The dark market

Anecdotally cocktail bitters is a buoyant market, but the industry is in the dark as to its size. Hamish Smith looks to shine a light


PONDER A MOMENT upon this: Angostura claims its Aromatic Bitters is the most widely distributed bar product in the world. That’s quite a thing. Even if a bar only needs one bottle to make 200 drinks, it says a lot of the global demand for cocktail bitters.

That stat aside, this is the one global category in which the mainly enlightened drinks industry remains in the dark. Data agencies can’t help us. They tend to group bitters of the Jägermeister and Fernet Branca variety with cocktail bitters. But, as any bartender will tell you, they have vastly different uses. Try shooting Angostura bitters instead of Jägermeister – less a Jägerbomb, more an A-bomb.

Joe Fee, of American bitters brand Fee Brothers, explains that the bitters market, no matter how buoyant, is not the most informed: “To the best of my knowledge there has not been any professional market research done on this. If anyone knows different, I would like to know. I am not sure any of the bitters companies can, or want to, afford such a comprehensive market study.”

Hard evidence or not, there is no doubt a number of brands have achieved meaningful global sales over the years. Angostura was one of the first bitter potions to step out of apothecary into the glass, more than 190 years ago, and has been featuring in recipes from the catacombs of cocktail history to the current day. Right now it is available in 150 markets worldwide, which is a clutch of pariah states short of the full deck.

A spokesperson for Angostura tells us where the brand is performing well now: “North America, the UK and Europe continue to be the strongest markets. Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America will be regions from which we expect a high rate of growth in the future.”


According to IWSR, all that amounts to Angostura sales of 74,000 9-litre cases (in 2014), a 1.2% increase on 2013. That might seem low but it’s a lot of 20cl bottles that sell for about £9 each – we are talking the equivalent of £30-plus for a 70cl bottle, ie super-premium liquid. But Angostura’s spokesperson says market positions don’t really exist in the cocktail bitters category. “In this sector, there is no real distinction between premium and super-premium as in the spirits industry. There is Angostura and then there are competing brands and flavour extensions. This type of product is typically price-inelastic – the drive to purchase is dictated by need and application, not price point.”

Sazerac Company’s Peychaud’s bitters is the second old-timer of the cocktail world, arriving in New Orleans about 150 years ago.

Its evolution into the modern age has been aided by revivals of New Orleans classics the Sazerac and Vieux Carré, which demand its inclusion, but Peychaud’s doesn’t have the global scope of Angostura. It is available in 10 markets (and claims to be the no 2 bitters in the US behind Angostura) but that number is growing, says brand manager Jana Ritter, who adds: “With the continued popularity of cocktails, we are enthusiastic to share a brand with such rich historical roots from New Orleans – a city that blazed the trail in the US cocktail revolution.”