I just came back from a pre-carnival trip to Trinidad & Tobago (T&T). Loved it. It has been exactly twelve years since we last visited. The twin islands are a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures known for their incredible Carnival fetes, beautiful people, incredibly tasty and diverse cuisine, and also being the birthplace of steel pan, limbo and many musical styles from calypso to soca. Trinidad and Tobago is ground zero to the most revered bitters in the world, Angostura.
My first encounter with Angostura was in my in-laws’ kitchen before they became my in-laws (over 20 years ago). I remember staring at the funny looking bottle with the over-sized, newspaper looking label and wondering what it was. My in-laws are both great cooks, and devoted users of Angostura as a “secret” ingredient in stews, curries, seasonings, cakes, cookies, morning coffee and even as an aid to relieve and upset stomach by adding a few drops to water. You can find other creative ways to use bitters here. The story behind the awkwardly over-sized label is that it was unintentional. The printers got the sizing wrong, and pinched for time, hurriedly use it in a competition. And so the ill-fitting, but highly recognizable label became part of the genius trademarked look of Angostura.
Angostura’s secretly guarded recipe concoction was invented in 1824 as a tonic for stomach ailments, which is commonly the case behind the invention of quite a few alcohol beverages. Alcohol? Does Angostura have alcohol? Yes, 44.7% proof which is higher than a lot of spirits out there. Not even my in-laws, born and raised in T&T, realized that Angostura had alcohol until I told them. Mainly because of its use in small drops. In fact, bitters are classified as alcoholic non-beverage products (‘non-beverage’ meaning not consumed like a typical beverage). They are often available from retailers who do not sell liquor, such as supermarkets.
By 1900, in the midst of the Golden Age of the Cocktail, Angostura was a regularly stocked item in bars across the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. “A cocktail cabinet without Angostura is like a kitchen without salt and pepper.” Richard Godwin. Angostura, is a key ingredient of some to the most well-known and requested mixed cocktails. Its primary flavor profiles of nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon are clearly recognized in classics like the Manhattan, an Old Fashion and a Pink Gin. TV shows like Mad Men have contributed to the revival of classic cocktails which have tremendously increased the popularity of bitters. With so many new comers to the bitters market, it’s remarkable how well Angostura holds up as best in class after almost 200 years in the market.
The Angostura company, has become a multinational company with multiple product lines, mainly alcohol beverages, and distribution in 164 countries. In fact, Angostura houses the most expensive rum in the world, Legacy, with a $25,000 price tag. Regrettably I didn’t get to taste it! But besides Legacy, they also carry other rum collections that are affordable and delicious from white rums to +15 years aged beauties.