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Angostura : the only remaining distillery in Trinidad

posted by Lolo February 14, 2015 2 Comments
Visit of the Angostura distillery and interview of John Georges, Master Distillers who has been working for Angustura since 1982.

The story of Angostura ltd

Angostura started in 1824 in the city of Angostura in Venezuela (today called Cuidad Bolivar) with its very worldwide bitters that you probably know : The famous Angostura Bitters – a few dashes of this bitters in a mojito is wonderful – This bitters is used in many cocktails to help to balance the taste of the cocktail. 

Doctor Siegert who was a Medical Doctor, created this bitters first as a medicine against stomach problems, but one of his first concerns was to mask the bitter notes of the medicine, so he added some spices and herbs to improve the flavour. This bitter had a great success, first around the area of Angostura, then all over the country. It is only in 1875 that they decided to move to Trinidad because of the high level of taxes and duties on imported products in Venezuela


How does the bitters company became a rum company ?

Angostura bitter is 44% of alcohol, and this alcohol is distilled from cane sugar, so it was basically a rum… When they arrived in Trinidad, they first bought rum as a raw material to create their bitters, but one day (probably as early as  1877) the son of the founder, Don Carlos, decided to enlarge the company by creating his own rum : called Siegert Bouquet. At this time they bought rums from existing distilleries of Trinindad and only made the ageing and blending. In 1947, the great grandson of the founder, Robert Siegert with Mr Gomez and Thomas Gatcliffe, built the first distillery in Port of Spain. 

Where does come from the identity of Angostura rum? 

1/ 5 columns distillation: This 5 column distillation process allows a continuous distillation (contrary to potstill) and as a result increases the production pace and brings more aromas to the rum. The skills of the pot still distillers is to take only the « good stuff » from the distillation, called “the Heart”, the “heads” of the distillation contains a lot of volatile components as methanol and others that are not desirable components for the flavour of the rum, so this first part is put aside, then comes the heart of the distillation which is the good part and contains all of the aromas of the rum. At the end of the distillation process “the tails”, the nasty components remain and the role of the distillers is to stop the distillation before getting these components.

The 5 column continuous stills operate in the similar way. The columns allow the distiller to remove, on a continuous basis, the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ with greater precision thus making it possible to create light rums as well as  more heavy ones in order to get quite varying rums with different characters necessary for the aging and blending process. 

This important choice of using a 5 columns distillation process was made in 1947 and started to give the signature of Angostura.
2/ Raw material: The raw material is very important in the aroma of the final products even if the components are mostly the same:
It’s like music, you can play the same tune with different instruments, but because it’s different instruments, it will sound different

Molasses is what last after the crystallisation of sugar, it is all about a little dirt of the field, the caramel notes from the sugar burnt in the process… According to John, it is all of these elements which could be considered as dirty components which gives the flavour of the rum based on molasses. 

Angostura imports molasses from different countries: Dominican republic, Mexico, Guyana, even Fiji…

But Molasses is molasses, it does not vary very much from one place to another

 3/ The yeast: The yeast used in the fermentation process is Angostura’s own yeast.  The same strain of yeast that they started with in 1947. 

4/ Ageing and blending: The real strong point of Angostura is the ageing and blending processes. It consists in ageing the rum in old barrels, once-used bourbon barrels imported from the US: according to John, «American oak and rum… perfect match!». All the fresh juice of the barrels ended in the bourbon and only the smooth and subtle elements of the barrels end up in the rum which can then develop its own aromas…


Tasting of the Angostura rums

I had the chance to taste with John the 4 aged Angostura rums, here is the result… and I think my favourite one is the 1824 even if the 1919 was a great experience (lighter maybe better in cocktails)
Angostura 5 years old : 
  • It’s colour is light and could be described as a golden glow and on the surface: a caribbean sunrise highlights
  • Its nosing is firstly dry, not so sweet and as it evolves, you can smell some bananery notes and then you get a little bit of the oakiness of the barrel
  • The taste is pretty light, it warms you and sparkles around your tongue and you get a little bite at the end, as John said:


Rum which does not bite is not rum. Rum has to give a little bite
Angostura 7 years old:
  • Its colour is darker than the 5 years old and could be associated to a brown amber colour
  • On the nose you can smell some chocolate and coconuts smells and little bit of vanilla. Then come the clear oak notes.
  • We would taste the same aromas in mouth plus the wood of the barrel which comes at the end. This rum is more round than the first one due to its age.
According to John, this rum is the perfect one for an apple ginger mojito even if he personally prefers to mix it with soda
Angostura 1919:
This rum is a blend of different rums between 5 and 10 years old. Its name is a tribute to Mr. Fernandez rums. 1919 is the year of the surviving barrel not damaged after the fire of the Fernandez warehouse which occurred in 1932.
  • The colour is close the 5 years old one, a golden colour
  • On the nose, you can smell some vanillery and a little bit of creamy toffee
  • On the taste, this rum is smooth, flavourful and almost creamy.


This one gives you a nice little hug!…
This one is very used by barmen in competition as it is well balanced for cocktails.
One advice from John: try to have it with chocolate or steaks
Angostura 1824: 
This rum is a 12 years old rum, its name comes from the year of creation of the company in Venezuela. This is a medium to heavier rum.
  • Its colour is dark amber, and perfectly matches the topaze colour.
  • On the nose, you can smell fruity notes : raisins, dates, honey and a hint of liquorish. When you get deeper into it, you can smell the tobacco and leather notes.
  • On the taste, first this rum opens up and develops itself in your mouth to warm you up. Then you stay with all of the fruity, liquorish and spices notes on your tongue.
A John said:
After the initial excitement you get this nice long afterglow”.
One advice from John: it goes so well with cigars and fish!
Angostura distillery also produces other brands for local consumption as: 
  • Black label 
  • White oak
  • Puncheon a 75° white rum


The visit of the distillery after some glasses of rums…

After the tasting, John took me along the distillery through the museum, the office – where I met Miss World 1986, Mrs. Giselle Laronde – West who is now in charge of Public Affairs and Communication…-, the area where they produce the Angostura Aromatic Bitters – you cannot imagine how wonderful is the smell of spices… There is a little tightly locked door leading to the laboratory where the secret recipe (mix of spices) can be only made by few directors of the Angostura factory.
Then, still with John, we climbed up the 5-columns (quite a big climb but the view up there is beautiful and gives you the best point of view to see all of the Angostura distillery). 
In the barrels warehouse (imported from the US), I met the cooper in charge of the maintenance of barrels who was using its hoop driver and is hammer for the maintenance of a barrel (don’t ask me more details… )
I went through the fermentation area to reach one of the ageing warehouses where thousands of barrels are stored: lines and lines of Angostura rums barrels from the youngest one to the 12 years old one. This warehouse is particularly cool in comparison with the outdoor temperature.

We ended the tour in the bottling, packaging and labelling lines!

The welcome I received was amazing, I would like to thank so much the Master Distiller, John Georges for my first distillery visit which was a great experience!
Next stop: the Demerara distillery in Guyana!
Thank you very much to Slaney McCaldin for the “english” corrections!

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Flo February 15, 2015 at 12:19 am

Thanks for sharing all those details, seems to have been a very good start to your exciting trip =)

Mignon Olivier February 15, 2015 at 7:25 pm

Great report !
Great experience !
Take care


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