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Wednesday 14 January 2015

Calypso, cricket, bitters and rum; lots of rum

The twin Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago are synonymous with calypso, cricket, carnival and rum. Lots of rum.
And while the local Angostura rums are omnipresent in Port-of-Spain and surrounds, the global rum industry is a highly competitive one. That’s why Angostura works so hard to link imagery of its rums to the magic of the West Indies.

The Angostura distillery in Trinidad
Angostura bitters storage container

The House of Angostura today also owns distillers in the United States, Canada, the Bahamas and Surinam, as well as Cognac house Hine, which it took over in 2003.
Not only does Angostura invite key sales people, distributors and media to Port of Spain each February/March to enjoy the raucous carnival – it also hosts the annual Global Cocktail Challenge, bringing in mixologists from around the world to work with not only rums, but also the company’s even better known product – Angostura aromatic bitters.
While all the Angostura products are now produced in a large distillery in Laventille, a Port of Spain suburb, the brand was actually founded in what was then the town of Angostura, now known as Ciudad Bolivar, in Venezuela.
Dr Johann Gottlieb Siegert, a German doctor, was the surgeon general in Angostura during the war of independence in Venezuela, treating soldiers who fought for Simon Bolivar’s army.
He found gentian root and other herbs gathered locally were effective in treating chronic stomach ailments – and thus Angostura aromatic bitters were created.
The same original recipe from 1824 – and the same blend of herbs and spices – is used today – and it remains a secret, much like the Colonel’s herbs and spices and the make-up of Coca-Cola. The same oversized label, once named as the worst packaging in the world, also remains in place to this day.
Today, bitters are used as a food dressing as well as for adding an extra element to cocktails like the late Queen Mother’s beloved pink gins, Singapore Slings, mojitos and Champagne cocktails among many more.
After the death of Siegert in 1870, his brother and son took over the company and moved it to Trinidad in 1876.
They began producing Siegert's Bouguet Rum infused with bitters and by the turn of the century, the company ventured into the rum market, at first just in bottling bulk rum from other distillers.
After many years of intensive research into fermentation and distillation processes, the company purchased a distillery called Trinidad Distiller's Limited, which was installed with a state-of-the-art distillery in 1945 and named a wholly owned subsidiary of Angostura Limited. This heralded the company's entry into the production of rum on a major scale.
Molasses arrives to make rum 
In 1973, Angostura purchased another well-known Trinidad distillery owned by J.B. Fernandes.
Today the Angostura facility is the largest distillery in the English-speaking Caribbean and notable for the rich molasses aroma that envelopes it. The distillery produces both bitters and around 7-8 million cases of rum a year under a range of different labels. 

Other Trinidad rum brands include Moet Hennessey’s 10 Cane and Zaya, but Angostura dominates the marketplace.
Sign in the Angostura factory
The cultural melting pot of Trinidad, which lies in the southern Caribbean just 12 kilometres off the coast of Venezuela, has an ideal climate for producing world-class rum, a product of ripe sugar cane.
Angostura’s rums are aged in barrel for a minimum of two years – there is no maximum for maturation - and some develop for 10 or more years.
The two Angostura rums currently popular in Australia are the 1919 (named for the year rum producer Fernandes was founded), which is a lighter style rum aged between 5-10 years that is designed for drinking on its own; and the 1824 (a tribute to the year the company was founded), a 12-year-old run with spice and dried fruit characters that is noted for its cleanliness and balance.
Domestically, Angostura’s White Oak white rum is hugely popular.
The thing about rum is that it is so versatile,” says Angostura chief blender John Georges. “You can have so many different experiences; but for me the ultimate is a glass of Angostura 1824 and a fine cigar.”

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