All the Bitter is the brainchild of husband and wife team and former sommeliers at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, Ian and Carly Blessing! What started as some kitchen experiementation to fill a much-needed hole in the non-alcoholic cocktail making scene turned into a fully fledged company with, quite frankly, some of the best branding in the biz!
We caught up with them and their very busy lives as parents to two humans and one brand and what an amazing chat! Carly and Ian literally put their loving touch on every single bottle that makes it into your drinks. No outsourcing and big facility. When you drink their bitters, you're supporting their dream and a legacy they hope to leave to their kiddos.
Give us the scoop! How did All the Bitter come to be?
After we quit drinking, we got really into non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits. Being able to enjoy the ritual and flavors of the drinks we loved, minus the alcohol, was a game changer. At some point we realized that there were countless NA spirits available, and you could make virtually any cocktail imaginable, but there was a big void in the NA bitters category. Bitters are difficult to perfect, but relatively easy to make, so we started tinkering around in our home kitchen and realized that this was actually something we could do. We took the big leap of starting our own brand and we’re so glad that we did!
Anything else coming out this year?
We’re doing a second small batch release of our Chocolate Mole bitters and Oak Aged New Orleans bitters (500 bottles of each), which will be ready in time for Sober October. They’re both incredible additions to alcohol-free red wine on their own, and together they’re insane. They’re also killer in a Negroni, Boulevardier, Manhattan or Old Fashioned (especially with Mezcal). And the Chocolate bitters are amazing in coffee. After that, we’ve got a Fig & Walnut flavor coming sometime in November that we’re super excited about.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done as a small business owner?
Literally all of it! Deciding one day to ditch the safety and comfort of working for someone else to get into entirely uncharted territory, to create a physical product from scratch and let it loose into the world. From Day 1 until now are the craziest days I’ve ever known. Last week I ordered 500 gallons of vegetable glycerin and 1200 pounds of raw herbs. That was a pretty crazy day, and also totally routine.
What’s your favorite way to drink All the Bitter?
Bitters and soda! We don’t really drink regular water anymore, or even flavored sparkling waters. We’re 100% hooked on our Soda Stream + bitters. The Lavender bitters plus club soda and a squeeze of lemon is amazing. New Orleans in club soda with lime is also great, and Aromatic with lemon or lime.
We know that All the Bitter is a versatile must-have for any NA bar, but what about for someone who's never made cocktails and doesn't know what bitters are?
The best way to think about bitters is like the salt and pepper for your bar. They’re essentially liquid seasoning, used in small amounts to add depth of flavor to your drinks and to balance sweet and sour elements. Certain drinks like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan require them, but almost all drinks can benefit from a dash or two of bitters, just like most food benefits from a pinch of salt. The easiest way to use bitters is simply mixing them with soda water, or adding a few dashes to tonic, ginger beer, coffee, tea, etc. Also, the Aromatic bitters are the best hack for cutting sweetness in NA red wines.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since launching All the Bitter?
As you and Danny know, running a small business with small children is HARD. If someone had told us how insane this would be, how much we’d be working and how little money we’d be making, I think we’d probably still have done it—because it’s incredibly gratifying and ultimately it’s a ton of fun—but it would have been nice to at least get a head's up. I think everyone going into business for themself knows it’s going to be hard, but you’re blind to exactly how difficult it really is. There’s no roadmap, and nobody’s going to do the work for you.
How many bottles have you produced?
At this point, we’ve produced about 50,000 bottles of bitters, starting in January of 2022. That’s 50,000 bottles that Carly and I both took from raw ingredients to finished product, bottled and shipped in-house. Including the liquid inside, I’d say we touch each bottle probably 20 times. (We wash our hands a lot.)
What’s the best and worst feedback you’ve gotten about All the Bitter?
We get all kinds of amazing feedback on the quality of the bitters, and are grateful to have won 25+ awards already, which is incredible, but the best feedback are the emails from people telling us that our product has changed their life (or their dad’s life, or their partner’s life) by allowing them to enjoy great drinks again without the alcohol. We might have hoped for that if we made a beer or spirit, but cocktail bitters? For a relatively esoteric, misunderstood cocktail ingredient, it’s pretty surprising and affirming to get that kind of feedback. Honestly, we don’t get a lot of negative feedback … I think we’ve had 5 complaints total in 50,000 bottles sold. I’m not saying that to brag—I actually wish we’d get more constructive criticism!
What’s the number one question you get asked from customers?
Which bitter should I add to my red wine, and how much? The answer is Aromatic to reds that are too sweet, New Orleans to reds that just need more flavor, or both to cover all your bases. 1-2 full droppers per glass to start, and you can go up to 5-6 full droppers if necessary (which also incidentally adds a ton of texture to wines that can otherwise be pretty thin, thanks to the glycerin base of our bitters). Orange is also wonderful in white and sparkling wines, and the Lavender bitters add a fun floral pop plus calming benefits.
What’s in All the Bitter's future?
In a few months we move from our 450 sq foot space in a shared commercial kitchen to a 3000 sq ft space that’s all our own! We’ve got additional tanks to move in, a bottling line, and employees to hire. We’re looking forward to ramping up production, securing larger national distribution at chain grocery and liquor stores, and adding a few more flavors to the main lineup (like Chocolate).
If you could describe All the Bitter in one word, what would it be?