Not every company can boast of celebrating 195 years of existence. That’s why Angostura celebrated the milestone in style, with a gala dinner and charity auction two Saturdays ago at the Hyatt Regency Port of Spain, featuring some of the most illustrious members of TT high society, from businessmen, politicians and of course, local celebrities, including former Miss Universe Wendy Fitzwilliam and former Miss World Giselle La Ronde-West.
“Angostura brings the spirit of TT to the world,” acting CEO Ian Forbes said in his welcome remarks.
The world-famous Angostura bitters, the cornerstone of the empire, was first concocted in 1824 by German-born doctor, Johann Siegert in the town of Angostura in Venezuela. He was chief physician of South American liberator Simon Bolivar’s troops and noticed the men could use some perking up. He developed the secret recipe for his tonic to do just that. As the wars of independence raged on the continent, Siegert moved his family to Trinidad in 1875. From a shop on Charlotte Street, then to George Street and now 20 acres in Laventille, Angostura – and bitters— has become an icon for TT.
“Angostura has borne witness to the abolition of slavery, two World Wars and men landing on the moon… There is probably no other company in the Caribbean with our history and reach,” chairman Terrence Bharath said.
The company even has a Royal Warrant issued by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the UK (who once toured the factory in the 1950s) — one of the highest stamps of approval a company can achieve.
But as iconic as Angostura already is, Bharath sees it being able to achieve more. “I see a company waiting to burst onto a worldwide stage, with opportunities abroad. The focus must be trained on foreign expansion. I have been approached by companies who want to do business with us and I am ready. I am ready to make us more known out there. I am ready to push this company further afield beyond our shores,” he said.
Now on to the party. Following the tradition when it turned 190 years old, Angostura hosted a charity auction to raise funds to upgrade the playground at the Princess Elizabeth Home for Handicapped Children. Five years ago, the special edition rum up for auction was Legendary, and it sold for $249,000. This year, two prizes were up for grabs – a one-of-a-kind Bunnahabhain 39-year-old single malt whisky, donated by one of Angostura’s international partners, Artisan Spirits. Next was the Infinity rum created by master blender Carol Homer-Caesar and her all-female team, who created a specialty blend, the oldest of which was 23 years old, which she described as deep gold in colour, sweet and spicy with hints of papaya, guava and butterscotch. Befitting such an exceptional rum, Angostura commissioned Aspery of London, jewellers to the Prince of Wales, to create an exquisite crystal decanter.
The whisky went first. Bidding started at $5,000 and bids were welcomed in $1000 minimum increments. While bidding started off initially fierce, as the price climbed, calmed down, forcing Bharath to go on stage to inveigle guests to be more generous, clarifying that each bid went down as a donation rather than the final price, so the winner wouldn’t have to pay the entirety of the final tally. After that things picked up again culminating in a fierce battle between bidders 121 and 258. Eventually, with bids topping out at $102,000, Labib Najjar – number 258— won the first prize of the night.
Then, the Infinity. Again, bidding started off at $5,000 and was off to a slow start. Bharath once again appealed for generosity. The bidding started in earnest around the $75,000 mark, and once again, the battle was between 258 and 121, peppered with individuals adding their $1000 hoping for their chance of glory. But the really showdown was between 121 and 258, with 121’s passion capturing the support of the crowd. Eventually, at $110,000, Noreen Ramdhan – number 121 – claimed her prize.
As successful as the night was – netting $212,000 for the new playground, it did fall short of the last auction’s total.
Speaking briefly to Business Day after, both Najjar and Ramdhan said they definitely plan to drink the goods – and will share with some lucky friends.
Did you know?
The Angostura Distillery can produce up to 168,000 bottles of alcohol per day, with the potential to produce twice that (up to 300,000). The company manufactures 60,000 bottles of bitters a day. The company has 60,000 casks of aged rum in its warehouse ranging from one to 23 years old.