Even non-cocktailians are aware of Angostura bitters, the ubiquitous bottle in bars everywhere with the oversized white label, which bartenders use like salt and pepper in all sorts of drinks. Recently, the Trinidad-based company took a bold step and released a new spirit — Amaro di Angostura. Unlike the brand’s well known orange and namesake Angostura bitters, the Amaro Di Angostura isn’t intended to be used just few dashes at a time. I was intrigued enough to contact Angostura USA’s PR firm and they graciously sent me a bottle to review.
First, consider the name. Per Wikipedia, an amaro is “an Italian herbal liqueur that is commonly drunk as an after-dinner digestif. It usually has a bitter-sweet flavor…” Using amaro in the name is an interesting choice – technically it’s correct usage, but may be confusing to people who don’t realize that amaro is a category of liqueurs, rather than a specific brand.
To truly understand Amaro Di Angostura, it’s first necessary to really grasp the flavor of Angostura bitters. Angostura bitters are typically used in small quantities as part of a cocktail, so many people would be hard pressed to describe the flavor in isolation. Taken straight, the Angostura bitters flavor is very strong and quite bitter (no surprise given the name), with gentian root, cinnamon, clove, and citrus flavors. The exact ingredients are a closely guarded recipe – supposedly only five people know the Angostura secret.
Here’s a fun fact I spring on people: Angostura Bitters are 90 proof, equal to that of your typical rum, gin, or whiskey, so it’s entirely possible to use it as a full-fledged spirit in a cocktail, rather than as an accent. Two house favorites that do exactly that are the TrinidadSour and the Port of Spain, each utilizing up to a 1/2 ounce or more of bitters. (Budget tip: Buy your Angostura bitters in the 16 oz. size. I have several such bottles in reserve at any given moment.) The deep red color of Angostura bitters also adds a wow factor to drinks that feature it in large quantities.
The marketing story of the Amaro Di Angostura unfolds like this: “… [We] combined Angostura® aromatic bitters with neutral spirit and added more spices until a magnificent herbal liqueur was created. The spirit, spices, and bitter herbs were mixed and then left to marry for 3 months.” In short, Amaro Di Angostura is a combination of Angostura bitters, neutral spirits and more spices. Given that the House of Angostura also makes rum, the neutral sprit is likely rum distilled to a very high proof.
When I read this, my wonky senses lit up with questions: While Angostura Bitters are 90 proof, the Amaro di Angostura is 70 proof, so 10 percent less ABV by volume than the bitters. Yet if the description is to be believed, neutral spirits (at close to 190 proof) were added to the mix, presumably to aid in the extraction of flavors from the additional spices. To bring the proof down to 70, water must have been added–something not mentioned. What’s more, Amaro Di Angostura is sweeter than straight Angostura bitters, so some sort of sweetener, e.g. sugar, was likely added. This isn’t to say that Amaro Di Angostura isn’t a pleasure to drink – just that the marketing material likely omits a few things.
As an experiment, I took a half ounce of Angostura bitters and diluted it with enough 1:1 simple syrup to bring it down to 70 proof, equivalent to Amaro Di Angostura. Side-by-side, the sweetness was roughly equivalent, but I found the Amaro Di Angostura to be less harsh. I also enlisted Mrs. Wonk in a blind tasting, and she much preferred the Amaro Di Angostura. The marketing description mentions cinnamon, toasted caramel, liquorice, and chocolate notes. I get the cinnamon and to a much lesser extent the chocolate; Mrs. Wonk noticed the toasted caramel and cinnamon too.
The Amaro Di Angostura is eminently sippable straight. However, with its palate of intense flavors, it begs for use in cocktails. Since Angostura bitters, cinnamon, and sugar are frequently found in Tiki drinks, it was a no-brainer to go that route. And since Angostura makes rum, the choice there was obvious as well. I named the drink after a small island off the coast of Trinidad rumored to have a storied pirate past, including buried treasure.
- 2 oz. Angostura 1919 rum
- 1 oz. Amaro Di Angostura
- 0.5 oz. lime juice
- 0.5 oz. honey syrup (honey and water, 1:1)
Shake with ice, serve in double old-fashioned glass or tiki mug over crushed ice.
The packaging for Amaro Di Angostura is attractive and reasonably classy without going overboard. The slightly ribbed bottle has a hint of elegance, and the bright yellow cap remains true to the yellow cap tradition of the Angostura Bitters bottle. The Amaro Di Angostura retail for around US $25 for a 750 ml bottle. While it’s quite a bit different than your traditional Italian amaro, if you’re a fan of the classic Angostura bitters taste I’d recommend having a bottle on hand.