Friday, November 6, 2009

Don't Be Bitter. Buy Bitters.

There are some things in life that don't expect to have to worry about. The sun will rise. Gravity will keep people and objects safely earthbound. The grocery store will start carrying turkeys sometime after Halloween.

In the bar world, one of the accepted sureties of life is the ready availability and unlimited surplus of Angostura bitters. The little bottles with the oversized wrappers that are essential back bar tools can typically be found in almost any supermarket or deli. You don't have to search high and low. It's the Heinz ketchup of cocktail ingredients.

But, now, the unthinkable is happening. The Guardian reports that the world is in the grips of an Angostura shortage. Bars in England are struggling to keep in a steady supply. The website of Angostura's main UK importer, WB Distribution, says the product is completely sold out. According to the paper, "Trinidad's House of Angostura has blamed a shortage in ingredients and a financial restructuring. The firm is owned by CL Financial, a Caribbean conglomerate hit by a liquidity crisis, prompting an emergency bailout earlier this year by the government of Trinidad and Tobago. Patrick Sepe, chief executive of the US distributor, Angostura USA, said the production line ran dry in June and was only just getting back on track. "There has been a shortage," said Sepe. "You can't just turn on and off supply of bitters. It's not like producing bottled water – it's a very delicate, intricate process." "

The Great Recession hits you everywhere, doesn't it?

Some British bars have turned to the German company, The Bitter Truth, as a substitute.

Once owned by the rum firm Bacardi, the House of Angostura was sold in 1997 to CL Financial. "According to Trinidad's Newsday newspaper, CL leveraged Angostura's profits against a series of acquisitions including a deal to buy control of a Jamaican industrial company, Lascelles deMercado. It was reportedly left with a TT$600m (£57m) hole in its balance sheet."

So far, I have not heard of any bars in New York complaining about the shortage, but I will be asking around.


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