What is Angostura bitters, and why isn’t it sold at liquor stores?
You mean, of course, that little yellow-capped bottle with an enlarged, text-heavy label that, if you own one, is probably resting quietly at the back of your liquor cabinet. With the modern cocktails craze showing no signs of fading, its popularity as a purchase has grown, though few, like yourself, have any idea what to do with it.
First some facts. Angostura is a bitters, which means it’s a boozy mix of herbs, botanicals and spices. It has a recipe so secret that apparently only five people alive know its components (which some might consider a good thing). Tasting like it was aged in an old fisherman’s boot, Angostura’s thick, medicinal goodness is actually not bitter at all, adding a balancing yin to the aggressive yang found in many liquor-forward mixed drinks.
Named for a town in southeastern Venezuela (now called Ciudad Bolívar), its blend was created from local ingredients by Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German serving as surgeon-general in the Venezuelan military, as a tonic for the troops. Taken in small amounts, and heavily diluted with water, it was considered an all-purpose cure-all and surprisingly effective digestive. Siegert began to sell it commercially in 1824 and eventually moved its production to Trinidad.
With advances in modern medicine stealing its thunder, Angostura began promoting its unique attributes to chefs and bartenders. While I don’t know anyone who cooks with it, mixologists are big fans with classic whiskey drinks like the Rob Roy, the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan (among many others) each getting their Angostura on.
Why is it sold in supermarket and not liquor stores? Though it clocks in at 44.7%, Angostura’s dense, herbaceous flavour places it firmly in the “non-consumables” category. Which means you’d have to be off your nut to drink more than the bare minimum in one sitting.