The word "cocktail" is tossed around pretty loosely these days, used to describe just about any liquid sum that is greater than its parts. That wasn't always the case. When the term was first coined by a newspaper editor back in 1806, it referred specifically to a beverage comprised of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. Today, we call it an Old Fashioned, and anyone who's ever made one, well, the old-fashioned way, knows it can't be done without Angostura bitters.
But what are Angostura bitters, and how did they earn their place in some of the most classic cocktails on the planet? What's with that label? In the interest of helping you go to the bar smarter, here are five facts worth learning about the best-known bottle of bitters.
Angostura was developed as a cure for upset stomachs.
As is typical in the spirits world, Angostura's place in society pre-dates its spot at the bar. All the way back in 1824, Dr. Johann Siegert—surgeon general for Venezuelan military leader Simón Bolívar—developed the stuff as a medicinal tonic for Bolívar's army. Created from a blend of herbs and spices, it was intended to cure upset stomachs. Originally called Dr. Siegert's Aromatic Bitters, it would later be renamed for the Venezuelan city of Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar) where it was concocted. Operations eventually moved to Trinidad, where it is still produced today.
Angostura Bitters - 16 Ounce Bottle
That label was a mistake.
Besides its bright yellow cap, what really distinguishes a bottle of Angostura bitters is the label: It's too big. As legend goes, once Siegert's sons took over the business from their dad, they set out to market the bitters however they could, which included entering them in a competition. In a scramble to get their product ready for judging, one brother was assigned the task of retrieving bottles, while another went to print labels. Due to a miscommunication or mistake, they ended up with labels too big for their bottles, or bottles too small for their labels. By the time they realized the error, it was too late to correct. Though Angostura lost the competition, a friendly judge suggested the brothers make that label their signature. The advice stuck.
The recipe is a closely guarded secret.
Allegedly, only five people in the entire world know the exact combination of herbs and spices that go into a bottle of Angostura. As the only people with the recipe, they've even made a pact to never fly together or so much as eat together at the same restaurant, should, god forbid, the worst happen, according to VinePair. Guessing how much of this is fact, fiction, or just good marketing is all part of the fun, but it's clear the secret formula is kept close to the chest.
Some people use it as a cooking ingredient.
As anyone who has ever cracked an old cookbook knows, the sixties and seventies were a weird time for food. (Check out this Twitter account for examples.) In 1961, the brand capitalized on some of that weirdness, releasing The Secret of Good Taste: The Angostura Cookbook. From turkey to pies to bean soup, the book suggests a number of ways to incorporate bitters into everyday cooking. Why not?
Wisconsinites drink it by the glass.
There's a bar in the Badger State called Nelsen’s Hall and Bitters Club that serves full shots of Angostura to patrons, a practice that's been kept alive since 1920. It began as a means of skirting the rules of Prohibition—it's simply a medicine for upset stomachs, after all—but as Punch reports, the tradition has lived on, giving Wisconsin the unique distinction of selling more Angostura per capita than any other state.
From: Esquire US