The secret ingredient in many old man cocktails (like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds) has been in short shrift worldwide, and it appears there is no end in sight to the limited availability of the most prominent brand, Angostura Bitters.
The herby, spicy liquid is used to enhance cocktails and is a bartender’s staple. Sometime last summer, production of Angostura Bitters slowed significantly and many bars and restaurants found themselves without bitters for months on end with no explanation as to why:
The reasons are unclear; various sources have attributed the slowdown to the company’s financial problems, a dispute with its bottle supplier and labor strikes in Trinidad.
The Lincoln Journal Starspoke to a local business owner about the bitters shortage:
“We haven’t seen it back here yet,” (Jamie) Tallman said of Angostura, which the shop still gets the occasional request for. “It’s kind of an oddball item. But classic cocktails have come back into vogue; a lot of Bloody Mary recipes call for it. There’s really no substitute for it.”
The bitters shortage, like the financial crisis, sees Manhattan particularly hard hit. A NYC bar owner complained to the Post in January about the bitters crisis in New York:
For legendary New York barkeep Tracy Westmoreland, owner of the defunct Siberia Bar and The Manhattans in Brooklyn, the loss of any kind of drink ingredient is devastating, but none more so than the beloved bitters.
“I believe it is the end of civilization as we know it if we can’t have bitters,” he said. “It’s like when the saber-tooth tiger went extinct. It’s a terrible thing.
“There is no replacement. Trying to replace bitters is like trying to replace mother’s milk.”