Review – Angostura Bitters
Bitters (or more specifically non-potable bitters) are an essential ingredient in many cocktail recipes, and indeed form one of the four essential components in the traditional definition of a cocktail being spirit, sugar, water and bitters. Despite many historical bitters having fallen by the wayside as events such as prohibition took their toll, Angostura are one example of a product that has most certainly stood the test of time, and remains a likely find in almost every venue from which liquor is served.
First produced by the German Dr Johann Siegert in 1824 in the town of Angostura, Venezuala, the bitters originally being marketed for their restorative properties of medicinal value. The recipe is s closely guarded secret but interestingly does not contain any Angostura bark.
Nose: A generous does of clove sits above a complex base of botanicals and spices that evokes memories of Christmas upon the briefest whiff. Cinnamon, orange peel, cola nut, caramel, and some mysterious floral notes are all present and create a delightful bouquet.
Neat: Most notable is the relative sweetness compared with many other bitters, making these almost potable on their own. Clove is dominant as with the nose, but grapefruit replaces orange on the citrus front and the cola nut comes through rather pleasingly alongside some intriguing but faint smoky notes. Complex and balanced, it is hard to fault these bitters.
Mixing: The length of time the product has been around means that many classic recipes call for them by name, and for good reason as these bitters make for some great cocktails. Also apparent after just a short space of time, is the incredible versatility they offer, with a wide range of spirits and cocktail styles working well in combination. Whilst whiskey based cocktails such as the Manhattan, or Old Fashioned are obvious choices and very tasty, they also partner well with white spirits such as gin in the simple Gin Sour or the more complexOh Cecilie! Much of this versatility comes as a result of the moderate sweetness which balances the bitterness and ensures they do not dominate. The downside is that they can get a little lost in the mix and fans of ‘bittered’ cocktails might find them a little light for some recipes. Such a delicate touch in the bitter department does however offer up the opportunity to use in much greater proportions than one commonly would with aromatic bitters, and the signature Last Dance (recipe below) is a good example of how they might be used as an ingredient in the own right, rather than as a modifier.
Signature Cocktail – Last Dance
8 mint leaves, 0.5oz brown sugar syrup, 1oz lime juice, 0.75oz honey syrup, 2oz London Dry Gin, 10 dash Angostura bitters
Lightly bruise mint in base of highball glass. Add rest ingredients and fill 3/4 full with crushed ice. Churn/swizzle well then top with crushed ice.
Angostura Bitters have survived the test of time for good reason. They are an excellent product that form part of the essential stock of any home bar. The relatively light bitter element makes them both versatile and approachable, meaning they will be enjoyed by enthusiast and newcomer to the cocktail scene alike.
Angostura Bitters are available to buy from Master of Malt.
★: Terrible, only drink for a dare.
★★: Meh, not undrinkable but best left alone.
★★★: Reasonable, middle of the road.
★★★★: Tasty stuff, well worth seeking out.
★★★★★: Incredible, booze doesn’t get better than this. You need a bottle in your life.