The following information may be slightly outdated, but in 2001 I was in closer contact with people at Angostura Ltd. and asked them a series of questions. This was following my visits to their site at the outskirts of Laventille, Trinidad on earlier times.
My contact person was Ms. Giselle Laronde-West, the Communications Manager of Angostura Ltd. (for those who do not know, she happens to also be the 1986 Miss World, and a University of London graduate).
I based my questions on an article published in a US website at the time (no longer found by google at least), written by Mr. Bouchard. I personally noticed some inaccuracies in the article, and wanted to verify the facts. I mentioned on my intent of publishing the answers in a form of an article, just to be totally fair.
Below is a edited summary of the questions and answers:
The very first thing said to me was that there seemed to be a number of fallacies and misundertsandings in Mr. Bouchard's article.
Q: Is Angostura's site the largest single distillery in the Caribbean, or in the English-speaking Caribbean (since Oct. 1999 capacity of rectification of Laventille distillery has been 50 million litres per annum). Mr. Bouchard states that Bacardi has an even bigger plant, but fails to mention where.
A: We are the largest distillery in the English speaking Caribbean. 50 million litres of alcohol per annum is correct. Bacardi's plant is bigger than ours but it is established in Puerto Rico which is not considered part of the English speaking Caribbean.
Q: Please kindly provide me with the name of your master distiller - I seem to have managed to misplace some of my notes which I made during my visit.
A: Our Master blender is in fact Patrick Patel.
Q: Quoting Mr. Bouchard, I wrote "The precise formula of Angostura Bitters is known only by 5 people called "manufacturers". The written formula is kept in London." True?
A: The formula for bitters is known by only 6 persons and the original formula is held in a bank overseas.
Q: Angostura bitters is rum-based, yes?
A: Angostura aromatic bitters is not actually rum-based. Its development process involves the use of alcohol.
Q: When did Angostura start distilling rum first? Mr. Bouchard's article states: "Company chemists in the '20s and '30s decided to make their own rum blends. By the '50s Angostura's Old Oak White and Gold began taking off locally. In 1973, Angostura took over Fernandes, TT's largest rum company, in joint venture with Bacardi, thirsting for deep stocks of aged rum."
I thought that local brand's started already in the 40's..?
A: Angostura started distilling rum in 1947.
Q: Usage of barrels: I understood that Angostura uses exclusively old Bourbon casks (Hogsheads) and have managed to keep a good stock of these (despite of rise in prices of barrels and increase in demand), mainly due to good relations to companies such as Seagrams and Bacardi, with interests in USA.
Mr. Bouchard's article states the following: "Angostura continued to expand those (Fernandes')stocks, aging rum in bourbon, brandy, and sherry barrels.
The old Fernandes company used large barrels to save money on stainless steel vats, but Angostura uses a blend of small-oak barrels of bourbon, brandy, and sherry." Any light you can possibly shine on this issue would be greatly appreciated!
A: Angostura only uses once used charred bourbon barrels from the United States.
Q: Bacardi's involvement with Angostura: I understood that - Bacardi used to own 55% of Angostura's stock until 1998, and then that stock was bought back partly due to an interest by Angostura in developing globally marketing & sales of your own brand products (previously due to Bacardi this was not possible).
Angostura maintains good relations with Bacardi and delivers much bulk rum to them each year for their Bacardi-brand blends. I heard a rumour that the Angostura's locally available "Royal Oak blend" is used as such as part of the Bacardi 8 years old, is this correct?
A: Bacardi owned 45% of Angostura's stock until CL Financial took over the share in 1997. Barcardi is one of our major customers for Bulk Spirits. (No comment on the rumour I mentioned).
Q: Mr. Bouchard writes the following in his article: "Rum aged in barrel picks up color,heightened by caramel, but also unwanted woody flavors that must be filtered and smoothed. Blenders prefer old barrels, which impart no further negative characteristics. Blenders tell you that the maximum benefit of aging in oak tops out after about 6 years, and marketing guys maybe another two, after which losses to negative characteristics and continued evaporation (3 to 9% annually) gain the upper hand.
Today's marketers want to put big numbers on the aging, which means that very old rums are dictated more by marketing than by true advantage."
Any comments please?
A: Blenders prefer once used barrels as they provide the maximum maturation process allowing the rum to be exposed to the free flow of air for the natural chemical process to occur. Newer barrels are better as old ones have little effect.
Q: Quoting from the Bouchard article: "CEO Ian McLachlan explains: "We've seen the cognac and malt whisky influence on age statements; for them it makes a little sense: their spirits are fairly dirty straight off the still, because of the method of distillation, so they do require a long period of maturation to improve.
But most rum produced today does not benefit from excessive periods of maturation. In fact, rums deteriorate in a period much shorter than other spirits. So we're faced with a dichotomy of a market scenario, which places extreme value on an age statement, but is in total opposition to production realities.
And in the Angostura 1824 we're responding with a rum that is in fact not a drop of it less than 12 years old.
(Some of our competitors are making statements that we believe cannot be supported.) But we face the problem of blending a palatable rum that is genuinely old by cleaning it up and passing it through charcoal filters. It hurts us, particularly because we have a very modern, efficient distillery that produces excellent quality rum straight off the still requiring little or no aging."
They're hoping that the trend will swing back to light and medium rums, as the heavy, aromatic rums are not to their taste. They may do a little research with that and other pot stills, even have their blenders play with experimental batches. Who knows? If 1824 makes a splash, the call may go outfor a boutique rum program."
A: We use double filtration and never chill-filtration. And yes, Angostura 1824 is pure, genuine, 12 year old rum only.
Q: How much and what kind of filtration is done to your rum before it is bottled? What about this mention of charcoal-filtering old rums to make them more palatable? Is this in your understanding a common industry practice?
A: Charcoal-filtering of old rums to make them more palatable is common and we do practise this.
Q: Many people, particularly those whose forte' is whisky, make the generalization that anything coming out of a column still is inferior in quality to anything made in pot still. Furthermore, they believe strongly that a column still produces ONLY light, clean and dry spirits, with an alcohol content of up to 96 %. Now it is MY understanding that you can modify the outcome of the spirit from a column still remarkably, so it is ALSO possible to produce heavier, not-unlike potstill spirits easily. True?
A: Both column stills and pot stills can do the same thing when it comes to making rum. It is totally incorrect to say that a column still produces ONLY light, clean and dry spirits. They can also produce heavy flavourable rum.
Q: For the making of Ardbeg 10 year old Islay Single Malt Whisky, Ardbeg used in the blend many different age whiskies, some much older than 10 years, while none of course are younger than 10 years. For the Angostura 1824, no drop going into it is younger than 12 years, I understand. But can you provide any information about is there any older spirits also in there? What are the eldest casks that Angostura has (up to how old is spirit allowed to mature at your bonded warehouses)?
A: The largest number of years we would age our rum is 15 years.
Q: Mr. Bouchard says in his article: "1824 is limited to 60,000 bottles per year. We spent 3 years working on the blend and 6 to 8 months on the package, designed by Klim." Is this information true?
A: Yes we only do 60,000 bottles of Angostura 1824 per year, we spent 3 years on the blend and 6 - 8 months on the package, designed by Klim. It was introduced in 2000.
Q: Does Angostura use a special in-house (own) yeast for fermentation, or is it ( a mix) of some generally available ones? I was surprised to hear how many whisky makers use some industry-standard mixture of readily available yeasts.
A: Yes, Angostura uses our own yeast cultures.
Q: How long is the fermentation on average (or does it vary a lot)? What is the alcohol-content of that "brew" before actual distillation?
A: Fermentation takes an average of 48 hours and the alcohol-content of that brew before actual distillation is 10%.
Q: What is the average evaporation rate of alcohol in Angostura's bonded warehouse barrels? And at what strenght is the rum casked at (I presume NOT directly at the strength it comes out from distillation, yes)?
A: The average evaporation rate of alcohol varies (this is confidential) The rum is casked with 70% alcohol.
Thats about it, hope it makes interesting reading to all.
Other Articles by Mika Jansson:
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Refined Vices Rum Reviews: