Angostura aromatic bitters is a blend of rare tropical herbs and spices that is used to flavour and season a great variety of food dishes and certain alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
The formula was first compounded in 1824 by Dr. Johann Siegert, Surgeon-General in the army of the great liberator of South America, Simón Bolivar. Dr. Seigert's headquarters were in the port of Angostura, Venezuela, a city now known as Ciudad Bolivar. The doctor experimented for four years before finding the exact formula he was after to improve the appetites and well-being of his troops. Sailors putting into the port discovered the bitters and bought bottles to carry away with them. Soon the fame of "Angostura" bitters spread around the world.
Angostura is now the single most widely distributed bar item in 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.