The story of Angostura begins in Germany some 184 years ago when Dr Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a doctor of medicine, left his homeland for Venezuela, to join with Simon Bolivar in his fight against the Spanish throne. In Venezuela he was appointed Surgeon-General of the Military Hospital in the town of Angostura by Bolivar.
After seeing soldiers overcome by severe fevers and internal stomach disorders be began searching for a cure using tropical herbs and plants, finally he discovered ‘a unique blend of herbs’ which he called “Amargo Aromatico” or aromatic bitters in 1824. It proved successful in treating the military and family and friends with similar ailments, but soon, Dr Siegert’s remedy would transcend all expectations and the town of
Angostura was on the banks of the Orinoco River and was therefore an important trading post, with ships from all over the world. Sailors complaining of sea sickness soon learned of the restorative qualities of Dr. Siegert’s remedies and of Angostura aromatic bitters from residents. The bitters became a staple on maritime vessels worldwide and soon Dr. Siegert was encouraged to produce it on a commercial scale. His product, now in demand around the world, prompted him to resign from the Venezuelan army and focus on its manufacture and export. Angostura aromatic bitters was now being exhibited at major cities around the world. Around this time it made the transition from medicinal usage to that of an additive to exotic drinks, giving them an extra special flavour. This broadened the demand and brought considerable wealth to Dr. Seigert. Venezuela’s political instability forced Siegert and family to move to the nearby island of Trinidad where they set up business. By the end of 1960, the Company had expanded production to include alcohol and extended distribution of its products to over 140 countries across the world, becoming well known internationally for its high quality rums in addition to the now world famous Angostura aromatic bitters.
In 1985 Angostura Limited became the first company to be awarded the Humming Bird Gold Medal, for its contribution to industry in Trinidad and Tobago. It is also the holder of a Royal Warrant of appointment to the Queen. The Royal Warrant to provide Angostura aromatic bitters to the Royal household. The distinction is a prestigious one that is granted by royal grace and favour to firms that have achieved excellence and have maintained the highest standard of quality.
Angostura is now the single most widely distributed bar item in the world.
Angostura’s unusual oversized label derives from Trinidad’s laid back philosophy. One day a new batch of labels were ordered and a simple sizing error meant that the labels were a little larger than normal. Rather than fix the problem, which was spotted in good time, they kept the faulty batch of labels, thinking that someone would eventually go about the task of correcting the error. No one did. So when the current supply of labels ran out, they simply attached the oversized labels, thinking that someone would correct the next batch. No one did. Again. And thus was born a trademark that is recognized throughout the world.
A common misconception is that Angostura aromatic bitters contains the bark of the Angostura tree. This is not so. In fact, only five living men know the actual formula. Beyond saying that it contains herbs and spices, the Siegert family has kept the formula for Angostura bitters one of the most guarded secrets in history. About twenty years ago, the ink started to fade on the slip of paper carrying the formula that was deposited in a vault in Barclay’s Bank in New York City. From its hiding place on the island of Trinidad, where Angostura is now made, the only other copy of the formula was extracted.
Behind locked doors, the information was carefully transferred to another sheet of paper, the new copy was cut into four parts and sealed with sealing wax into four separate envelopes.
Individually – and separately – the four parts were sent by registered mail to New York. Each succeeding quarter was dispatched only after the arrival of the preceding one had been confirmed. Unopened, the four sealed envelopes remain in the vault.