Angostura Bitters – And The Oversized Label

Angostura Bitters

A mistake in the creation of the packaging translated into a unique distinguishing feature of Angostura Bitters

When people think of cocktail bitters, they automatically think of Angostura.

Although Angostura is a household name, the brand itself retains an air of mystery. To begin, the bitters recipe has been passed down for generations. The secret blend of spices and herbs that goes into a bottle of Angostura is said to be known by just five people worldwide. They are the only ones who know the formula, so they have agreed to never take a flight together or even dine at the same restaurant again, should anything terrible happen.

The drink was first created in 1824 by Dr Johann Siegert, the surgeon general for Venezuelan military commander Simón Bolivar. It was made from a variety of spices and herbs to settle stomachs. Dr Siegert’s Aromatic Bitters was first created in the city of Angostura, Venezuela (now known as Ciudad Bolivar), thus the name change. Production was relocated to Trinidad, where it remains today.

Angostura has long puzzled cocktail enthusiasts, but the bottle itself is a mystery as well. Consumers have been confused by the brand’s unusually large label for quite some time. There’s an explanation for that: it all started as an accident.

Dr Johann Siegert’s sons Carlos, Luis, and Alfredo took over the company after he died in 1870. The Siegert brothers decided to rebrand and join a competition in the hopes of gaining exposure for their family business. Both the new bottle and label were created by brothers, although one of them was responsible for each. What’s wrong? None of them bothered to ask the other how they should be sized. It was too late to start again when they discovered the label was too big for the bottle, so they entered the competition with the mismatched label and all.

Even though the Siegert brothers didn’t win the competition, one of the judges suggested they preserve the original design. The court opined that this would guarantee that Angostura bitters would always stand out in the market.

That’s exactly what the Siegerts did. Each bottle of Angostura bitters still has a label that is slightly too big and protrudes over the bottle’s rim. This has helped the brand stay distinct, but it has also attracted imitators. Angostura’s enormous label design has been copied by several other brands, like San Francisco Bitters Collection etc. Angostura, which has been around for a while and is perhaps more popular than the other brands, may have had such an impact on the bitters market that customers now equate the whole category with having a big label.

angostura label

Yet, unlike its competitors, Angostura takes use of the additional label space. The labels of Angostura feature information on the company’s history, including Dr Johann Siegert’s signature, a description of the product, its ingredients, and more, all printed in small blue letters and translated into several other languages. 

A bitter experience became sweet!


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