Gallery: Behind the Scenes: Making Angostura Bitters in Trinidad

Aging Warehouse
  • Spice mill and secrets

    Spice mill

    Angostura is incredibly secretive about the process for creating their aromatic bitters—only 5 people in the world know the full recipe. To keep things secret at the factory, their botanicals and spices are sourced from all over the world and then shipped via London, where they are repackaged into indistinguishable, numbered containers. The blend is prepared in a strictly off-limits room called "the sanctuary" by one of the bitters cognoscenti, and transferred through a chute to this enormous mill, where it is ground to a fine consistency.

    Spice Sieve

    Spice sieve

    The ground spice mixture is sifted through an enormous sieve to remove any small particles which might get over-extracted during steeping.

    The Percolators

    Percolators

    The spices are then loaded into cylindrical canisters which are placed on top of one of several tanks filled with 190 proof sugar-based distillate. The distillate gets cold percolated through the spice mixture for at least 8 hours to extract the right amount of flavoring. The exacting timing is, of course, a secret.

    Mellow out

    stainless steel tanks

    After percolating, the liquid is transferred to enormous stainless steel tanks, mixed with sugar and caramel coloring, and cut down to proof with local spring water. The bitters rest for around 3 months until all of the flavors have fully integrated and mellowed.

    That's a Lot of Bitters

    Bitters in stainless steel tanks

    Once the bitters have mellowed, they get bottled and shipped all around the world—Angostura currently distributes to 165 countries. Think how many little bitters bottles are in this shot... Each tank holds around 45,500 liters!

    Start with the sweet stuff

    molasses

    The rum starts with high quality molasses. There's currently a dearth of acceptable quality molasses produced in Trinidad and Tobago, so Angostura sources its sweet, sticky goop from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guyana, and as far away as Senegal and Fiji.

    Fermentation Tanks

    Fermentation Tanks

    Angostura uses one proprietary strain of yeast to take care of fermentation duty, and they add ammonium sulfate to help increase efficiency. With these techniques, they're able to get to 8% ABV in about 36 to 48 hours.

    Multi-Story Column Stills

    Multi-Story Column Stills

    The stars of the show are the enormous column stills. Standing upwards of five stories tall, they're used to create different distillates which will go on to become a wide variety of Angostura rums. One typical process is a single continuous distillation run through all five stills to produce a clean rum that can be shaped by aging and blending programs. They also make single column distillates and a number of experimental varieties.

    Take a rest, rum!

    Rum in giant steel tun

    Here the White Oak, Angostura's premium unaged rum, rests in giant steel tuns for a few weeks to settle before getting bottled and shipped off to market. However, things aren't so quick for the rest of the family...

    Putting barrels together

    Bourbon barrels

    Angostura ages most of its rum in used bourbon barrels. For ease of transport, the barrels are disassembled before shipping, which means they need to get put back together after arrival. Here a master cooper straightens the hoops before reassembling the staves. Since every cask is unique, and some change size and shape during shipping, he's a full time 3D puzzle solver.

    Aging Warehouse

    Aging Warehouse

    Angostura has several rickhouses, but they all share similar features—most importantly, the precise climate control aided by insulated roofs and hollow brick walls and floors. The spirit typically enters into the barrels around 55-60% ABV and comes out only a few percentage lower, even after many years of aging.

    Master Distiller John Georges is then able to select and blend different barrels to create the final offerings.

    Carnival Bottles

    Carnival Bottles

    Most of Angostura's rum is sent to their standard lines, but when Carnival rolls around, it's easy to celebrate with these festive drummer decanters. Time to get on the road!