic, citrus, herbal, fruit, and nut.

Aromatic bitters, like Angostura, are made from a variety of botanicals and barks, and most bitters fall into this category. They are each unique and delicious in their own ways. For a truly alcohol-free addition to your Manhattan or Old Fashioned, try our Black Bitters.

Citrus bitters can be made from any citrus fruit, but the most common is certainly bitter orange. However, grapefruit, lemon, and lime can all make the basis for one.

Herbal bitters are made from anything from lavender to thyme. They can be mixed: lavender lemon bitters are particularly delicious.

Fruit bitters are the only bitters with a sweet note, which reflects their origin. Apple blossom bitters are particularly excellent for crafting unique cocktails.

Nut bitters can be made from any nut you'd like, from almond to walnut, but also from chocolate or coffee beans.

How are bitters used in mixing drinks?

Bitters are to a non-alcoholic drink as salt is to a meal. With some simple syrup, non-alcoholic spirits, a dash of bitters, and perhaps some soda water, you can create any cocktail you might like. The flavor combinations in most cocktails work in a 3-2-1 ratio: 3 parts spirit, 2 parts bitter, 1 part sweet. In this case, since we're using actual bitters and not a bitter liqueur or spirit like Campari, the amount of bitters in our non-alcoholic cocktail will be less than the standard "2" in the ratio. This is because of the high concentration of flavor in the bitters.

In order to create flavors that complement each other, you are looking for a good balance between spirit, bitter, and sweet. For a great how-to guide, check out our post on Cocktails 101.

For ratios, in a glass with five ounces of non-alcoholic spirits, you want to use two dashes of bitters. A dash is...

  • 10 drops from a milliliter dropper

  • 1/5 teaspoon, which is just slightly less than the 1/4 teaspoon you probably have in your baking supplies

Are there non-alcoholic bitters?

Absolutely! While a few dashes of even alcoholic bitters can make a legally non-alcoholic cocktail, because if something is less than 0.5% alcoholic, technically it can be served as non-alcoholic. But, for those who do not drink alcohol, truly alcohol-free cocktails are eminently possible with plenty of completely alcohol-free options, including glycerin-based bitters and vinegar-based bitters. Dram offers some truly excellent alcohol free bitters, produced through the glycerin method.

Glycerin based bitters and vinegar based bitters are made by steeping herbs or botanicals in three parts glycerin and one part water. It works in the same way that steeping herbs, spices, fruit, and other botanicals does in making alcoholic bitters; the glycerin acts as a solvent, just as the alcohol does in traditional bitters, making alcohol free bitters a genuinely appealing and available option.

How to use non-alcoholic bitters

Here are some classic recipes we've reinvented as non-alcoholic beverages that we encourage you to try. With quite a few different flavors to explore, we're sure you will find something to love.

Cocktails made with alcohol-free bitters

Classic Old Fashioned

  • 4 dashes Dram Black bitters

  • 1 sugar cube + 2 dashes water OR 2 tsp simple syrup

  • 2 ounces of your favorite NA whiskey

  • Ice and orange peel

  • You can make this all in your glass -- no need for a shaker. Shake the bitters onto the sugar cube and add the water; or, add the bitters to the simple syrup. Add the whiskey, orange peel, and ice. Stir.


  • 2 dashes Dram Black bitters

  • 1 oz non-alcoholic sweet vermouth

  • 2 oz non-alcoholic rye whiskey

  • Orange peel garnish

  • Ice

  • Stir everything except the orange peel together in a cocktail mixer. Don't shake; the spirits don't need dilution. Stir until chilled. Strain into a glass. Experiment with the ratios to see what you like!

Orange Soda

  • 4 dashes Dram Orange bitters (or more for a stronger flavor)

  • Soda water to taste

  • Ice

  • Pour a couple of fingers of soda water over ice. Add the orange bitters, and then another splash of soda water to mix everything together. This is a classic way to enjoy a sophisticated nightcap without the alcohol.

Non-alcoholic Cocktails made with alcoholic bitters

Remember, the very small amount of alcohol in traditional bitters means that it's totally possible to make functionally non-alcoholic drinks with a dash of bitters, and that's what you can do with some of these recipes.

NA Spicy Tequila Sunrise

  • 5 dashes Hella Smoked Chili bitters

  • 2 oz Free Spirits NA Tequila or Monday Mezcal to complement the smoke in the bitters

  • 1 oz grenadine or Cheeky Cranberry syrup for less sweetness

  • 3/4 cup chilled orange juice, or add to taste

  • Orange slice and maraschino cherry for garnish

  • In a shaker or mixing glass, start with the grenadine or cranberry syrup. Add the bitters and then the spirits, and stir in the ice. When it is appropriately chilled, add orange juice, a splash at a time. The first time you make it, taste after each splash –– you may find you like a little less orange in this non-alcoholic Tequila Sunrise, because the spirits have less of a bite.

NA Whiskey Mule

  • 5 dashes Hella Ginger bitters

  • 2 oz Spiritless Kentucky 74 or Gnista

  • Ginger ale or ginger beer to taste

  • Ice

  • Lime wedge

  • Start with the spirits, and then stir everything together in one glass. Add the ice and lime before giving it a final stir.

NA Chocolate Rum

Our favorite brands

For 100% alcohol free bitters, we offer Dram's line. They have classics like bitter orange as well as more experimental flavors like lavender lemon.

In the world of bitters that contain small enough amounts of alcohol that they can be used in NA cocktails, we carry both Hella and Bennet bitters. Note that Bennet's bitters come with a dropper for the most precise flavor management. With both brands, you can find anything you need, from the botanical world to earthy barks to more fruity bitters.

With all these options before you, we hope your evenings with a drink end with less of a headache and more of the warmth of a pleasant, healthy evening. Cheers!

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