Behind the Scenes

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Behind the Scenes: Making Angostura Bitters in Trinidad

Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Behind the Scenes: Making Angostura Bitters in Trinidad

[Photographs: Andrew Strenio]

Note from the author: On a recent press trip hosted by the House of Angostura, I visited their distillery in Laventille, Trinidad and Tobago to see how their aromatic bitters and rums are produced.

If you walk into any bar, anywhere in the world, odds are high that you'll be able to count on one thing—a bottle of Angostura Aromatic Bitters ready to season your cocktail.

Angostura began as a medicinal tincture developed in 1824 by Dr. J.G.B. Seigert during his tenure as Surgeon-General for Simón Bolívar's revolutionary troops in Venezuela. Designed to alleviate stomach ailments, the tonic was well received by the troops, and became a staple for local medicinal applications. It remained a primarily local phenomenon until 1854, when Dr. Seigert's sons, Carlos, Alfredo, and Luis, began to expand the distribution of the tonic overseas. It wasn't until they moved production facilities from Venezuela to the island of Trinidad that a new application for the bitters evolved.

All in the Family

The family photo album looked a little different back before photography came of age...That's Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert in the patriarch's spot, with his sons Carlos, Alfredo, and Luis making up the second generation.

Trinidad was then a territory of the British West Indies, and British sailors stationed there began to favor mixing the medicinal bitters in with their navy gin rations to ease their seasickness. Thus was born the pink gin, and it was only a hop, skip, and a jump to the modern cocktail era.

You've likely noticed the bitters' distinctive ill-fitting label—that branding move, it turns out, came about entirely by accident. Rushing to get an order out the door, one of the Seigert brothers ordered the bottles, another ordered labels, and when the time came to line them up they realized the sizes didn't match but decided to ship the product anyway. The error led to an unmistakable product, and they never looked back.

20140302angofront.jpg

A larger-than life model of the Angostura bitters bottle greets visitors to House of Angostura.

The House of Angostura expanded their operations into rum in 1949 with the creation of Trinidad Distillers Limited, and they now have a full range of rums for international distribution, as well as a domestic-only line. The house style is fairly light and sweet, with an emphasis on earthy molasses notes and a clean finish.

Curious about how Angostura bitters and the rums are made? Come join us for a behind the scenes look »

About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films as an independent producer in Brooklyn.

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