Since opening his San Francisco tiki bar Zombie Village earlier this year, Daniel “Doc” Parks has been deploying a secret weapon across a wide range of his cocktails “We call it ‘Vango,’” he says.
An abbreviation for Vanilla-Angostura (or “Ango” in bartender shorthand), Parks infuses a bottle of bitters with a split vanilla bean for several days. The result is a rounder version of the famously complex bitter. “[The vanilla] fattened up the bitter and gave it a little bit of body,” says Parks, who uses the tincture in classics like the Nui Nui, which typically calls for vanilla syrup, and house cocktails like The Vacation, an elaborate mix of rum, pisco and tropical fruit juices. Vango’s sweet-and-spiced profile acts as a unifying thread particularly in tiki drinks, which typically combine multiple spirits and types of citrus. “[It] works wonders to connect all those flavors and make them all one new flavor,” says Parks.
But Parks is not the first to doctor his Angostura to add unexpected dimension to tiki cocktails. Donn Beach, founding father of the tiki movement, famously mixed equal parts anise-flavored Herbsaint with Angostura bitters to create Herbstura, one of his secret weapons that lives on at a number of modern-day tiki bars, from Smuggler’s Cove to False Idol.
Today, however, tiki bars aren’t the only ones amping up their Ango. At New York’s Covina, head bartender David Roth regularly breaks out coffee-infused Ango for a variety of drinks. “The applications for coffee Angostura are many,” says Roth, who steeps fresh-ground coffee beans in the bitters for several days to create a “fresh and vibrant” aroma across an array of cocktails. While the impact of the technique can be felt even in small doses—as in The Mutineer, a rum-based Old-Fashioned variation—the coffee note becomes even more pronounced in drinks like his Il Robusto, a riff on the bitters-heavy Trinidad Sour.
While infusing bitters isn’t difficult, it can take some time. At San Diego’s Hundred Proof, bartender Dylan Duncan McRae allows a full week for whole nutmeg to infuse, multiplying Angostura’s inherent baking spice notes; he uses it in his creamy King Kahlúa, made with a split base of Kahlúa coffee liqueur and VSOP Cognac, enriched with cashew cream. At The NoMad in New York, the house coffee Angostura requires a month of resting to fully integrate the equal parts cold-brew concentrate and Angostura before it can be put to use in drinks like the En Maison, a mixture of Japanese whisky, rye and maple syrup. NoMad’s golden raisin–infused Angostura, however, takes a mere hour to soak up the dried fruit notes. It’s used to accent the Campo Cooler, made with pisco, honey syrup and amontillado sherry.
As with traditional bitters, don’t expect to pick out a singular flavor once an infused version gets mixed into a drink. While Vango might add extra vanilla oomph, it’s still meant to play a supporting role. As Parks explains: “It’s less about identifying everything in the cocktail and more about experiencing a flavor you’ve never had before.”