Sunday, January 10, 2010
One Man's Search for Angostura
As a journalist, products shortages make me suspicious. Sometimes, as with the George Dickel No. 8 Tennessee Whiskey shortage a couple years back, they're real, and you truly can't find the bottle in question. Other times, as with Knob Creek, there's a little hype involved, and the item is not that hard to come by. When I first posted about a potential shortage of one-of-a-kind Angostura, I wondered if New York would truly feel the pinch. If so, I was certain I'd hear about it. Bartenders who are suddenly unable to fill an order for a Manhattan or Old Fashioned are likely to howl about it.
As previously reported by The Guardian back in early November, "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 food blogs picked up on the shortage only this past week with a couple of alarmist posts. So I decided to follow up on the story. I went to local watering hole in Red Hook, where the owner told me he had to go to a friend's bar in Carroll Gardens begging for an extra bottle of Angostura. Was it really that hard to find? "No store between Atlantic Avenue and here has any," he told me.
It set out to investigate. I went to Met Food, Union Market, Stinky NYC, Key Food, Sahadi, Fairway, and several smaller markets. Sure enough, the place on the shelf where Angostura ought to have been was vacant. Store owners—those who knew what Angostura was and what it was used for, that is (outside of the bar world, people don't do a lot of thinking about this product)—seemed surprised they didn't have any, and unaware of any shortage.
OK, so there did actually seem to be a lack of the stuff. I hate not being able to get something I want, so my investigation turned into a mission. Too many cocktail bars in South Brooklyn, I thought. I'll go to some neighborhood where bartenders aren't combing the shelves and buying up the stock. I had to meet a friend for dinner in Morningside Heights, so I aimed for that area. Food Emporium? All out. Garden of Eden? Nertz. I tried about six big markets along Broadway. Then I hit paydirt in a Gristedes around 100th Street! One lonely bottle sitting by intself, all it's brothers having long ago flown the next. I grabbed it and header for checkout.
The girl cashier looked at my only purpose as she scanned it. Twisting up her face into a quizzical expression, she asked, "What's this stuff for?"
If she only knew.