Dr Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert

I do not really like mixed drinks or cocktails, I prefer beer, or wine, or whisky/whiskey. However, it used to be that at Christmas, occasionally, not always, my dad and I would have a pink gin, and for that reason we always had a bottle of Angostura Bitters. Later I had a Christmas cake recipe which called for the addition of these bitters, and it really enhanced the flavour of the cake… in fact, I must look it up and maybe make it again for this Christmas.

But what is Angostura Bitters… I actually didn’t know until just now when I was looking through my old recipe book collection -or should I say my collection of old recipe books, and came across a very small book 3″ x 5″ so literally a small book, Professional Mixing Guide. I have no idea where I got it from, it may have belonged to my father-in-law, but I have never really looked at it before because I don’t like mixed drinks! However, I was just randomly looking through my books and began to read what was in this tiny volume.

The front page:

The Accredited List of Recognised and Accepted Standard Formulas for Mixed Drinks
Angostura Bitters
(Dr. J.G.B. Siegert & Sons) Ltd.
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, B.W.I.

I don’t know when it was originally published, my little book was in 1951, but the earliest I have come across was 1942, but of course it may have been older than that. On the inside page there is a very sensible motto, not just for bar workers, but people in general: trifles make for perfection – and perfection is no trifle… Nothing to do with the cream, sponge, jelly and custard dessert of course!

In the days when this was written, the person behind the bar was always a man, and there is an address: To the Man Behind the Bar… This compact little book does not presume to tell you how to mix a drink. You, professional barman, know the art of mixing, know its every angle. But it is intended to remind you that the part you play is the most important, the most influential of all in the industry.”

It then gives the barman a little pep talk, boosting his confidence no doubt! The next section on hints and helps – proficiency, courtesy, appearance – (another good motto I would have thought) and include paragraphs on:

  • use good ingredients only
  • the length of time to stir a drink
  • using the correct glassware
  • glassware should be more than clean
  • cocktail glasses
  • Collins glasses
  • beer pipes
  • carbonated water
  • set-ups (pre-made drinks)
  • frosting
  • and Angostura Bitters as ‘one of the most effective helps for the morning-after jitters‘ and ‘as a reconditioner for an abused stomach’

I am onto page seven, and I still haven’t answered my original question, what is Angostura bitters? Well, the answer is, it is a secret! It is  a botanically infused alcoholic mixture, made of water, ethanol, gentian, herbs and spices, originally created as a tonic by Dr Siergert in the 1820’s, and named after the town in Venezuela – it does not contain angostura bark which is used as a medicinal preparation in other things including other bitters. Angostura bitters soon became a favourite added to alcoholic drinks… and so it still does today!


  1. Richard

    I’ve been to the Angosturas Bitters factory when I was on the West Indies guard ship HMS Sirius in 1971. They wouldn’t tell us the recipe either but they did give us each a small bottle of Bitters!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lois

      Oh thank you! I am really tempted to have a go at it – I like the way the author decides he wants it to taste more of clove – which shows you can adjust the flavours if there is a particular spice you’re not so keen on – for me it would be cutting back the cinnamon and upping the mace! I guess i could even drop in a little chilli!


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