Angostura bitters: The herbal tonic with the oversized label


Angostura bitters has been around for nearly two centuries – you’ll find a bottle in any bar and probably in your own refrigerator. Its oversized blue-and-white label crammed with microscopic printing in various fonts is its distinguishing visual feature. We thought it would be fun to do a little research on this aromatic bitter.

Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a veteran of the Royal Prussian Army in the Napoleonic Wars, joined Simón Bolívar in the revolution for Latin American independence from Spain in 1820. Siegert began experimenting with local plants and herbs in his cures to treat the digestive ailments and tropical diseases of the troops and sailors. He perfected his kräuter tonikum (herbal tonic), and introduced it to market in 1824 as Dr. Siegert’s Amargos Aromaticos (aromatic bitters).

In 1830 Siegert founded a distillery, House of Angostura, and renamed his tonic Angostura bitters. When he died in 1870, he passed the company on to his sons, who moved the distillery to Trinidad, where they continued expanding.

It was around this time a label snafu occurred that was to become their trademark. One of the many theories surrounding the story is that in preparing for a design competition, one of Siegert’s son’s was in charge of the bottle design and the other, the label. Clearly they did not consult on dimensions, and when the mistake was realized too late to make changes, they entered the competition anyway. Though they lost, the judge advised them to stick with the memorable look.

Angostura has become the mother of all bar staples, second only to spirits in creating cocktails. While you may not reach for it the next time you have an upset stomach, your Manhattan or Old Fashioned just wouldn’t be the same without it. Cheers to a bitter, sweet legacy!

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