The Bitters That Belongs on Every Mixologist’s Shelf
Invented in Venezuela, made in Trinidad and an ingredient in Australia’s favourite mocktail, Angostura Aromatic Bitters has a place on every mixologist’s shelf.
From Cure to Cocktail
Although Angostura Bitters is the best known, there are many similar herbal liquors. Originally produced to treat digestive disorders, in the 19th century bitters began to add zing to the earliest cocktails. Angostura Bitters was invented in Venezuela in 1824 by a German doctor, Johann Siegert, to treat patients in a military hospital. He formed a partnership with his sons, exhibiting his bitters in London and Europe in the 1860s. The product was first advertised in Australia in 1861.
The Colonial Connection
The ubiquity of Angostura Bitters is linked to British colonialism. Adopted by officers of the Royal Navy as a sea-sickness remedy, it was added to their gin. Pink gin became popular in outposts of the Empire, where a non-alcoholic version made with lemonade was called a Campbell. A variation using ginger ale, ginger beer and a dash of lemon juice was called a Gunner. In the 1930s, lemonade and bitters was touted as a cure for car-sickness.
Soft or Hard?
Lemon, lime and bitters is an Australian invention and virtually unknown anywhere else in the world. It has long been a favourite with non-drinkers and as a ‘grown up drink’ for the kids. However, Angostura Bitters is nearly 45 per cent alcohol. This has led some pubs to refuse to serve lemon, lime and bitters to minors, even though the alcohol content of the whole drink is immeasurably small. The controversy continues.
About That Label
There’s a story that the oversize label started as a mistake, but continued as a point of difference. In any case, it makes space for a wealth of information (in tiny print). There’s the brand history, the British Royal Warrant, Doctor Siegert’s signature, and a whole lot of recipes. It seems you can add Angostura to almost anything, including salad dressings, fruit pies and chicken soup.
Mixing It With the Best
It’s said that you can judge a new cocktail bar’s success by how quickly they need to open a second bottle of Angostura Bitters. A quick search online will net you dozens of cocktail ideas. Among the most famous is the Old Fashioned. Drop two dashes of Angostura onto a sugar cube, muddle with a splash of soda, then top up with bourbon or rye whisky and garnish with a twist of orange peel. Add vermouth and orange bitters and you’ve got a Manhattan. For a Champagne Cocktail, splash a sugar cube with the bitters, drop it into a flute and top up with Champagne.