Angostura Bitters were created by Dr. Johann Siegert, surgeon general of the Bolivian army, in 1824 as a health tonic. Dr. Siegert, ever the cunning businessman, set up a family business to create the bitters on a large scale. It wasn’t long before the bitters were being exported to England, and, the English being the English, it wasn’t long before the bitters were being mixed with gin, an early drink known as a Pink Gin.
And then there was the “Cocktail”, a drink was described by the editor of The Balance and Columbian Repository, in the May 13, 1806 edition of the Hudson, New York newspaper as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling.” We now know that drink as an Old Fashioned.
Drinks like the Pink Gin and the Old Fashioned call for only a couple of dashes of the strongly flavored bitters. It doesn’t take much more than that to overpower a cocktail both their potent elixir. In fact, the U.S. government classifies bitters as “non-potable”, meaning that even though they contain alcohol (in the case of Angostura, a whopping 90 proof), they’re not consumable in quantities larger than a couple of said dashes.
But leave it to a New York bartender to come up with a way to change the way we think about bitters. Giuseppe Gonzalez is a good friend of mine, and one of my bartending idols. His take on cocktails can only be described as innovative, but with a keen eye towards—and an incredible amount of respect to classic cocktails.
Giuseppe was the first bartender I learned of who used Angostura bitters as a base spirit. The idea struck me as odd, I’ll admit. Given what I knew about bitters, nobody in their right mind would be caught slipping more than a couple of dashes into a cocktail, much less a whole ounce. But sipping this bright, yet earthy concoction reveals a classic sour tinged with rich, velvety Christmas spices. Orgeat, an almond syrup, pairs beautifully with the whiskey and lemon, and the whole drink is tied together by the big bold flavors found in the Angostura bitters. Trying one always makes me realize that I have a lot to learn.
1 oz. Angostura bitters
1 oz. orgeat
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. 100 proof rye whiskey
Combine ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake until chilled, and strain into a cocktail glass. Skip the garnish, and serve immediately.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.