18 January 2010

Photograph via Annie Mole

There is a tragic worldwide shortage of angostura bitters; production came to a halt in June, & is only now being restarted. All of this means that my afternoon vermouth is impeded.

In 1820, Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Seigert left Prussia for Venezuela to fight with Bolivar, & was eventually named Surgeon-General of the military hospital at Angostura. In four years, he’d come up with a tonic of native herbs, citrus & alcohol, amargo aromatico, to cure fever and stomach illnesses. Aromatic bitters were standard stock on trading ships for sea-sickness & other misc. ailments, and are now as vital to cocktails as salt is to cookery.

“Its headquarters today is the House of Angostura, a factory site in the Port of Spain suburb of Laventille. The people who work there call the mixing area “The CIA” because of the secrets it protects. “The Manufacturers,” the only five people in the world to know the formula, keep that formula in their heads. Four of them are directors of the firm and the other is John Gordon Siegert of London, a descendant of the inventor. They never travel together. If one of the five should die, the replacement is selected by the remaining four.

“The company has special government permission to import the herbs and spices in sacks labeled “rice” or “corn” to keep the ingredients secret. To intensify the mystery, the company buys a far greater number of botanicals than they actually need. People speculate anyway. There are guesses such as orange peel and tamarind pulp as the main ingredient. Residues are burnt to prevent identification.” (source)

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