How often do you use an ingredient without really knowing anything about it? Step forward Angostura Bitters. I'm guilty of this myself. I specified its use in my recent Pink Gin post; I use it now and again in cooking. I've grown to appreciate its aromatic, almost piquant taste. I'm in favour of its deep reddish brown amber colour. But I'll admit to you that- until now- I couldn't tell you anything whatsoever about Angostura Bitters. I wasn't even sure what the stuff is made from.
What is it?
45% Alcohol, Gentian Root, "Vegetable Flavouring Extracts"- whatever that means: the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, with only five people knowing the precise recipe.
What is Gentian Root?
The root of a plant found in Alpine regions. Gentiana verna. It has a blue flower. It also flavours Polish Zoladkowa Gorzka vodka.
Who makes it?
The House of Angostura, Tinidad and Tobago. Founded in 1830 by a German doctor, Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, Surgeon-General in Simon Bolivar's army in Venezuela. He experimented with bitters as a way of helping the digestion and well-being of his troops. "In 1830, Siegert exported his unique aromatic bitters to England and Trinidad. By 1850, he had resigned his commission in the Venezuelan army to concentrate on the manufacture of his bitters, which was enjoying a huge demand. In 1862 the product was exhibited in London, to great approval."
How alcoholic is it?
Very. 44.7% proof.
I've heard a rumour that it contains Angostura Bark?
Angoustura Bitters does not contain Angostura Bark. Instead, it's named after Angostura in Venezula.
Why is the label too big for the bottle?
Nobody really knows. One story points to the laid-back Caribbean attitude. An oversized label was ordered by mistake, and no-one bothered to correct it. The portrait of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria appeared on the label after Angostura won a medal at the 1873 World Fair in Vienna.
Who drinks it?
You're in good company: The King of Prussia, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George V, King Gustav VI Adolph of Sweden and HM The Queen.
Is it good for you?
Perhaps. A remedy for hiccups and an upset stomach, and- just possibly- a cure for hangover.