I’m not about to tell the story of some love-lorn doctor from the past, but the story of the famous Angostura aromatic bitters. I have a tiny book which was my father-in-law’s, the ‘Professional Mixing Guide’ which is an instruction booklet for barman from the Siegert family, whose illustrious ancestor created the bitters in the 1820’s. Bitters is an alcoholic herbal ‘preparation’, used for flavouring and for mixing and making cocktails.
No other similar preparation has received as great official and public recognition by royal families and in expositions as has been accorded to Angostura aromatic bitters.
The medical-historical romance description comes in the back of the book when the history of the bitters is recounted:
It is the story of Dr J.G.B. Siegert, a young army surgeon who had achieved marked distinction in the Napoleonic Wars. His longing for adventure led him to Venezuela where, in 1820 he enlisted in the cause of South American independence under the great Liberator, General Simon Bolivar.
Dr Siegert’s talents and experience won immediate recognition and appointment as Surgeon General of the military hospital in Guyana. There he learned that the loss of appetite was the great enemy of soldier and civilian alike. He therefore undertook to evolve a specific which would tend to relieve this condition. After four years of research and experiment with the tropical herbs of his new country, he perfected the formula for ANGOSTURA aromatic bitters.
Known then as Dr Siegert’s Aromatic Bitters, the new product was used with great effect in the hospitals, in his private practice in the town of Angostura, and among his colleagues who soon recognised its merits.
Skippers from northern countries who visited Venezuela found the bitters invaluable, and carried the fame of Dr Siegert’s prescription across the seas to all parts of the world.
As its popularity increased, the doctor changed the name to Angostura bitters after the town in which he lived – not from the bark of the tree as some suppose. There is no angostura bark in Angostura aromatic bitters. The town’s name was changed from Angostura to Ciudad Bolivar in 1846.
To this day the secret of his prescription has never been penetrated, and only the direct descendent of the old army surgeon know the exact ingredients and their proportions.
Long before Dr Siegert’s death in 1870, Angostura aromatic bitters were famous throughout the world as a stomachic, a pick-me-up, and as the important ingredient in innumerable mixed drinks.
Meanwhile, Venezuela had become a difficult country for any industrial enterprise. Incessant revolutions were as unsettling to business as to politics, and in 1875, Dr Siegert’s sons moved to the orderly British West Indies Isle of Trinidad, where the traditions of the founder are still followed by his descendants.
… and that is the romance of Angostura aromatic bitters!