The news about the looming shortage of Angostura bitters has yet to provoke a reaction like that of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, in which a panicked citizenry rampaged down the streets screaming. This is mysterious to me since the shortage, unlike the Welles invasion, is apparently real. This crisis has arisen due to changes in Angostura’s ownership, cashflow problems, production stoppages, and whatnot. You can read about it here, here, and here.
This is not the first time an Angostura shortage has threatened civilization as we know it. In 1944, German U-boats targeting cargo ships in the Caribbean and on trans-Atlantic routes led to an Angostura drought throughout Europe. When Ernest Hemingway left Cuba to report on the war, he filled a suitcase with “innumerable two-ounce bottles of Angostura bitters” to address the situation, a humanitarian mission for which Hemingway has not been adequately recognized.
My guess is that panic has been muted to date in part because everyone knows how much Angostua actually still exists in the world in the form of untapped reserves. These reserves include bottles with yellowing labels in the back of your aged parent’s liquor cabinet, others sticking up from behind the spices at your aunt’s house, and the many thousands of bottles (hundreds of thousands?) on college campuses purchased by students who thought it would be cool to drink Manhtattans, but quickly realized their callow taste buds couldn’t yet handle anything more assertive than Bud Light.
Just how big are these reserves?
I have attempted to calculate the amount. Here are the assumptions on which my calculations are based:
- Number of households in US based on US census data: 105 million (Source: U.S. Census figures)
- Percentage of Americans who drink alcohol: 64% (Source: 2006 survey.)
- Percentage of these alcohol-consuming households with a bottle of Angostura bitters on hand: 30% (Source: wild ass guess.)
- Percentage of these with a second bottle of Angostura in another cabinet which they’d forgotten about sometime during the Clinton administration: 10% (Source: wilder ass guess.)
- Bottle size: 4 ounces (Source: my liquor cabinet.)
- Percentage of Angostura bitters remaining in each bottle: 70% (Source: average of the three bottles uncovered in my liquor cabinet, and, no, you can’t have one.)
Factoring all this in, I come up with an Angostura National Reserve of 15.5 million untapped bottles hidden in cabinets and cupboards around the nation.
What we are faced with is simply a matter of logistics, of moving supply to meet demand. An ambitious collection drive would do it, modeled after the scrap metal drives of World War II, which effectively mitigated the steel shortage.
I urge bartenders in the major cities to set up collection bins at their places of employ, and encourage patrons to bring in their old Angostura bottles to help us get through this time of need. Those who participate would be rewarded with a nice Manhattan.
Buck up, drinker.
We can do it.