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Doing Bitters In House

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I've scanned the threads about doing bitters. I get on the basic level that you have to release the spirits from bond. We would be making our own spirits for use, not buying NGS. 

I guess my first question is, if I do the right paperwork dance, can I do the bitters physically in the same location, or do I need to find another place? (Aka, rent out a commercial kitchen or something like that). We have our bonded production area, the tasting room/bar, and our dish wash room. Could I carve out a nook of non bonded space? 

On a more local level, our production side is managed by the Department of Agriculture, and the tasting room by the health department. Would the bitters area need a health department certification?

Could you technically call them something more like an Amaro instead of bitters to keep it under the DSP? I can see the FDA herbal concentrations being an issue on that one. 

I know other distilleries are doing this, I just don't know how. And we're operating on our own modest pocket money and a small space, so creative problem solving is a must. (Worst case I'm thinking remote concession trailer?!)

(I often get myself in more trouble by actually trying to do things the proper way....)

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In short, if you want to make 'bitters' that belong to the same class of flavor ingredients as, say angostura, scrappy's, regan's, etc..., the real trick is convincing the TTB and the FDA that what you are making is non-potable flavor, not beverage alcohol. There are a few ways to go about this.

You can make bitters that are considered beverage alcohol, but you then have to sell them the same way you sell your beverage spirits with all the proof gallon taxes, 3 tier system requirements, and similar compliance issues that relate to beverage alcohol sales in the USA.

Generally if you want to make 'non-potable beverage flavorings' that are not considered beverage alcohol, you will need a separate facility from your DSP that is FDA compliant (like a commercial kitchen), and there are lots of hoops to jump through on the FDA side (are your ingredients on the GRAS list? are the concentrations of regulated ingredients compliant with the established thresholds? etc...).  To go this route, i'm 99.9% sure that you would need to transfer your base spirit 'in-bond' from a DSP in small quantities (less than 50 gallons) and submit paperwork that certifies that you are 'denaturing' the spirits with ingredients that make it no longer suitable for use as a 'potable beverage spirit' (bittering agents).

I'm sure that there is a lot of procedural detail I'm missing, but this is my understanding of how it works in general. Anyone that can correct or clarify on any misunderstandings I have is welcome to chime in and help educate me.



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I'll chime ...

                     99.9% leaves a 0,1% chance of being wrong, so ... 

                                                                                                                we have to get a handle on the meaning of terms.

Bitters can be either a beverage product, which you make on DSP premises, or a nonbeverage product, which you cannot make on DSP premises (19.344(b) - " Nonbeverage products on which drawback will be claimed, as provided in 26 U.S.C. 5111-5114, may not be manufactured on bonded premises. Premises used for the manufacture of nonbeverage products on which drawback will be claimed must be separated from bonded premises."  I'll add that if you decided not to claim drawback on the nonbeverage product, which would be economically dumb, you could not use the DSP premises because the manufacturing of nonbeverage products is not an authorized distilled spirits operation.

Next, assuming you would be making a nonbeverage product, you would not be denaturing.  Denaturing makes things poisonous.  A denatured article is not fit for consumption, although some articles can be used in foods (for example formulas 3-A, 23-A, 35-A, an 45 can be used in candy glazes).    But if you are making nonbeverage bitters, you are making a "nonbeverage" product.   

There is no provision for transferring spirits in bond for use in nonbeverage products.  Instead, the DSP proprietor pays taxes on the spirits when it withdraws them from the DSP  to ship to the facility where they will be used to make nonbeverage biters. 

Manufacturers of nonbeverage products are eligible to receive spirits in bulk (see 27 CFR 1.80 and following for the restrictions on bulk sales), so you could remove them in packages of more than one gallon.

When you taspaid spirits to make nonbeverage bitters, you may claim drawback of taxes on the spirits you use to make them.  The amount of the drawback is one dollar less than the tax paid on the spirits when the DSP proprietor withdrew them from the DSP. 

Nothing precludes a person from being both a DSP and a manufacturer of nonbeverage products.  However, the the operations must be "separated" as required by 19.344. 

You could, however, alternate DSP bonded premises for use as a facility for the manufacturing of nonbeverage products.  See Section 19.143(d)(4).

TTB regulates nonbeverage products  under part 17, which you can access through the link on TTB's website:  https://ttb.gov/other/regulations.shtml.

If you question whether a product, as formulated, will be a beverage or a nonbeverage product, contact TTB's formulation section and ask for their advice and comment.  The beverage alcohol lab -  240-264-1665 - and the nonbeverage products laboratory - 240-264-1594 - should be able to provide assistance with that.  

Finally, someone said that GRAS issues pop up with FDA.  Alcoholic beverages are food products and are governed by the same GRAS rules as other foods.  I also suspect, but do not know, that you would have to register, with the FDA, the nonbeverage facility separately from the DSP, which we all know must be registered, right.

The devil in this is in the details.  It will all be governed by specificcircumstance.  I've only given the general rules.  


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  • 3 years later...

Here's the straight dope from the TTB on the matter of making Bitters, with the specialist's contact info at the end.

Here's my original question:
Hello TTB, thank you for always answering our questions! Our DSP UT-20014 (Hammer Spring Distillers) is interested in the process of manufacturing Cocktail Bitters. I know there are different regulations for non-beverage products, and we are under the impression that this is prohibited in our bonded space. Assuming this, we are acquiring the use of a commissary kitchen to mix/blend/bottle, etc. Our question is generally regarding how to transfer the alcohol from the bonded space to the commissary kitchen without a separate DSP for the kitchen? We would like to support our Bitters d.b.a. with our own spirit base, but we don't want to create packaging for it and otherwise sell it retail (listing through the State, etc). I think this is covered under "Industrial manufacturing", but am not familiar with the specifics of it. How is this generally done? I looked for information on this process, but quickly got bogged down in sections of code that were irrelevant to what I was after and/or endlessly circular in nature, etc. Could you give me a link or general description of the process to get us started?

Here's the response:
Hi Mr. Bernier,

Thank you for your question, we’re happy you reached out. TTB may consider a bitters product to be an alcohol beverage or a nonbeverage product, depending on the product’s formula and whether or not it is determined to be fit or unfit for beverage purposes (27 CFR 19.5). According to 27 CFR 19.5(b), ” Bitters, patent medicines, and similar alcoholic preparations that are fit for beverage purposes, although held out as having certain medicinal properties, are also alcoholic beverages. These products are subject to the provisions of this part [part 19] and must be manufactured on the bonded premises of a distilled spirits plant.” TTB will first need to determine whether your bitters product is fit for beverage purposes (and would be treated as an alcohol beverage product) or unfit for beverage purposes (in which case it would be treated as a nonbeverage product). You will need to submit a formula for your product to TTB (Form TTB F 5154.1), which you can do via FONL. For more information on formula issues related to nonbeverage drawback, see TTB’s drawback tutorial on our website. Your product’s formula will be evaluated by TTB’s Nonbeverage Products Lab (NPL) to determine whether it is an eligible nonbeverage product. Manufacturers of nonbeverage products using taxpaid distilled spirits may be eligible for “drawback” of all but $1.00 per proof gallon of the excise tax paid on the distilled spirits they use in the manufacturing products that are unfit for beverage purposes.


If you are a DSP and intend to manufacture a nonbeverage product such as nonbeverage bitters there are a few things to keep in mind. First, if you are producing spirits for an industrial purpose (such as manufacturing a nonbeverage product), then you will need to obtain an operating permit under 27 CFR 19.91 in addition to your exiting beverage DSP permit. I believe you may amend your permit to add industrial operations in Permits Online. As a DSP manufacturing a nonbeverage product, you also need to be aware of 27 CFR 19.344, which states that in order to be eligible for drawback, flavors many not be manufactured on the bonded premises of a DSP. In order to manufacture nonbeverage products eligible for drawback (see definition of “eligible flavors” in 27 CFR 19.1) on your DSP premises you will need to contact the National Revenue Center (NRC) to identify a portion of your non-bonded premises specifically for the manufacture of nonbeverage products (see 27 CFR 19.143(a)(4)). Alternately, you may use a facility that is entirely separate from your DSP premises (such as the commissary kitchen you mentioned in your e-mail) to manufacture the nonbeverage product (this would be the MNBP premises covered under 27 CFR part 17 for TTB’s purposes). As mentioned above, if you are manufacturing nonbeverage bitters, this would have to be done with taxpaid distilled spirits. As far as transferring the alcohol from your DSP to the MNBP premises, the spirits could be withdrawn taxpaid in bulk from your DSP for transfer directly to the MNBP premises (see 27 CFR 1.95) for use to manufacture nonbeverage bitters. As an MNBP you would then file claims for drawback with TTB for the excise tax paid on the spirits used in the manufacture of the bitters.  See 27 CFR part 17 (specifically Subpart G) for more information on how to register as an MNBP and submit claims for drawback.


Please feel free to reach out if you need further clarification.


Best regards,


Christopher A. Forster-Smith, Ph.D.

Regulations Specialist, Regulations and Rulings Division

Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)

Department of the Treasury

1310 G Street NW, Suite 400

Washington DC 20005

Phone: (202) 453-2150

E-mail: christopher.forster-smith@ttb.gov

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