A Visit to the House of Angostura
Visiting the House of Angostura
It’s been said that a bottle of Angostura bitters can outlast most marriages, and yet the company has managed to be quite successful for nearly two hundred years. Of course, rum has had a great deal to do with that success.
Created in Angostura, Venezuela by Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert in 1824, the famous Angostura bitters (originally called Amargo Aromatico) began as a digestive tonic for Simon Bolivar’s army (Siegert was the Surgeon General). The name was later changed by Dr. Siegert’s sons, and in 1875 the company moved to Trinidad where it has thrived ever since.
In 1949, the company built their own rum distillery under the moniker Trinidad Distillers Limited. And while the bitters business has always been good, sales of Angostura rum actually surpassed the sales of bitters in 1964.
Upon arrival at the distillery, we were greeted by Master Distiller John Georges, who was gracious enough to host us. We were fortunate enough to be given a peek into the bitters production facility prior to visiting the distillery, where we learned that there is no angostura bark in the bitters formula. Only a few people at Angostura actually know the recipe, and thus almost no one is allowed into the secret room where the ingredients are weighed.
Once out of the bitters room, we hopped on a tram and took in the sites in style.
Angostura uses molasses and their own yeast strain in a closed fermentation that takes 40-48 hours and finishes out at 5%-9% ABV. Molasses is sourced from Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Costa Rica.
The fermented wash is fed into one of three five-column stills on the site, two of which are typically operated simultaneously. By choosing different average ABVs, operators can produce either a lighter or heavier distillate, which come off the still at 95% and 80-85% respectively.
The spent wash is sent to a brand new on-site anaerobic/aerobic digester that renders problematic substances harmless prior to being discharged to the sanitary sewer.
Angostura can fill as many as 1,000 barrels a day, but typical production numbers are about half that. The company employs several coopers who rework Bourbon barrels to suit their needs.
The majority of Angostura’s barrels come from the Jack Daniels distillery. The coopers do not re-char the barrels, but they are steam sterilized prior to being filled. With 60,000 to 75,000 barrels in storage at any given time, this is clearly a full-time job.
Angostura’s rum goes into the barrel at 60%-70% ABV. The average evaporation rate in the warehouses is 5%-8% at an ambient temperature of 25°-28°C (77°-82°F). Once dumped, the rum is filtered three times (including chill-filtration) and is proofed down with reverse osmosis permeate. Spirit caramel is added to maintain consistent color.
Once the final blend is complete, the rum goes to one of three main bottling lines and then to you.
Upon completion of our tour, we retired to the bar where we were greeted by Chief Mixologist Raymond Edwards and Global Brand Ambassador Daniyel Jones, who treated us to a few classic cocktails and modern classics such as the Trinidad Sour.
Prior to an amazing meal prepared by Angostura’s in-house chefs, Master Distiller John Georges led us on a tasting of the entire Angostura line including the second edition of the curiously named “Number One” line, which spent ten years in American oak, and six years in French oak. The French oak imparted a floral note absent in other Angostura rums; just 15,000 cases will be bottled.
Daniyel Jones then introduced the group to Angostura’s new amaro di Angostura and extolled its virtues as a sippable/mixable cousin of the company’s eponymous bitters. Sales of the new amaro have been brisk, with initial annual sales targets met within the first six months of activation. Not bad at all.
Many thanks to the entire Angostura team for their incredibly gracious hospitality. I’ve never felt so welcome.