Abbott's Bitters

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The Abbott's Story

by Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh

Cornelius Webster Abbott, the namesake of Abbott's Bitters, and the founder, president, and owner of C.W. Abbott Company. had no thought of producing bitters initially, according to the oft-told story recalled by his family and business associates. Such an idea, they say, never occurred to him.

Sometime, however, between the 1865 founding of the company and 1872, C.W. sent his father, who was working for him as a bookkeeper, from Baltimore the short distance to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in Washington D.C. on company-related business.

Sitting next to C.W.'s father in the waiting room was a gentleman whose name is lost to history. This man had been waiting there for days in hopes to patent his formula, a bitters recipe. Upon the elder Abbott's return, C.W. and he discussed this fellow and decided to buy the recipe - which they did. That is how, they say, Abbott's Bitters came to be.

C.W. Abbott had three sons, the eldest John, the second C.W., Jr., and the youngest, C. Frederick Abbott. Under C.W. Senior, C. Frederick oversaw the bitters production. The company incorporated in 1907 but remained closely held. It seems that Prohibition did not kill Abbott's Bitters, as we see from a 1921 legal opinion from the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Nevada. In this opinion, while regulation of Abbott's was deemed beyond the jurisdiction of the Office, this observation WAS made: "It may be that Abbott’s Bitters may be sold through the drug trade, but we doubt very much if the same may lawfully be sold through the grocery trade."

C.W. Senior died in 1932 and the company went to the sons. John ran the company until his death in 1934. In 1935 the Abbott family sold the rights to the name and the bitters to a Baltimore industrialist named Samuel H. Hoffberger who retained both the name of the company, C.W. Abbott & Co., Inc., and C.W. Jr. as vice president in charge of sales & marketing. They produced Abbott's Bitters exclusively from the old company offices and factory at 204-206 S. Charles Street in Baltimore through at least 1946. The factory had four floors with the offices and packing rooms on the first floor. The second floor was where the Abbott's Bitters bottling was done, and the son of John, C. Webster Abbott of J, so-called, remembered "driving the corks in (the bottles) with a big hammer" as a boy. Also on the second floor and all of the third floor were the giant oak vats in which Abbott's bitters were made and aged. Sometime in 1948 or 1949 the entire plant burned, and the company moved to 4201 Pulaski Highway where it continued operations until at least 1954. By 1956, the Baltimore City Directory no longer listed any C.W. Abbott Co. at any address.

Hoffberger died in 1961. The Abbott's brand was sold or transferred to another company owned by the Hoffbergers in the 60s or 70s: National Brewing Company -- or one of its subsidiaries (Interhost-Laco). National was run by Gerald Hoffberger, one of Samuel's sons, until it was sold to Carling in 1975, but not apparently with the Abbott's brand as far as LeRoy Hoffberger, Samuel's nephew - now 77, could tell. He observed that Carling had no interest in bitters. There is no evidence of Abbott's Bitters being actually produced after the 1950s. LeRoy Hoffberger made clear that if there were, it was in minute quantities. There seemed no interest in Abbott's Bitters by this point.

The original recipe, like its author now appears lost to history, though 1940s bottlings hint at some of the ingredients. "Extract of Gentian, Cardamom, Ginger, Clove, Cassia, Spices and Certified Colors. Aged and mellowed in wood. When the product was under Abbott control, the alcohol per volume was always at 50%. Research also shows that Abbott's Bitters contained angostura bark, and the current C.W. Abbott, now eighty, remembers only that there were many ingredients. LeRoy Hoffberger has located, in an inventory ledger, two boxes of papers pertaining to Abbott business in the family warehouse, and has offered to retrieve them sometime within the month.

By the mid 1950s, Abbott's Bitters was merely a wraith, glimpses of which would be found for the next half century in books, memories, and even on websites - evidence of the impact and value of a product long-gone.

Ted (Dr Cocktail) Haigh 3/4/02 (revised 3/13/02)

Notes: C.W.A. of J. was born 3/3/1922 C Webster Abbott, 1900 Indian Head Rd BALTIMORE, MD 21204 410-321-7075

Samuel HOFFBERGER Born MAY 1888 in Baltimore, Maryland Died APR 30th 1961 in Baltimore, Maryland

Sons: Gerald, who ran National Brewing Co. (A Hoffberger company) and LeRoy (who is now 77 and is to whom I spoke) Boxes 31 & 32 LEH, Inc. Abmore, Inc. - C.W. Abbott's bills paid.

LeRoy E. Hoffberger 410-321-8025

Baltimore Museum of Industry - 410-727-4808 Nancy Perlman -

Corporate Records Bureau 410-767-1330 (Gov't offices on Preston St.)

Maryland Historical Society - 410-685-3750

Baltimore County Historical Society - 410-666-1876

Kristi Alexander, director Pompeiian Olive Oil Co. - 410-276-6900