- The distinctive slender bottle of bitters, wrapped in a label that fits like an older brother's coat, is as identifiable as the name itself. The colorful story of Angostura aromatic bitters began in Venezuela.
In 1820, Dr. J.G.B. Siegert, a decorated, 24-year-old surgeon from the Napoleonic Wars, followed his heart for adventure and enlisted in the cause of South American independence under the great liberator, General Simon Bolivar. Four years later, as Surgeon General of the military hospital in Venezuela, Dr. Siegert perfected his mixture of tropical herbs, spices, and alcohol to be used as a tonic for the debilitating tropical disorders that faced the European armies in the South American jungles.
Originally known as Dr. Siegert's Aromatic Bitters, the secret blend later took the name of the town on the banks of the Orinoco River where Bolivar headquartered his liberation army. Soldiers and ship crews returning home from South America spread the versatile bitters around the world. Inevitably, the demand for the prescription grew and became sought after as a stomachic, pick-me-up, and an important ingredient in mixed drinks. By 1850, Dr. Siegert left the military to concentrate his efforts on the manufacture of the flavorful elixir.
The revolutionary atmosphere of Venezuela in 1875 persuaded Dr. Siegert's sons to move the family business to the British island of Trinidad. In 1936, Robert W. Siegert, the great grandson of the founder, adopted a scientific approach to manufacturing and quality control Angostura began making its own rum and alcohol to be used in the famous bitters establishing the foundation for expansion.
The formula for Angostura aromatic bitters is one of the most jealously guarded Caribbean secrets I have encountered. What I can tell is that there is no Angostura bark used in the preparation of this world-renowned product.
The Angostura compound on the East Main Road, east of the coconut-processing plant, is hard to miss. The color-coded, five-column still looks more like a petroleum processing plant than a rum factory. Actually, the processes of distilling petroleum and alcohol are quite similar. Angostura buys molasses produced in Trinidad, a major sugar-producing country in the region. After the raw material has passed a laboratory inspection, it is pumped to the fermentation vats behind the still. Utilizing their own proprietary yeast, fermentation is accomplished in twenty-four hours. Only distillate from the first and last of the five columns, varying from 75 to 95% alcohol by volume, is collected to be blended and bottled as rum. The combination of light and heavy distillates allows Angostura to blend a variety of different rums.
From the still, rum is stored in stainless steel vessels before being aged, bottled, or shipped in bulk containers to other bottlers around the world. In the buildings just west of the still, thousands of rum-filled, oak barrels are aging in the tropical climate. Some of this aged rum is sold to other distillers and bottlers to be blended on other islands.
Almost every aspect of the process is monitored by sensors connected to computers that record the measurements in one of the most advanced distilleries in the Eastern Caribbean. The temperature profile, for example, of the fermentation process can warn the distiller of potential problems. An unusual temperature rise may be the result of a lack of cooling water or an indication of a more serious problem with the wash.
In addition to extensive testing of the rum and the ingredients that go into it, the water for blending is also scrutinized in the laboratory. Filtering and demineralization are essential steps in the quality control process at Angostura. After blending, all of the rums are filtered and random samples of the bottled products are tested again before shipment.
Rum is produced here by Trinidad Distillers Limited, a wholly-owned company of Angostura Holdings that manufactures rum for Angostura Bitters Ltd. and Fernandes Distillers (1973) Ltd. In 1973, Angostura Holdings acquired the assets and name of the Fernandes distillery that had been located across the street.
While surveying the local taste for rum, I was surprised how many people told me they only drank either Angostura or Fernandes Rum. Even though all of the rum sold by these two companies comes from the same still, each is a different blend of the various light and heavy rums distilled here. Three rums are bottled here under the Angostura label. Old Oak, the leading rum brand in Trinidad and Tobago, is a light, flavored blend of rums. Bottled at 43% alcohol by volume, this smooth rum is available as Gold, colored with caramel, and White, which as the name implies, is a clear rum. Both of these rums are available in one liter, 750ml, and 375ml bottles.
Royal Oak is the premium blend of the finest rums from the House of Angostura. Slightly colored with caramel for uniformity, this smooth, aged spirit is only bottled in 750ml bottles.
The Fernandes label is one of the most diverse in the islands. Forres Park Puncheon Rum is the strongest, at not less than 75% alcohol by volume. This clear, light rum is also used as a high-proof mixer in punch and cocktails. Remember: "Beware the Puncheon."
Vat 19 is one of the most widely-recognized labels in the Eastern Caribbean. This blend of matured rums has a wide appeal. And like the other colored rums bottled here, the natural color attained during aging is adjusted with caramel.
The slightly more expensive Black Label has a distinctive light character and is usually consumed in cocktails. Like most of the other Fernandes rums, Black Label is bottled at 43% alcohol by volume and is available at most retail outlets in the sister island republic.
Harder to find is White Star, a smooth blend of matured light and heavy-type rums colored with caramel. I have never seen this light-bodied rum outside Trinidad and Tobago. Heavier than either White Star or Vat 19, Ferdi's is the premium blend of very mature, light and heavy-type rums. Fernandes calls this a medium-type rum. The dark, rich color is due to the longer aging time of the blended components. To complete the product line, Crystal White Rum is a very light-type rum and the only clear rum, other than Puncheon, from Fernandes. The final blend, bottled at 43% alcohol by volume, is as clear as water.
All of these rums are bottled in Trinidad, but account for only a small part of the total production. If you arrive by yacht, on the northwest side of the anchorage, you can see several large tanks with a horizontal black stripe painted around the circumference. These bulk alcohol tanks are part of the bulk terminal storage at Chaguaramas. From here rum is shipped around the world.
Angostura has completed a visitor center with public tours of their facility. For information contact them at (868) 623-1841/5.
- There are 9 products in our database distilled by Angostura Ltd.
- Angostura 1824
- Angostura 1919
- Angostura 5 Year Gold Rum
- Angostura Aromatic Bitters
- Angostura Old Oak Gold
- Angostura Old Oak White
- Angostura Reserva 3 year old white rum
- Angostura Royal Oak Select
- Angostura Special Reserve Rum