header home Backbar Bar Station Recipe Database Month's Feature "Drink-o-pedia" Mixology Contact

Angostura Bitters


Aromatic Bitters


By Robert Plotkin

Trinidad is the southernmost island in the British West Indies chain, and at 2000 square miles in area, is second only to Jamaica in size. The island lies 8 miles off the coast of Venezuela and was once geologically a part of South America. Now a major producer of rum, Trinidad is world renowned for its most famous export, Angostura Aromatic Bitters.

In 1820, a 24-year old, Prussian army surgeon named Dr. J. G. B. Siegert came to South America to enlist in the cause of independence under General Simón Bolívar. Soon after, he was appointed the Surgeon General of the military hospital in the small town of Angostura. There he created a compound using tropical herbs, spices and a base of alcohol as a medicinal tonic to cure the numerous disorders prevalent in the jungles of South America.

The aromatic bitters proved a highly effective remedy and its reputation as a curative rapidly spread. Siegert eventually left the military and turned his complete attention to the production of his bitters. In 1875, the political climate in Venezuela was rapidly deteriorating. Riots and civil unrest caused the Siegert family to move their business to neighboring Trinidad.

Angostura bitters is a concentrated elixir consisting of tropical herbs, spices, gentian root, vegetable flavoring extracts and 44.7% alcohol by volume. While its formula is a closely guarded secret, the bitters do not contain angostura bark and it is conjectured that rum is used as the alcohol base.

The company also produces Angostura Orange Bitters, which is made from a blend of two varieties of bitter orange essence with their distinctive herbs and spices.

Angostura Bitters is a key ingredient in scores of classic drinks ranging from the Pink Gin, Pisco Sour and Champagne Cocktail to the Rum Punch, Old Fashioned and the original Manhattan. Without an ample supply of the famous bitters behind the bar, cocktail production would slow to a mere trickle.