Reading the Angostura Label

by Will on September 12, 2011

Angostura bitters in their natural setting

Angostura bitters are one of the most fundamental components of any bar, crucial as they are to the Manhattan, the Old-Fashioned, the Pink Gin, the Income Tax, and the Hobo’s Delight. I have also made many refreshing sodas using them. They have a distinctive flavor and aroma that add something special to a drink.

They also have a distinctive label, which keeps on going up after the bottle tapers off into a neck. This label is unusually thick with text, which many people probably never bother with. Let’s have a look at it.

Most prominent is the lore that surrounds Angostura’s origins: it was the creation of Dr. J.G.B. Siegert, surgeon general in the army of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator. He concocted it to settle the mal de mer of naval men, as a competitive advantage against the enemy. So the story of Angostura contains both an element of the historical epic and of the banally pharmaceutical.

Having conveyed the romance of the product’s origins to the reader, the label goes on, promoting its use in just about every beverage and comestible you can imagine:

Because of its delightful flavor and aroma [Angostura] has become popular for use in soft drinks, cocktails, and other alcoholic beverages and it imparts an exquisite flavor to soups, cereals, salads, vegetable [sic!], gravies, fish, grapefruit, fresh, stewed or preserved fruits, jellies, sherbets, ice cream, many sauces, puddings, mince pies, apple sauce and all similar desserts*, regulating the quantity according to taste.

It then doubles down on the claim that we should be putting bitters in our every meal, attempting to micro-manage our consumption:


Fruits: For cooked or canned fruits add 2-3 dashes Angostura or flavor to taste.

Salads: Blend 2 0r 3 dashes Angostura with each cup of mayonaise, French, or other dressing.

Pies: Add 4 or 5 dashes per cup of mince meat or pumpkin filling. 1 or 2 dashes to apple or other fruit.

Soups: Add 1 or 2 dashes Angostura to each serving of canned or frozen soups, fish chowder, bisques and chicken soups. Stir in at last minute.

Can they really be serious? Bitters in our salads? In meat pies? In soup?! The first time I happened to read these surprising claims, I happened to have some chicken soup on hand. I followed the label’s advice and added some bitters to it. It pretty much ruined my bowl of soup. On the one hand, you can’t blame them for trying to get people to consume more of their product by using it liberally. On the other, we can perhaps read this as a lagging commentary on how bad food was in the 50s and 60s (the copy has the air of having been written that long ago): perhaps adding bitters couldn’t have made it any worse.

The label contains three languages, none of which is the Spanish that Angostura’s first users probably spoke. Most of the text is in English. There are also two enigmatic seals with German words on them. The bottle also bears the seal of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the second — the Angostura company is based in Trinidad — which includes the national motto of England, “Dieu et mon droit.” Although the English people speak English and have historically loved their freedom, this slogan is in French and means, “God an my right,” where “my right” is the monarch’s absolute right to do whatever he or she wants. History sometimes produces strange results.

If any readers have had positive experiences adding Angostura to items other than cocktails and sodas, please weigh in! I do commend the Angostura people for giving us such a thought-provoking label.

*They think apple sauce is a dessert?! What?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Word_Wrestler September 21, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Ha! That reminds me. I have something for you guys….


Jen September 21, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Ooooh!! Exciting!


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