Trinidad and Tobago Become Independent on August 31, 1962


The bill was presented in the House of Commons on July 4, entered the House of Lords on July 9, and received royal assent on August 1. The independence of Trinidad and Tobago took effect on August 31, 1962.   

Though most of the world didn’t notice, in Trinidad and Tobago, the little island country about 11 kilometers off the coast of Venezuela, the people were probably ecstatic. It had been forced into history when Christopher Columbus spotted it on July 31, 1498 and wouldn’t drive its own destiny for 464 years. In that time, it changed hands as a French, Dutch, Spanish, and English colony; it spent a few years as colony of the mighty Duchy of Courland (Latvia). Like many of the Caribbean islands, it became a place of forced production and slavery. Of the 15,020 residents living in Trinidad in 1791, 14,417 were slaves, forcibly immigrated from neighboring islands and India and Africa. Over the years, slaves toiled in 37 sugar factories, 99 cotton factories, and on 40 nutmeg plantations.

It was in the sugar plantations of the Caribbean Islands where workers recognized that the byproduct of sugar refining, a gooey substance called molasses, could be fermented to make alcohol. The result was rum, which in the 17th century achieved a worldwide fame that wouldn’t be matched until someone sliced bread. It became the drink of the North American colonies and the British Navy. In the years leading up to the American Revolution every man, woman, and child drank 14 liters of rum per year, which makes you wonder how America won that revolution. It replaced French Brandy in the Triangle Trade. Rum helped four continents of people forget the fact that they had to drink rum because water would kill them.

But it’s not rum that makes Trinidad and its little cigar-shaped satellite Tobago hammered history. It’s Angostura Bitters. Like many alcohols, Angostura Bitters started out as medicine. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German surgeon general in Simón Bolívar’s army, created the concoction in Venezuela in 1824 to help soldiers deal with digestive issues. The mixture of gentian, herbs, and spices also helped deal with malaria and keep fevers down. At 44.7% alcohol, Angostura Bitters probably also helped them deal with the fact that they were shitting themselves to death in South America. By the end of the 19th century, it was ubiquitous in wooden casks on ships and was the exclusive bitters for the Royal houses of Spain, Prussia, and England. It was awarded the Medal of Excellence at the Vienna World Fair in 1873 (which is why Franz Josef I of Austria is on the label).

Siegert was following a very long tradition. Bitters, medical concoctions consisting of botanical ingredients like aromatic herbs, bark, and roots, had been around since Ancient Egypt. Apothecaries further developed bitters throughout the Middle Ages when distilled alcohol was available and pharmacognosy opened up a whole world of natural and botanical ingredients. Siegert’s Angostura was so beneficial that he made sure that nobody would ever find out the recipe. Though campaigns have been launched to deduce the ingredients, nobody has ever been able to replicate it. Folklore states that only five people know the Angostura recipe at any given time and they’re not allowed to fly together on an airplane, eat the same meal in a restaurant, or answer a cell phone in a Japanese horror film at the same time. Since political unrest caused the Siegert family to move the distillery from Venezuela to Trinidad in the 1870s they have remained keepers of the secret.

Angostura Bitters eventually found its true calling as sort of the wingman of cocktails. It complements cocktails with whiskey, rum, vodka, and gin. During the Golden Age of Cocktails, which arrived a few decades after its invention, mixologists invented the daiquiri, the Manhattan, the Dry Martini, and the Old Fashioned, three of which take bitters. Angostura is also in the Pink Gin, the Long Vodka, the Rock Shandy, and the Pisco Sour. Without Angostura Bitters, our most beloved cocktails might not be the same. And to that, we drink.

But what?

You could throw a dart at a Bartender’s Guide and hit a cocktail with Angostura Bitters. But to celebrate Trinidad’s independence we’re combining the two alcohols that pushed it into world history: Angostura Bitters and rum. We’re going for a cocktail invented at the Queen’s Park Hotel in Trinidad in the 1920s – the Queen’s Park Swizzle.  

Ingredients

  • 2 oz rum
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • .5 oz Demerara Simple Syrup
  • 8 mint leaves
  • 6  – 8 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters

Instructions

In a tall glass, muddle mint leaves in lime juice and simple syrup, then fill glass with crushed (or chipped) ice. Pour rum over the ice and swizzle until glass is ice-cold and frosted. Pack the glass with more ice and top with Angostura Bitters. Garnish with mint. Drink. Then drink again.  

(Nota bene: muddle and swizzle are the two greatest verbs in the English language, so take this opportunity to do them both in one drink. You might not have a muddler, which you use to mix, crush, and juice ingredients, or a swizzle stick which is meant to froth and mix up your cocktail. If you don’t have a muddler, you can use the back end of a wooden spoon and if  you don’t have a swizzle stick you can use a bar spoon, a fork, or your roommate’s toothbrush).

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