What are Angostura bitters?

What Are Angostura Bitters?

By Timo Torner / Last updated on November 15, 2022 

Many modern cocktail recipes wouldn't be the same without the complex and aromatic flavors Angostura bitters add to drinks. Learn what they are and how you can use them in drinks.

Cocktail bitters, or bitters, in short, are an amazing instrument often used by bartenders to add complexity to cocktails. And there's one bitters brand more popular than any other- Angostura Bitters.

These bitters were invented in the early 1800s by German Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert while working for the celebrated Venezuelan military leader Simón Bolívar.

But what exactly are Angostura bitters? How do they affect the taste of cocktails, and are there any competitors?

Fact sheet

  • Producer: Angostura Bitters Ltd.
  • Origin: Angostura (now Ciudad Bolivar), Venzuela 
  • Manufactured in: Port of Spain, Trinidad
  • ABV: 44.7%
  • Bottle sizes in ml: 200ml and 473ml
  • Bottle sizes in oz: 6.76 oz and 16 oz
  • Price: $10 (small) - $25 (large)

So, what exactly are Angostura aromatic bitters?

Simply put, Angostura bitters are a strongly alcoholic spirit infused with various ingredients. Their taste is very intense and highly concentrated, so a few drops are enough to enhance or alter the taste of mixed drinks.

Ango bitters are the most popular and also most-used bitters in cocktails. They're part of many classic drinks like the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Pink Gin. They're known for their oversized label and yellow bottle cap and are produced by the House of Angostura in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago.

How do these bitters taste?

The flavor is bitter, herbal, and spicy and carries hints of clove and cinnamon - almost like a Christmas spice mixture. The taste is dominated by notes of clove and cinchona or angostura bark.

The flavors are highly concentrated and accompanied by an alcohol content of 44.7%. All this makes Angostura bitters an unfortunate choice for undiluted consumption.

But using a few drops of this highly concentrated concoction in a cocktail is an entirely different story. The intense aromas will deepen the flavor of your drink perceptibly.

Angostura bitters and the secret recipe

The recipe for Angostura cocktail bitters is said to contain more than 40 ingredients. But it is merely a guess because the formula is an incredibly well-protected secret.

Only five people in the world know the recipe for the Angostura bitters. And to make sure this secret survives, these five made a pact to never fly on the same flight and not eat at the same restaurant simultaneously.

So even in the events of a plane crash, a terror attack, or a gang shooting at a restaurant (how unlikely it may be), the recipe won't be lost.

If this story is true, or if it's just another brilliant marketing stunt, nobody can tell. Only one thing is known for sure: the recipe always was and still is a big secret.

That also shines through in the way the different ingredients are gathered. Obtained in England, each component is packed secretly and sent separately to Trinidad and Tobago. That still is the location of the production of the bitters ever since Dr. Siegert's sons joined the business.

The packages repeatedly pass customs without inspection to keep the secret safe. A huge sign of trust. Probably due to the long tradition and the importance of the Angostura Bitters production for the country.
Once the ingredients arrive in Trinidad, everything is mixed together.

Peychaud's - the main competitor

Besides classic aromatic bitters, new brands develop more fine-tuned infusions like celery -, chocolate -, and orange bitters. 

Yet, Angostura remains the market leader by far. Next in line are Peychaud's bitters. The renowned bitters brand from New Orleans also named their product aromatic, but the taste is very different. 

Both brands are also not what you can call competitors, as you can not really use them interchangeably. In some drinks, Angostura works better, in others, Peychaud's is the best option. It needs a more in-depth comparison, though, to understand when to use which.

Known ingredients

Though the recipe is secret and closely guarded, some things are quite sure to be part of the mix. Some of these ingredients are:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Vegetable extracts
  • Gentian roots
  • Cardamom

The oversized label

The bitters are not only known for their complex taste but also for their visual appearance. The big and oversized label is one of the striking visuals that makes this brand so memorable.

However, it was no brilliant marketing gag, nor was there any practical reason. Instead, it was poor communication, poor planning, and actually a mistake made by the Siegert's sons.

Full label of Angostura bitters

Mixing Angostura bitters in cocktails

One of the first recipes and most popular drinks mixed with Ango bitters is Pink Gin, a combination of Plymouth Gin and said bitters. Later, classics like the Old Fashioned, Vieux Carré, and Manhattan cocktails ensured every bartender had a bottle of Angostura handy.

If you want to try an Angostura bitter-forward cocktail, try a Trinidad Sour. The recipe doesn't use a few drops of Angostura bitters. No, it demands a whopping 1.5 oz. -A flavor bomb that's certainly not for everybody.

More about bitters

FAQs

How much Angostura bitters do I need in a drink?

Usually, a dash or two is enough to add complexity to your drink. But there are some drink recipes that are based on Angostura and use much more. The Trinidad Sour and Angostura Colada are just two of them.

What are Angostura bitters made of?

The bitters are made from a secret recipe that contains 40 different ingredients. Some known components are gentian root, cardamom, citrus fruits, and vegetable extracts.

Do Angostura bitters get you drunk?

They sure do get you drunk. Angostura's aromatic bitters contain 44.7% ABV. That's more than most Vodka, Rum, and Gin.

Are Angostura bitters good for digestion?

Actually, yes. The bitters aid with the production of saliva, which ultimately helps with digestion.

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