Have you ever had a Daiquiri or a Mai-Tai? Manhattan or a Mojito? An Old-Fashioned (with rum we hope!) surely? In that case you’ve most likely already been introduced to “Amargo Aromatico” or as it is more commonly known, Angostura Aromatic Bitters.
Although not a rum in itself, the concoction is produced by the House of Angostura, the main producer of rum in Trinidad & Tobago. The origins of the bitters are found further afield however in Venezuela, where in 1824, after four years of experimentation, a German doctor finalised his organic remedy to assist with the digestion, stomach pains and general well-being of the soldiers fighting in the war. Dr. Johan Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert was based in Angostura (renamed Ciudad Bolivar in 1846 after the famous general whose soldiers Siegert was administering his aid and bitters to) and it was there that he perfected his blend of water, ethanol (44.7%), gentian, herbs and spices. Angostura’s own brand bitters do not contain the Angostura bark however some other brands do. That being said, to this day the recipe is a secret known but to a handful of people!
Such was the success of the highly concentrated solution that in 1830, Siegert set up a distillery in Angostura to keep up with demand. In 1875, now a family business under the name Dr. J.G.B. Siegert & Hijos, the entire operation relocated to Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago.
The final name change for the company came in 1992, when Angostura Limited was formed and over the years Siegert’s vision and execution saw the company in its various forms become exclusive purveyors of aromatic bitters to, amongst others, the King of Prussia, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George V and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In 2012 they even produced a limited edition bottle and gift canister to celebrate HM Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee Anniversary.
The bottle is iconic for its dark brown neck, yellow cap and of course its tall paper sleeve that stretches past the shoulders. The smell is rich with spices, cloves and zest. You immediately think of Jamaican spiced cakes and sweet Caribbean chicken. Funny that the first thing the mind goes to is food and not a delicious Old Fashioned poured over a large spherical ice-ball with a twist of orange peel. It is in this cognitive moment that the very essence of Dr. Siegert’s idea all those years comes to the fore: food. Food, nourishment, appetite and digestion. The wonderfully over-sized label even tells us about some of the many, many food items we should be adding the aromatic bitters to such as soups, salads, vegetables, gravies, fish, meat, fruit juices, stewed prunes, jellies, sherbets, ice-creams, sauces for puddings, fruit pies and apple sauce.
Rich in history, rich in flavour and a rich companion of many cocktails around the world, many thankfully that contain rum! Let us know which food and cocktails you like to add your Angostura Aromatic Bitters to!