Back in 2009, I stumbled upon a bitters recipe with two Abbott signatories on the document. Since Abbott’s was one of the most popular bitters before prohibition, it required further investigation. And that led me to present all this research at Tales of the Cocktail 2016. And now here it is for you.
My original goal was to recreate the bitters and hock them to lusty bitter enthusiasts. However, several hurdles made that problematic. One ingredient, canella alba, is endangered in most locations. A company “never to be named” was attempting to protect their modern version of Abbott’s as the one-and-only, and claimed a trademark to the Abbott’s Bitter name. They tried to enforce it, by lobbing cease and desist letters in my direction. I believe the Trademark Office declined their name application but approved the original Abbott’s image. And finally, getting approval in Canada for the bitters was bureaucratically tricky. There is a taste element to the approval process, and this formula was deemed to be not bitter enough. And really, Abbott’s are not that bitter, but as I have always said based on years of research, aromatic bitters are not about the bitterness, they are about the AROMATICS.
Here are some of the first posts on Abbott’s, which will refresh your memory if needed.
Abbott’s Bitter Quest
Last Call for Abbott’s
Since the presentation below doesn’t have an audio track, there are a few important notes:
- Not to impune the dead, but the C.F. Abbott family did several things that didn’t give them a lot of moral authority, specifically how they attempted to steal the Angostura brand from Angostura. There are also several attempts at deception.
- My personal opinion about C.W. Abbott and son C.F. Abbott has skewed negatively. Job Abbott is not included in that assessment.
- All of the Abbotts in the presentation are related, and two even attended Harvard, though a few years apart. Enrollment at Harvard in the 1860s was less than 1000 students. Why is that important? In business, it is often not what you know but who you know, and that is one of the key points of exclusive Universities, the social network you build. It’s the connection that is important.
- Ted Haigh acquired the information about the Abbott family getting the recipe from a “name lost to time” individual waiting at the patent office from the living Abbott family during an interview. I discovered the patent with Job Abbott’s name on it.
- I believe those two pieces of information are connected because if you wanted to hide the formula, which would be usable by anyone 20 years after filing the patent, you’d say it was never patented in an attempt to conceal the patent. Obviously, Google didn’t exist back then, so you would have to do a manual search at the patent office to get the recipe. Abbott’s Bitters was quite successful, and they probably wanted to protect the income stream, plus they tried to copy Angostura for profit, so they perhaps believed others would use the formula and copy them.
- Robert Hess (back in the Drinkboy Forum days) had someone volunteer to run some GC/MS analysis on a sample of the vintage Abbott’s Bitters. Though the analytical method was a bit wonky (80-year-old sample, ran against a database of perfume ingredients), it was useful in the sense that it provided an aroma profile that I could use to match the patent recipe to the vintage sample or at least identify some botanical signatures. It would not be possible to reverse engineer the formula from the GC/MS data, but it could give you a fingerprint.
- Much of the early research on Abbott’s was done by Ted Haigh (Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails), and for this presentation, he graciously allowed me to use his analysis.
There are lots of other research details, and over-time, I may continue to update this post with all the research I’ve stumbled upon. But for now, this is a good start.
Tales of the Cocktail 2016 PowerPoint Presentation
Abbott’s Bitters Presentation [PDF]
The Haubert German Bitters Patent
This is the patent with Job & Ruth Abbott as signatories.
If you have any questions, please feel free to send me a tweet @dsoneil, and I’ll see if I have an answer.