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Scaffold styles, variables and structure for Bourbon projects.

Bitters helps designers start projects faster by defining a basic set of Sass variables, default element style and project structure. It’s been specifically designed for use within web applications. Bitters should live in your project’s root Sass directory and we encourage you to modify and extend it to meet your design and brand requirements.

Bitters is made to work alongside a CSS reset; not replace one. Our suggested reset is Normalize.

Follow the @bourbonsass Twitter account for updates.


  • Sass 3.4+ or LibSass 3.1+
  • Bourbon 4.2+
  • Ruby 1.9.3+ (required to install Bitters from the command line)


For command line help, visit our wiki page on Bitters’ command line interface.

  1. Install the Bitters gem using the RubyGems package manager:
$ gem install bitters

If you use rbenv, be sure to run rbenv rehash without any errors.

  1. Install Bourbon (required) and Neat (optional).

  2. Install the Bitters library into the current directory by running the following command at the command-line. If you’re using Ruby on Rails, run the command in app/assets/stylesheets:

$ bitters install

A base directory will be generated which contains all of the Bitters files.

  1. Import Bitters after Bourbon in your application.css.scss or main manifest file. All additional stylesheets should be imported below Bitters.
@import "bourbon";
@import "base/base";
  1. When using Neat, uncomment the following line in _base.scss:
@import "grid-settings";

And import Neat after Bitters in your application.css.scss or main manifest file:

@import "bourbon";
@import "base/base";
@import "neat";
// All other imports 

Note: If you are using Bitters and Neat without Ruby on Rails, you need to change the import for neat-helpers inside _grid-settings.scss to "../neat/neat-helpers".

If you want to use Neat functions in Bitters, you can @import "grid-settings"; before Neat, remove @import "grid-settings"; from _base.scss and import the rest of bitters after. For example:

@import "bourbon";
@import "base/grid-settings";
@import "neat";
@import "base/base";
// All other imports 

Using Bitters

Sass structure & default style

The Bitters directory should contain styles for all the basic elements used throughout the project. It also contains directories for custom mixins and extends for your site as well. Add code to the existing files or add new files to the directories. Customize Bitters for your site as you see fit.


This houses all variables that are used, or will be used, in more than one file in your site. Variable names in Bitters that are used outside of the variables file start with $base to indicate that they are the most basic variables.

Grid settings

Variables specifically created for Neat resets and breakpoints. To be used, these need to be imported separately from the rest of your base file above Neat in your main stylesheet. Otherwise just remove the file.


All type is based on $base-font-size which is set to 1em (16px) by default. The spacing around type is based on $base-line-height so as to keep a semi-baseline grid. All sizes are scaled up or down by a factor of 0.25.


All lists have stripped out styles. No bullets, no left padding. To add back the expected browser default styles add @extend %default-ul; or @extend %default-ol; to the <ul> or <ol> respectively.


Adds basic styles all form elements. The variables at the top of the file all inherit from the variables file but make it really easy to be overridden.


Basic style for button and input[type="submit"]. Base button styles can be changed by modifying the styles applied to button and #{$all-button-inputs} in base/_button.scss.


For more information on contributing to Bitters, check out our contributing guide.

The Bourbon family

  • Bourbon: A simple and lightweight mixin library for Sass
  • Neat: A lightweight semantic grid framework for Sass and Bourbon
  • Bitters: Scaffold styles, variables and structure for Bourbon projects
  • Refills: Prepackaged patterns and components built with Bourbon, Neat and Bitters


Copyright © 2013–2015 thoughtbot, inc. Bitters is free software, and may be redistributed under the terms specified in the license.

About thoughtbot

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Bitters is maintained and funded by thoughtbot, inc. The names and logos for thoughtbot are trademarks of thoughtbot, inc.

We love open source software! See our other projects or hire us to design, develop, and grow your product.


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