Bartenders from New York to San Francisco are freaking out after a mid-'09 pause in production at the Angostura plant in Trinidad resulted in a pause in bitters export to the U.S. A rumor circulated this week that a strike at the plant was averted, but that story turns out to be incomplete. San Francisco's Neyah White, bar manager at Nopa, learned from his Angostura contacts that bitters were shipped as recently as October and the company is working "as quickly as possible" to make more.
In the Trinidad Express, a company spokesperson said that bitters production should be back on track by late January, but that doesn't mean they'll get into your drink quickly. “You can’t just turn on and off supply of bitters,“ said Patrick Sepe of distributor Angostura USA. “It’s not like producing bottled water it’s a very delicate, intricate process.”
Bartender White worries that the company will rush the latest batch to meet demand, and the quality will suffer. In an e-mail, he filled us in on the backstory:
The investment group that owns Angostura borrowed heavily to purchase a large portion of Wray & Nephew (multinational rum distillers) right when the banking crisis hit. The dollars that they were counting on to roll in were not really flowing and what was coming in wasn't worth as much as it had been. At this same time Trinidad went through a major crime wave, which gave the government license to start nationalizing things. When the Bank of Trinidad was nationalized, the books were a mess and there simply was no money to pay the workers so they walked. This in turned crashed all the companies that supported Angostura and depended on them for business. We kept hearing that the glass maker that supplied bottles got into trouble as well which was another bump."
Currently, BevMo is sold out online, and we've heard of at least one Bay Area bartender who canvassed the city last month in order to hoard whatever stock he could find. In New York, Freemans proprietor William Tigertt reports that distributors are rationing three bottles per account, and he says that friends in New Orleans are also short. Industrious bar folk may at this point want to start calling friends in the fly-over states to buy up and ship whatever they can find.
We predict an aromatic additive drought for at least a couple months. This may be a good time to try out Fee Bros. "second fiddle" equivalent, Old Fashion [sic] Aromatic Bitters. Its cinnamon and allspice notes may be too strong, as Drinkhacker writes, but we must all sacrifice in this difficult time.
Angostura Bitters 4 oz., Sold Out [BevMo]
Panic! Angostura Bitters plant shutdown [William Tigertt's Twitter]
EARLIER: Angostura Shortage Shakes Global Trade [Trinidad & Tobago's Newsday]
Angostura's 'Bitters' Sweet Story [Trinidad Express]
Bartenders Sigh in Relief as Angostura Shortage Is Averted [Grub Street]
Angostura Update [OhGroup]
Fee Brothers Old Fashion Bitters vs. Angostura Bitters [Drink Hacker]