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There are few ingredients behind the bar that are pound-for-pound more useful than Angostura bitters. Behind its now iconic oversized label, Angostura packs a ton of flavor into its small, yellow-capped bottle. The wide variety of applications for it when mixing cocktails makes it absolutely indispensable. Whether you’re a professional bartender or a home mixologist, Angostura is the one bottle of bitters you absolutely need to have.
Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Used in many classic and modern cocktails.
A little bit goes a long way. One bottle will last a long time.
Only used for seasoning cocktails with rare exceptions.
Aromatic bitters were initially made for medicinal purposes. A combination of herbs, roots and other botanicals were infused in a high-ABV liquor to create an intense, bitter, peppery concoction that was believed to soothe the stomach. In general, bitters tend to be highly concentrated in flavor, so much so that most recipes only call for a few small dashes.
The use of bitters in mixology dates back to the original recipe for the cocktail—which was simply spirits, water, sugar, and bitters.
The actual ingredients used to make the potent, dark red Angostura bitters are a closely guarded secret. But the strong, spice-forward, flavor profile is evocative of the spices commonly grown in the Southern Caribbean, where it’s made today in Trinidad. There are hints of clove, nutmeg, and allspice and possibly a hint of gentian root. But what goes into Angostura bitters is less important than its flavor and its importance in mixing cocktails.
The use of bitters in mixology dates back to the original recipe for the cocktail—which was simply spirits, water, sugar, and bitters. If that sounds like a familiar pairing of ingredients, that’s because it’s what we call an Old Fashioned today. In the early days of the cocktail, there were dozens of popular brands of bitters used by bartenders—and early recipe books call for specific brands of bitters but by the end of the 20th century, Angostura was pretty much the only bottle of bitters used. While other styles of bitters have grown in popularity since the onset of the craft cocktail movement, Angostura is still the most visible and widely used bitters brand.
A few dashes of Angostura turn what would just be sweetened, diluted whiskey into a complex, sophisticated drink.
Out of all of the classic cocktails that use Angostura bitters, the whiskey Old Fashioned is definitely the recipe where bitters shine the brightest. A few dashes of Angostura turn what would just be sweetened, diluted whiskey into a complex, sophisticated drink. But the list of cocktail recipes that call for bitters is virtually endless. Other beloved classics, like the Manhattan, Vieux Carré, and the Martinez, also call for aromatic bitters.
Angostura is commonly used in tropical and tiki-style cocktails to add a punch of spice to balance the normally sweet, fruit-forward libations. Don the Beachcomber’s beloved classic, the Zombie, called for Angostura bitters. One of my personal favorites, the Queen’s Park Swizzle, is topped with a few dashes of Angostura, adding an intense spice aroma to complement the mint and lime as well as a bright red contrast to the muddled mint. Angostura bitters can even be used as the primary spirit, like in the Trinidad Sour.
If you’re going to make cocktails at home, you need bitters. And if you’re going to pick up a bottle, Angostura should be your first choice. It will provide you the ability to make a huge variety of drinks that range from the dawn of the cocktail all the way up through modern classics.
Region: Trinidad and Tobago | ABV: 44.7% | Capacity: 4 oz. and 6.7 oz.
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Dylan Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based writer who specializes in spirits, cocktails, and coffee with hands-on experience visiting distilleries and bars all through the US, Europe, Mexico, and the Caribbean. He is also a long-time hospitality professional with experience tending bar, opening cafes, and working in specialty coffee.