Can You (Ever) Use Too Much Angostura Bitters?

“Hey Matt, I think I found a bug in your book,” began a
recent message from my friend, Mike. ”The Trinidadi Issues recipes calls for
1.5 ounces of Angostura bitters…seems like that can’t be right (?)”

I chuckled. Mike wasn’t the first person who’d messaged me
about this recipe, certain they’d found a typo.

If you’ve ever tasted Angostura bitters all by itself, you
know that its intensely flavored, very dry, and quite… well…. Bitter! Pungent,
in fact. Just two dashes in a classic Old Fashioned makes their presence loudly
known.

You may also see some bartenders garnish their crushed-ice
laden cocktails with several healthy dashes to give it a picturesque red
“crown”.  Sure, they might use eight or
ten dashes, but still, such applications come nowhere near using a full 1.5 ounces.

That much Angostura is insane. Or is it?

Seeing how many comments I got about my Angostura-related “typos,”
I reviewed all 100 recipes in my recently released book, Minimalist Tiki, and came across three
recipes that use 1.5 oz of Angostura:

  • Trinidadi issues – Chad Austin
  • You’re Not My Real Trinidad – Kevin Beary
  • Angostura Colada – Zac Overman

A fourth recipe, the Jamaican Spiced Swizzle #3, by Oriol Elias, uses half an ounce — still a substantial amount.

Just one recipe using that much Angostura might be a fluke,
or a stunt. But four recipes indicate a trend. Every bartender listed above is
recognized as being on the cutting edge of modern cocktail trends. To see what
we can learn from them, let’s take a closer look at exactly how that much
Angostura factors into their compositions.

An example is helpful, so let’s use Zac Overman’s Angostura Colada (pictured at the top of page):

  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 2 oz pineapple juice
  • 1.5 oz cream of coconut
  • 1.5 oz Angostura bitters
  • 0.5 oz aged Jamaican overproof rum (Smith & Cross)

Build ingredients in shaker. Shake with crushed ice, pour
into a snifter glass. Fill with fresh crushed ice.

Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg, an orange slice, and
pineapple fronds.

There are important but non-obvious aspects to this recipe
common seen across nearly all Angostura heavy recipes.

First, most or all of the alcoholic content comes from the
Angostura bitters themselves. Surprised? Grab your nearest bottle and check out
the alcohol content: 44.7 percent ABV, or 89.4 proof. That puts them solidly
within the ABV range of most spirits used in cocktails.

In essence Angostura bitter can be considered a very
heavily flavored base spirit
, ala bourbon, Scotch whisky, rum, or tequila.
We shall not speak of vodka here.

However, if you mindlessly substituted Angostura bitters for
the rum in a daiquiri or the tequila in a margarita, you’d immediately spit out
the first sip. The bitter flavors are just too intense in those quantities and
overwhelm everything else.

That brings us to the second non-obvious aspect of
Angostura-heavy drinks; the need to temper the extreme bitterness. To
wrap it up in something that shields your palate from the worst of the bittery
burn.

But how do you accomplish this? The answer is another
ingredient that’s lush, oily or fatty – something that envelopes the bitters’ sharp
edges; a velvet glove so to speak.

In the Angostura Colada, the cream of coconut fulfills
that role. The intense bitterness of the Angostura runs headlong into the
pillowy softness of the rich coconut. Cream of coconut performs the same task
in Kevin Beary’s You’re Not My Real Trinidad, which brings rich, sweet
PX sherry to the table in place of the Jamaican rum in the Angostura Colada.

Now, coconut isn’t everybody’s thing. Luckily, there’s another
common cocktail ingredient that’s up to the task Orgeat. A syrup of French
origin, Orgeat is typically made from almonds or other nuts, giving it an oily,
nutty flavor that also works to temper the Angostura. Orgeat is one of the key
ingredients in the Minimalist Tiki Classic Thirty (see the book) and well worth
having on your bar shelves.

Chad Austin’s Trinidadi Issues from Minimalist Tiki is
one such recipe that takes the orgeat route. Other well-known Angostura/Orgeat
recipes include the Trinidad
Sour
(perhaps the originator of the Angostura heavy trend) and Dominic
Alling’s Port of Spain, which
cleverly brings mezcal to the mix:

Port Of Spain (Dominic Alling)

  • 1 oz Small Hand Foods Orgeat
  • 1.5 oz Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
  • 0.75 oz Lime Juice
  • 0.5 oz Angostura Bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice. Double strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a floating lime wheel.


If you’ve gotten this far and are intrigued by the concept
of using this much Angostura, you still may have a concern: Just how much will
this cost if you’re using an entire bottle of Angostura to make two or three
cocktails?

Chapter Four of Minimalist Tiki (“Creating your Minimalist
Setup”) addresses this concern:

While Angostura is available in four ounce bottles, any serious tikitender
buys them in the sixteen ounce size, cutting the per ounce price in half.
Angostura is also available in a fifty-five-gallon drum, should you go through
an extreme amount.

Purchased in sixteen ounce bottles, Angostura Bitters costs at
the low end around $20 per bottle, or less if you buy several at once. Extrapolating
that cost to a standard 750 ml size, a bottle would cost $32, which is on the
upper end of what most cocktail bars would use for a menu drink, but not cost
prohibitive.

As you can probably guess, I’m a big fan of Angostura
bitters, and enjoy showing off Angostura-heavy recipes to my friends. Hopefully
the above has encouraged you to try them out as well.


For all the recipes listed above, as well as a recipe for vanilla Angostura bitters(“vango”), the Minimalist Tiki Classic Thirty ingredient set, and much, much more, see the book, Minimalist Tiki, available for order on the Minimalist Tiki web site.

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