Angostura Bitters Labels Are Bigger Than The Bottles…Why?

by Libation Staff | Last Updated: May 29, 2021

Are you an Old Fashioned fan? How about just bitters and soda? If you’re making these cocktails at home, likely had your hands on the large Angostura Bitters bottle lately. Cocktails have become all the rage today and pretty much anything that of multiple liquors is dubbed a “cocktail.” However, this wasn’t always the case. The term “cocktail” was coined in 1806 by a newspaper editor to describe a drink made with spirits, sugar, water, and bitters–or an Old Fashioned.

If you’ve ever ordered an Old Fashioned, you know that it can’t be made the old-fashioned way without Angostura Bitters. Sure, you can find all types of bitters on the market now, including vanilla, chocolate, and lavender. But the O.G. and most famous of bitters is definitely Angostura. 

“But, wait,” you’re most likely thinking to yourself, “what is bitters anyway, and why do Angostura bitters bottles have that huge label?”

Luckily for you, you’re in the right place for all things Angostura bitters. I have done the research and not only discovered some interesting facts about this cocktail ingredient but will also answer the age-old question, “Why Angostura Bitters Labels Are Bigger Than The Bottles.”

But First: Time for you to find out what this product is and where it comes from.

What are Angostura Bitters?

Angostura bitters were created in 1824 by Dr. Johann Siegert. There’s a ton of information covered on the official site, but here’s what you need to know. Dr. Siegert was surgeon general for Venezuelan military leader Simon Bolivar and developed the bitters as a medicinal tonic to treat an upset stomach. Originally called Dr. Siegert’s Aromatic Bitters, the blend of botanicals, alcohol, herbs, and spices, would later be renamed after the city of Angostura where it was first created.

Production of Angostura bitters has since moved to Trinidad where it is still in production today.

Why is the Label So Big?

If you’ve never seen a bottle of Angostura bitters, you might be surprised when you see it. Noticeable by its bright yellow cap, you’ll also notice that the label is too big for the bottle. It isn’t a recent mistake, but is instead due to a misunderstanding.

When Dr. Siegert passed away in 1870, his two sons took over the business. They decided to compete in the bitters competition world to showcase the quality of their father’s product. 

For one competition, each brother took over a separate responsibility. One brother was in charge of finding bottles while the other was in charge of creating a new label. However, neither consulted the other and the label ended up being too big for the new bottles. 

It was too late to fix the error for the competition, so they went with it. I’d like to say they won, but the Siegert boys and their bitters did not win. But, all was not lost–a judge told the brothers that the interesting labelling was a great way to market their brand–so the brothers kept the unique labels which are still in use today.

What is in Angostura Bitters?

According to legend, only five people know the exact blend in Angostura bitters. Supposedly, these five have made a pact to never fly together and never eat at the same restaurant in the event that something should happen to them. Nobody is 100% sure if this is fact or just a great marketing scheme, but it does add some additional interest in the mystique of Angostura bitters. 

Other Angostura Bitters Fun Facts

Besides the “bigger-than-the-bottle” labeling and secret pacts, Angostura bitters has some other fun facts to share. 

First, in 1961 a cookbook full of Angostura bitters recipes was released to housewives everywhere. The Secret of Good Taste: The Angostura Cookbook helped home cooks incorporate bitters into everything from bean soup to turkey to pies. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can find a few (expensive) copies online and you can be an Angostura chef in no time!

The second little factoid I found about Angostura bitters is that Wisconsin has the distinction of being the state which sells more Angostura per capita than any other state. Nelson’s Hall and Bitters Club have been selling this brand of bitters by the shot since 1920. It started as a way to skirt Prohibition (Angostura bitters is just a method of settling an upset stomach), but has been kept alive by those who love Angostura. 

Final Thoughts on Angostura Bitters

Many people outside of the bartending world may be unsure what bitters are and what they are used for. Originally a way to settle an upset stomach in the Venezuelan army, Angostura bitters are one of the most popular bitters out there. And rightly so! Between the legends and lore, the strong flavor, and the unique marketing practices, it’s easy to see why the bitters with the large label continues to remain the top and most widely used bitters for the most respected cocktails for centuries.