Do Bitters Have Alcohol

Do Bitters Have Alcohol? (Complete Guide)

In many cocktail recipes, bitters are the secret ingredient – but how boozy are they?

It is true that bitters contain alcohol, contrary to popular belief, and they can contain up to 45% alcohol content. Due to the fact that they are used in extremely small amounts (drops or dashes), they do not increase the total alcohol content of any beverage, so they are marketed as non-alcoholic beverages. Find out how bitters are made, their history, and how to use them!

All About Bitters

Many people believe that a cocktail can only be called a cocktail if it contains bitters – so bitters are a key ingredient in every good cocktail recipe. Mixologists love bitters because they serve two purposes: they balance all the flavors in a cocktail while also enhancing the full spectrum of flavors.

You can think of bitters as the salt and pepper or MSG of the beverage world! It was 1824 when bitters were introduced to the world, and they had nothing to do with booze. It was originally created by a German army surgeon by the name of Dr. Johann Siegert in order to treat digestive issues among the infantry. However, its application soon became more widespread.

Aromatic, herbal, bark, spice, and botanical ingredients were mixed with high-proof spirits to create the first batch of bitters. Dr. Seigert was so pleased with the concoction and its alleged medicinal properties that he soon began producing bitters in bulk, which led to the creation of Angostura Bitters.

Angostura Bitters was coincidentally created in the city where these bitters were first created, Angostura, Venezuela (now known as Ciudad Bolvar).

The Marriage Of Bitters And Alcohol 

As bitters were marketed as medicinal products, they were generally ignored when it came to food and beverages. Fortunately, this soon changed after Dr. Seigert passed on his business to his sons.

In the 1870s, one of Dr. Seigert’s sons, Don Carlos, discovered that the complex flavor of his father’s original bitter complemented food – especially beverages!

Adding a small amount of bitters to a cocktail significantly enhanced its flavor.

When bitters were added to sugary drinks, this effect was even greater, resulting in a more precise and fuller flavor.

Consequently, the focus of bitters was quickly shifted from its medicinal use to a broader scope and the company experimented with more ingredients to come up with flavored bitters.

Almost every bar today has an arsenal of bitters to add and extract as much flavor as possible from beverages thanks to bitters!

Characteristics Of Bitters

An important characteristic of a bitters bottle is its taste.


In spite of the fact that one might expect “bitters” to be purely bitter, they are actually quite complex!

The bitterness of a high-quality bitter is a signature characteristic of the mix, but its botanicals, herbs, and spices provide so much more!

It’s difficult to describe the exact taste of bitters since they are designed to stimulate your tongue’s full range of taste receptors.

This drink has a complex earthy, nutty, spicy, and even sweet flavor, with a layer of light bitterness that contributes to its overall flavor.

Several other types of bitters use fruity and aromatic notes to enhance their flavors as well. The original Angostura Bitters is made of just five ingredients, but that is enough to add a lip-smacking flavor to any cocktail.

In the case of an Old Fashioned, for example, Angostura Orange Bitters or Aromatic Bitters can add a real punch.

There are even bitters that use coffee flavors – as well as an array of different-tasting bitters that all offer a profound flavor.


Bitters are made with high-proof spirits, so they can be expected to have a smooth texture. The ingredients don’t affect the viscosity of bitters, nor do bitters affect the texture of cocktails.

In general, they will have little or no effect on other aspects of a beverage except to enhance its flavor (and color).


Particularly in lighter-colored drinks, bitters can play an important role in color.

Natural ingredients are usually used to flavor and color bitters, not typical food colors!

A bitter might contain dried beets or butterfly pea flowers to give it a beautiful shade, for instance.

The bitters are added on top as a garnish, so you can add some color (and flavor, of course) to your cocktail!

With just a few drops of dark-colored bitters, some cocktails, such as lighter-colored gin cocktails, will look and taste much better.

In a dark drink, like a Manhattan, you can add splashes of Orange Angostura Bitters to add color and flavor.


Traditionally, bitters are used in mixology, but it’s surprising how versatile this ingredient can be in the culinary world. Bitters are essential in many recipes.

Adding booze to food won’t intoxicate anyone since a few drops or dashes won’t be enough to make anyone drunk. They can be added to sauces for added flavor.

A fruitier bitter can be added to desserts like whipped cream, juices, and smoothies to give them a new layer of flavor.

To bring out the best in your recipes, explore how bitters can be used in food to harness their complex flavor.

You just need to be careful about how much you add to your food, as too much can upset the balance of flavors!

Using Drops Vs Splashes Of Bitters

Bitters should be kept to a minimum!

In their natural state, bitters always have a sharp and highly bitter flavor with woodsy, earthy, and other notes (depending on the ingredients).

You should always taste the bitters first or use tried-and-tested bitters when making your favorite drinks.

It is common for inexperienced bartenders to add too much bitters to drinks that would otherwise only need a few drops.

It is also common for mixologists to overpour, especially if they are going for a splash rather than precise drops.

You can easily mess up the balance of a drink when you add a splash of bitters when you place a sample in a dropper and then carefully add it over the drink.

It is common practice to add a splash of Angostura Bitters and a few drops of orange bitters to a Manhattan cocktail.

For a balanced splash, swing the bottle in a pendulum motion, invert it over the glass, and give it a light nudge to release the splash.

The bottle should not be turned over the drink or you might end up adding too much!

Most bartenders use the swinging motion when adding splashes since it’s the most efficient way to get the right amount of bitters into the glass.

How To Make Bitters At Home

Making bitters at home is incredibly easy and you can have complete control over the taste of your cocktails if you make your own batches.

Making a good bitters requires you to keep in mind three elements:

  • The base and liquids are neutral spirits (vodka is also fine) diluted with water.

  • Herbs, fruits, and botanicals are used as flavorings.

  • Herb-based colorants can be used.

Making a great-tasting bitter is as easy as following the components below!

With this recipe, you’ll get sweet, woodsy, nutty, earthy, and bitter flavors that will perfectly complement a range of cocktails and even on their own!

Whenever you make bitters according to the components listed above, you will almost always create an intriguing blend!


Liquids and spirits:

  • Neutral spirit (vodka, Everclear) 200 ml

  • Water, 50 ml


  • Gentian root, 14 tsp

  • Lavender dried 1 tablespoon

  • Dried mango, 12 tsp

  • Coriander seeds, 14 tbsp

  • Sugar, 12 tbsp


  • Three butterfly pea flowers


  1. Set aside the spirit in a mason jar, Tupperware, or other sealable container.

  2. All the flavoring ingredients should now be combined.

    • The ingredients should be gathered on a plate and then added to the high-proof spirit together.

  3. To dilute the mixture, add the butterfly pea flowers and water.

  4. Let the mixture rest for 1-2 weeks after shaking.

    • In this recipe, you can expect a mild blue color due to the butterfly pea flowers after storing for the recommended amount of time.

  5. Keep the mixture cool and dry by straining it into a separate container.

    • The bitter should be stored in a bottle with a dropper so that you can easily add it to drinks.


  • The best thing about this bitters recipe is that it can be customized in a variety of ways. For example, you can add spicy herbs and other ingredients to change the flavor!

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How To Make Bitters At Home

A range of cocktails and even standalone drinks will benefit from this recipe’s sweet, woodsy, nutty, earthy, and bitter flavors.

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Spirits And Liquids:

  • Neutral spirit (vodka, Everclear) 200 ml

  • Water, 50 ml


  • Gentian root, 14 tsp

  • Lavender dried 1 tablespoon

  • Dried mango, 12 tsp

  • Coriander seeds, 14 tbsp

  • Sugar, 12 tbsp


  • Three butterfly pea flowers


  1. Set aside the spirit in a mason jar, Tupperware, or other sealable container.

  2. Now combine all the flavoring ingredients. For best results, combine all the ingredients on a plate and then add to the high-proof spirit.

  3. To dilute the mixture, add the butterfly pea flowers and water.

  4. Give the mixture a good shake and then let it rest for 1–2 weeks. It will change color after one or two weeks. In the case of this recipe, the butterfly pea flowers will impart a mild blue color.

  5. Strain the mixture in a separate container and store it in a cool and dry place. We recommend storing the bitter in a bottle with a dropper – it will be easier to add it to drinks.


The best thing about this bitters recipe is that it can be customized in a variety of ways. For example, you can add spicy herbs and other ingredients to change the flavor!

When you avoid alcohol, can you use bitters?

Is it possible for someone who does not drink alcohol to use bitters? Well, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In spite of the fact that bitters can’t intoxicate, you should still avoid them if you’re abstaining from alcohol. As a matter of fact, all bitters are made with alcohol – it is the driving force behind the extraction of flavors. Some bitters can have an ABV of even higher than 45%, depending on the type of spirit.

In any case, adding a high-proof bitter to any beverage will have hardly any effect on its booziness. If a few drops or a splash are added to a 250 ml beverage, it will not even register or affect the total alcohol content. Hence, most bitters are usually labeled as being non-alcoholic. In theory, bitters can even be added to non-alcoholic drinks without causing a buzz.

To significantly reduce the booziness of any beverage, a considerable amount of bitters would be necessary, which would make the drink undrinkable due to the overpowering (even unpleasant) flavor.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference.

Bitters will, in fact, add a very small amount of alcohol to your drinks, so if you do not drink alcohol at all, you might want to skip them.

People refraining from alcohol in general should not rely on the “non-alcoholic” label on most bitters to intoxicate them or negatively affect their bodies. It’s possible to experiment with different types of bitters to experience a variety of new flavors with just a few drops, but if you’re more flexible, you can add bitters.

Related Questions

Here are some questions we thought you might have related to bitters, the backbone of any tasty cocktail.

Are there non-alcoholic bitters?

We recommend glycerin-based bitters if you want a truly alcohol-free bitters. A zero-proof alternative extracts the flavors from the ingredients using high-quality glycerin instead of alcohol (via infusion). The bitters can be used to flavor any type of beverage, as well as to enhance food recipes!

How long do bitters last?

Due to the high-proof alcohol in bitters, they can last up to 5 years. Once the bitter has been successfully infused, it is strained and stored in a glass bottle. Water is used for dilution and to make the mixture less harsh while the alcohol acts as a preservative.

Despite not requiring refrigeration, you should still keep this bottle away from heat and sunlight. If bitters have been stored for a long time, they can lose their original flavor, so smelling and tasting them before use is always recommended.

Are there any sweet bitters? 

Many bitters are strong and bitter, but some concoctions are aimed at providing a sweeter flavor by using botanicals, herbs, and sugar. With its anise and mint flavors, Peychaud’s Bitters are known to be sweeter than traditional Angostura Bitters.

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