Why The Label On Your Bottle Of Angostura Bitters Is Oversized

Found as frequently behind cocktail bars as salt is used in kitchens, bitters can bring depth and complexity to drinks. And it isn't just cocktails: Angostura bitters can be used in cooking recipes, bringing spice to breads, deepening soups and marinades, balancing out fruit preserves, and boosting non-alcoholic drinks such as hot chocolate and coffee.

The origins of Angostura bitters can be traced back to 1824, when Dr. Johann Siegert made the herby, spicy concoction as a cure for stomach ailments. When Siegert took his family to Trinidad in the 1870s, his sons set out to make the bitters hold more than just medicinal appeal. Their efforts succeeded: As cocktail classics such as the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan rose in fame, so did the Angostura brand.

Whether stocked in your kitchen or tucked behind your home bar, bottles of Angostura bitters are hard to miss. With bright yellow lids and labels that appear ready to fall off, those not in the know might be tempted to leave this product on the shelf. Yet this packaging is part of what has helped Angostura bitters retain appeal across generations of hard-working bartenders and cocktail connoisseurs around the world. 

When mistakes turn out well

While we know a variety of herbs and spices are used to make Angostura's aromatic bitters, those ingredients are used specifically to keep the bitters remains a secret. But we do know a bit more about the quirky label. Evidently, as part of Siegert's sons' mission to promote the Angostura brand, the brothers entered a kind of business competition. One brother was to print labels while the other was to find bottles to package the bitters, and the aim was to wow judges. Before judging began, however, the brothers realized the sizes of the bottles and labels didn't match, and it was much too late in the game to fix the mistake.

Though the brothers lost the competition, their errors helped find favor with one of the judges who recommended that the brothers keep the mismatched combination — the design helped the product stand out. So the next time you mix bitters into your cocktail recipes, you can thank the persistence of the Siegert family for staying the course and keeping Angostura going for centuries.