While at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, I met Edgar Harden who has a company buying and selling vintage spirits. If you hear a Jay-Z lyric, “drinkin Jim Beam from a bowling pin like they did in ’53,” on his next album you’ll know that he has consulted the Old Spirits Company. I had the opportunity to taste from these old bottles. The product remains generally in tact, while the alcohol diminishes. It tastes like the stuff you tasted when you were 13 and you raided your parents liquor cabinet that contained your mom’s collection of tiny bottles from the airplane. Well, at least that was what it was like for me. Some people buy these to commemorate anniversaries, or some special events. Others buy them because they are collectible and hard to find. Many of the bottles were created for promotional reasons back in the 50s. Bowling was very popular then, and Jim Beam produced this pin shaped bottle, complete with molded plastic top and pouring device. This bottle, complete with original contents will run you £250. Vintage spirits can sell for over $20,000 for 18th century cognacs. Should you start your own collection, make sure to store your spirits in a dark basement, and dark glass bottles will hold up better than the clear ones.
I had the pleasure of attending The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, presented by Saveur yesterday. I came across Angostura Bitters. Angostura is the original and most well recognized bitters brand in the world, and is essential in every home bar. Part of what makes Angostura so recognizable is the label which has a great story. Angostura Bitters were first made in 1824 by Doctor Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, the Surgeon General in Simon Bolivar’s army in Venezuela. Originally used to treat soldiers’ upset stomachs, and hiccups (still works for this) bitters are made through a process of distillation of secret ingredients primarily gentian, a bitter herb. Angostura Bitters have 44% alcohol.As my bartender was shaking me a cocktail, I learned the story of the label. At some point in history Dr. Siegert who ran the distillery in Angostura, Venezuela, (now Ciudad Bolívar) with his brother, ordered the proper sized bottle, while his brother ordered an oversized label. They had ordered so many at the time, they stuck with it. Now, the iconic label and it’s factory are based in Trinidad and Tobago and account for the largest export in Trinidad other than oil.