Perhaps more remarkable than either the secret recipe or its quirky uses is the way that Angostura Bitters overtook the market.
According to Besson, Angostura Bitters first made its way around the world in little wooden casks that ship's captains bought directly from Seigert as medicine for their crew. After Seigert's death, political upheaval in Venezuela pushed Seigert's sons Don Carlos, Luis and Alfredo to relocate to Trinidad, just eight miles off the Venezuelan coast, in the mid-19th Century. The firm set up a distillery – The House of Angostura – in Port of Spain.
By mid-1800s, Angostura Bitters had been making the world rounds for some decades, exported around the Caribbean, to the United States and to England where the military carried it across the expansive empire. By 1873, Angostura Bitters won a silver medal at the Vienna Exposition, and The House of Angostura had gained warrants to be exclusive purveyors of bitters to the royal houses of Prussia, Spain and England.
Others soon attempted to make copies of the product, but it was the Siegert sons' aggressive enforcement of their patent that shot-putted the little bottle to fame.
"News of their lawsuits to protect their product made it to the financial papers, and in those days, financial papers were really only read by bankers and stockbrokers," said Besson, who found a bill of lading for Bitters to the Titanic while doing his research. "It was a time when officers' and gentlemen's clubs were very popular, and it was these men's interest in the story that brought the Bitters into their social sphere."
Bitters' boost into the upper echelons of society would seal its fate as the premier ingredient for sophisticated cocktail culture, with drinks being developed around its flavours, including the Manhattan at the Manhattan Club in New York City in the 1870s.
Angostura Bitters continued to grip the world's imagination and work itself into culinary history in other ways too. During American Prohibition, Tom Nelsen, the owner of a tavern on tiny Washington Island in Wisconsin, circumvented the law by applying for a pharmacist's license in order to dispense Angostura Bitters, which had retained its medicinal status. Bitters are still considered a medicinal tonic today, which is why, despite being more than 90 proof, it can be sold in grocery stores in the US.