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Episode Identifier [00:00:00]: Welcome back to season two of the Distilling Craft podcast. You’re listening to episode (4): “Joie de Monkeys” the second part of our series on Ready to Drink Cocktails.
Dalkita Promo [00:00:13]: Distilling Craft is brought to you by Dalkita, a group of architects and engineers who specialize in designing craft distilleries across the US. More information is available at our website www.dalkita.com
Colleen Moore [00:00:30]: Hey guys, this is Colleen Moore from Dalkita, your host of the Distilling Craft podcast, for episode (4) of our second season. Thank you so much for downloading and listening today. We are a tiny bit tardy with this episode, as we’re currently on a road trip and figuring out the rhythm of working while traveling, taking care of two dogs, driving over 18 states is actually taking us a minute or two to figure out. Currently, we’re in a beautiful state park outside of Charleston, South Carolina. And I am recording this for you in the rec room, where the camp post from Vermont just finished making maple popcorn for the entire campground. So, life on the road has its perks. But before we get going today, I want to do a shameless plug for this show, and actually talk with you a little bit about the ways that you and I can stay in touch, and the ways that you can share our shows with other people, because you know, sharing is caring.
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Okay. Shameless-plug, over. I hope to hear from you somehow, sometime soon. So, previously in season two, episode 3, we talked with Mark Shilling from Uncle Billy’s Spirits, Texas, all about their approach to launching a canned cocktail line. Now, their cocktail line is a brand extension of a very much loved local brewery. So this episode, we’re actually gonna have a conversation with Hope Ewing from Vervet. They’ll go either way on that pronunciation, either one’s acceptable for them.
Vervet was started as a cocktail line period. Their approach is much more in line with what I’d call an amped-up co-packer relationship. So, they own a little bit of equipment. They house that equipment at the co-Packers facility, their co-packer provides a spirit base for their cocktails, but everything else from recipe development to product selection, the design of their cans, the design of their website, all of the snappy copy that they’ve included on everything that has to do with their brand. And a lot of the actual cocktail mixer production comes from the founders of Vervet. So, today we are lucky enough to have Hope Ewing with us, to fill us in on their journey so far.
So, today, we have with us Hope Ewing, co-founder of Vervet, a line of canned cocktails that’s based out of Ventura, California. She’s also the author of movers and shakers women making waves in spirits, beer, and wine. And not least of all a bartender with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge on craft spirits related to cocktails. So welcome.
Hope Ewing [00:06:05]: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Colleen Moore [00:06:07]: Tell us a little bit about your previous life. I understand that you were a grant writer, and then a professor in training working towards your MFA, I guess, in fiction writing.
Hope Ewing [00:06:20]: That’s correct. When I finished college in the State university system in New York, I drifted down to New York City, with a huge amount of confidence and my plan going forward. But I did work as a grant writer in the in New York City arts organizations for about eight years. After which, I got my MFA from Columbia University in New York in fiction- in creative writing. That was sort of… started out wanting to be on the academic track, but then got derailed pretty quickly and that just wasn’t my thing. At the same time, as many people do when I went back to school, I started working in bars and restaurants again, and really just took to that much more than I took to the professor life.
Colleen Moore [00:07:17]: I love the book that you wrote and the easy reading style that you have. I wanna read a tiny paragraph out of your introduction in the book. And then I’m gonna ask you some questions about it.
Hope Ewing [00:07:32]: All right. I’m braced.
Colleen Moore [00:07:34]: “Working at a woman on Brooklyn neighborhood joint taught me how to pour and host, how to rule a room, and bring people together. After graduating, I moved to Los Angeles where I learned how to jigger, and shake, and chop the block of ice into glass size rocks. I went deep. I devoured cocktail history and wine maps. I tasted everything put in front of me. My mind was blown and I fit right in. The alcohol industries were going through renaissances all within a decade or two of one another. Beer, cocktails, spirits, wine, they all had revolutions underway. Much of the time, women were at the forefront of change”.
And I think that is a wonderful summary paragraph just of the easy writing style, also what your book is about. I wanna dip into this and talk a little bit about that Brooklyn neighborhood joint and what it taught you. Tell me a little bit more about how you learned to pour, host, and how we can do that.
Hope Ewing [00:08:37]: To give you a sense of where I was starting from. When I first started working there, I was, I came on as a server. And the bar owner was a friend of a friend. I had had no restaurant industry experience in probably those eight years. I had worked in food service when I was a teenager and in college, but I was coming to it pretty green. So to give you a sense of perspective, I would step behind the bar to fill in when the bartender would go on breaks, as many servers do when you wanna be a bartender. And one of my first experiences was that I didn’t actually know that there was a difference between soda and tonic. So serving a whole line of gin and tonics incorrectly, and then being severely reprimanded for that. And then, the owner kind of saying, like, “We have to go over this with you. I have to teach you something, like this is not acceptable”. So that was 10 years ago. And I came to it fairly a little older. I was in my 30s, when I started in bartending and getting into cocktails, which I think gave me a little better perspective, also a little better restraint being working the later nights and, being around this much booze all the time. I think coming at it a little bit older was easier for me to keep my wits about me as it were. Although, they were not always about me. So, I think, working at a place that was very neighborhood-centric, it was not a cocktail-centric bar. We had a great craft beer selection and a great set of regulars. And that just sort of really drove home for me, this sense that a bar could be a place of community. That you could can meet the best friends of your life in bars and taverns. And that, the alcohol is the ostensible reason for going there, but it’s not the reason that you go back again and again. So, my mentor at that bar is a woman named Samantha Destefano. She currently owns a restaurant in the Bedford-Simonson area of Brooklyn called Mama Fox. She’s fantastic, just really somebody that can’t be stopped force of nature type of personality. She just taught me how to have control, how to have control in the room, but also how to be welcoming. It’s definitely a skill and brought me to the more technical side of things. Like, I feel like you have the hospitality side, and then you have the technical side, but you definitely do need both.
Colleen Moore [00:11:24]:
Do you have any tips for us on how to maintain control of the room or is that just like something that has to be earned not learned?
Hope Ewing [00:11:32]: I think, especially, being raised female in the United States in the 80s and 90s, I do previously had a tendency to apologize for things that weren’t my doing. And while I do think there’s a fair amount of apology when you’re dealing with food and drink service, you don’t apologize for- you know, if someone’s plate gets dropped on the floor, you apologize. You don’t apologize for them having a bad day. You have to maintain a sense of space around your bar and a sense of ownership. That’s for your own safety, so people don’t feel like they can take advantage of you. It also makes people feel more confident in their experience like you’re the host, you’re the homeowner, you’re there. You’re there to guide them through the experience. I know this is not a solid tip. I’m not really giving you concrete advice. I think something as unhelpful as just be confident that this is your house and you occupy it and you are there to help people, but ultimately, you’re sweeping up when it’s done, so this is your house and, and it’s your responsibility.
Colleen Moore [00:12:47]: So don’t let them get away with any nonsense.
Hope Ewing [00:12:50]: A minimal amount of nonsense.
Colleen Moore [00:12:52]: A delightful amount of nonsense, hopefully. So, we’re gonna fast forward and we’re moving into LA. I guess, you moved down the street from a wine tasting bar, and that is how you started learning about wine in California, which is a wonderful place to learn about any type of food, because it grows there so easily. So, tell me a little bit about starting to learn about the wine, I guess. So it sounds like you had pretty basics in bartending at that point, you’ve moved to LA, and then you start picking up more knowledge on other types of products like wine, like beer.
Hope Ewing [00:13:40]: Well, I had been a craft beer fanatic for years, just even as a lay person and knew the fundamentals of brewing and the different styles of beer, that had always been my jam. But learning about wine was scary because, I think, as I say in the book, back in my dive bar roots, there were two types of wine. it was red, white, and then maybe some bubbles. And you knew the grape names cause people would ask, but you never really knew what they like, what that meant. So fast forward, I moved into the Los Feliz , a neighborhood in Los Angeles, on the east side, and that was in biking distance of several amazing wine shops. Silverlake Wine is one of them. I think, it’s decently well-known in in LA anyway. Also, Lou Amber who was a wine columnist, I think for the LA times. He opened up his shop a block from my apartment. And that was really a great resource. And both of those places specialize in newer wave wines, people who were practicing glow intervention, who were doing skin contact whites, who were doing ancestral styles and that sort of thing. And that was my introduction. So, it was sort of diving deep into the movement that was going on inside the wine community that I had no idea what was going on. So, it was interesting. I mean, I tried orange wines before I tried Sancerre. So, it gave me an interesting perspective coming at it from this sort of outsider stance, and then learning from the outside in. But being able to go there and do a tasting for $12, try three or four different types of wine and have someone who really cares about it, give me all the information. And this is actually a tip. If you want the clerk, or the the person leading the tasting, to really take a shine to you, bring a notebook cause, I would go with a friend and as soon as we whipped out those notebooks, they would come over and be like, “All right, what are we learning today?” It was good.
Colleen Moore [00:16:05]: That’s actually a tip for dealing with building and fire code officials. So, our company actually is an architect and engineering and fire suppression for distilleries, so that’s one of the tips that we tell folks in classes that they attend is that, they should bring the code book with lots of flags in the side of it and a notebook. They’re much better received by any code official. So that’s just a general life tip, I think. If you wanna impress somebody and you want to learn something from someone, be prepared to take notes
Hope Ewing [00:16:42]: You gotta show them you’re serious
Colleen Moore [00:16:45]: Exactly. Nothing says that like, a spiral bound notebook and a pen.
Colleen Moore [00:16:52]: Okay. So, tell me where the idea for Verve came from or Vervet?
Hope Ewing [00:16:59]: Our CEO, Tuan Lee, he is my partner in business and in life, we live together. It was actually his idea. We actually met because I was a bartender at a local crab cocktail bar, and he and our other partner, Alex Rosenblum, would come in once or twice a week and drink rum the rocks. And so that’s also a great way to ingratiate yourself into a nerdy bartender is drinks.
Colleen Moore [00:17:32]: Drink something straight up.
Hope Ewing [00:17:34]: Well, not only that, but even at that time, I think, it was several number of years ago. And I think rum has really come around, come into its own as something that people understand as a sipping spirit now. But, at the time, I was like, “Who are these guys drinking rum? Like, I gotta find out more about this”. So, we had a basis of them being spirits and cocktail fans, and me working in the industry. Tuan Lee came up with the idea that he wanted to do these ready to drink cocktails and cans. And I was skeptical at first because, I was a bartender and I said, “No, everything has to be fresh and has to be made to order. And this is how we do things”. But over time, talking to other people in the industry and learning a little more about also the kind of things that especially bartenders in the UK and London were doing with trying to make zero waste cocktails experimenting with using Malic acid instead of lime juice, which is not something we wound up doing for Vervet, but, it was interesting for me to see the direction that craft was going, that it wasn’t necessarily everything squeezed to order all the time. Basically, it was Tuan’s idea. And then, I was one over especially since every cocktail bartender we talked said that they would love a canned Americano. They said I would crush a canned Americano all day. And if you can make that, I’d be delighted. So, that was the genesis. And over the next two years, we developed recipes. I developed the recipes at home with commercial liquors, and then we had to figure out how to make those from scratch and finding a fantastic production partner with Ventura spirits.
Actually, I wanted to clarify one thing, the company is based in Los Angeles, but our production is with Ventura spirits in Ventura, California. So, that was the Genesis, you know, our partners saying, “Can we have a cocktail? Do we have an alternative to beer and wine that we can bring on a rafts trip, that we can bring to a pool, that we can bring with us?” And, people wanted a cocktail and we wanted to provide that.
Colleen Moore [00:19:54]: Are they canning in house there? The cocktail there?
Hope Ewing [00:19:59]: We are very much involved in every aspect of production, myself and my partners. We work very closely with the guys up in Ventura. And, they make a fantastic lineup of spirits. They make a gin called Wilder gin, which is just amazing and Angelino Amaro, which is taking off in a big way. I already like their products. And they have a very similar approach to sourcing and ingredients as we do. We wanted to do everything as local as possible. We wanted to use as many sort of quote unquote real ingredients. We didn’t wanna go to a lab and get a flavor syrup made that would emulate what we were trying to do. We wanted to put the actual botanical that were going into the drink into the formula. So, what you taste is what you get.
Colleen Moore [00:20:58]: What’s listed on the can is what you’re getting.
Hope Ewing [00:21:01]: We talked to a few different co-packers and some of them were very, very much not in the realm of what we wanted to do. People basically told us, “Send us a sample of what you wanna make and we’ll reverse engineer it”. And we didn’t wanna do that. We wanted to actually like build things. So, we found a great, great match with them and we build the products. Basically, we have four big old bright tanks and we use that in one twice as big blending tank. We combine, we cold brew, many, many gallons of oolong tea in giant. We get a couple of totes of wine and we make vermouth. We fortify it. So the base spirits, most of them are made by the guys in Ventura are distilled on premise. The bidders and Amaro, we actually will source a a neutral grape base. And we actually get that from its surplus from winemakers in Northern California. We’re hoping diverting that waste stream a little bit because, when the wines are being altered through reverse osmosis or however they wanna pull extra alcohol out, then they have this excess spirit and we purchas that and we use it to make our bidders and our Amaro, which was kind of a fun process. It’s something to learn, especially for me, because I started making all of these things in my kitchen. Going to the Korean markets in Los Angeles and the Persian markets and getting these herbs and these dried spices and barks and trying to see what tasted good together. Because we make an Americano, we’re not gonna use Campari. We’re not up there dumping bottles and bottles of Campari into a blending tank, so we had to make it ourself. And that was actually a really terrific process. And I think we wound up with a better product for that. I know we wound up with a better product for that, cause our red bidder also reflects the ethnic influences in Los Angeles. There’s Saigon cinnamon and burdock, Korean burdock, and different Latin American plants and botanicals. So one of the aims was to reflect the culture of Los Angeles. That was one really a starting point and wanted to cleave very closely to. And, I think, we’ve succeeded in that. We get lime juice and lemon juice from Oxnard farms. So, basically, we do all of the infusions, make the tea, make the bitters in house.
Colleen Moore [00:23:40]: It sounds like it developed over several years, so it took a couple years to develop the recipes. It took some time to find a partner. About how much time would you say from idea of can cocktail to having a product that is ready to go on the shelf? What timeframe were you looking at there?
Hope Ewing [00:24:01]: It was about two years total, which seems extremely fast considering the amount of logistics that we had to figure out. I will say that, while we were hammering out the recipes and I was having tastings for our partners for four of us, and tasting everyone on the drinks. We always knew we wanted to do four. So figuring out what four and what flavor profiles we were going to hit, we wanted to do something a little one for everyone more or less, not all of them are going to be beloved by everyone. But, at least, we have options for most pallets. And I was writing the book at that time. I was writing the book and bartending, and then doing the development. So I think that was about six to eight months just because of everything that was going on.
Colleen Moore [00:24:59]: It sounds like you were quite busy.
Hope Ewing [00:25:01]: It’s been the modus operandi for the past few years is just how many things can you do at the same time.
Colleen Moore [00:25:08]: It’s like spinning plates, right? How many plates can you possibly spin at one time?
Hope Ewing [00:25:13]: Absolutely. It does exactly feel like that and I have used that analogy before. Also, because, we’re self-funded, we haven’t taken on investors, we’re sort of bootstrapping it for the time being. All of us still having to operate on our day jobs and keep that going. All things considered it was a surprisingly quick turnaround. But, I think, it was also because we knew what our target was. We knew who we were aiming for. And cause of the skill sets of the four partners in house, there was less searching for- One of the partners is a graphic designer. One of them is a lawyer. So all of the licensing and accounting stuff, we have it covered in house. So, a lot of that was expedited because of what we already brought to the table.
Colleen Moore [00:26:17]: It sounds like you have a wide spectrum of skills, which is definitely needed when you are starting a craft spirits business.
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Dalkita Promo [00:26:58]: Distilling Craft is brought to you by Dalkita, a group of architects and engineers who specialize in designing craft distilleries across the US. More information is available at our website www.dalkita.com Now, let’s get back to the show.
Colleen Moore [00:27:18]: Let’s talk a little bit about the four flavor profiles that you came up with. You mentioned that you have an Americano version and that’s an Angelica Cano is what you’re calling it. Is that correct?
Hope Ewing [00:27:34]: Yep. Angelicano, named for Los Angeles.
Colleen Moore [00:27:37]: I love how on your website, which I am sure that you wrote because it is that same writing style.
Hope Ewing [00:27:45]: My job is writing. I write the recipes in the copy.
Colleen Moore [00:27:48]: That’s a lot of skills to bring to the table, honestly, not everyone can do it. And so your Angelicano was your first one. You also have something called a Tikiti, you have a down. So, tell us a little bit behind these other ones. So the Angelicano is definitely an Americano. And then your Tikiti, wanna hear a little bit more about that one specifically, because you said it was inspired by Filipino bartenders, and I want to know more behind that story.
Hope Ewing [00:28:27]: Tiki is always this very problematic thing off and on for bartenders because, people love the style, and the drinks are fun, and you get to play with fun flavors, and set things on fire. But, it is sort of based on a fantasy of Polynesian culture. It’s not rooted in any real culture, except some fun things that people in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the 30s were playing around with, and making these fun, making these bars with these sort of faux Pacific island themes. However, if you dive a little bit deeper into the originators- so the original Tiki bars in Los Angeles were very often staffed in the back of house. It was Filipino bartenders who were making the drinks. And a lot of them were bringing flavors actually from home to the recipes and making the recipes. So the Tikiti name is a nod to a famous Tiki bar in LA. That’s Tikiti with an [00:I]- [00:Tikiti], and that was founded by one of these early Tiki bartenders, who worked for some of the originals in the 30s, and then founded Tikiti and his family still runs it. It was very important for all of us to acknowledge that as like the cultural heritage of this style, that’s always sort of shrouded in mystery as to who invented it and what is it actually representing? So, it was cool to find out that, there were bartenders from the Philippines who were involved in the development of the style. So, we wanted to do a Tiki drink, but Tiki drinks are complicated. They’re all known for having many ingredients and often not having a lot of sugar. So, we wanted to scale it back a little bit. So, we made a Prickly Pear Vodk, which we, basically, re-distilling the adventurous spirits, they make a Prickly Pear Brandy that’s %100 fermented prickly pear. We did an apple jack version of that, where we mixed the fermented Prickly Pear with another spirit we re-distilled it to make a vodka. Because, otherwise, I mean, the Brandy is very expensive and we realized that we probably wouldn’t be able to sell an $18 can.
Colleen Moore [00:31:11]: Right. It’s a $20 cocktail in a can, it’ll be great.
Hope Ewing [00:31:15]: Everyone will buy it. So, that was one of the hurdles there we wanted to use this prickly pair Brandy. So we made vodka out of it, which actually wound up being beneficial because, I think, people who identify as vodka drinkers are a target for this flavor, because it has lime juice, that’s the one with the cold brew, oolong tea. And then, we made Falernum
Colleen Moore [00:31:42]: You’re gonna have to explain what that is, because I don’t, that’s one ingredient I was like, I should probably Google that before talking to you.
Hope Ewing [00:31:50]: So, which is an ingredient in a number of not only Tiki drinks, but it’s a rum based Laur from the Caribbean. So, it’s all spice and clove and ginger, so you get this baking spice element. And, we like to make it taste like Christmas in the islands. So, Falernum is traditionally like a spice the cure served, invented in the Caribbean. We made our own version of that by infusing a portion of the base spirit with those and sweetening. And then, just using fresh lime juice. So that one, we call it the popular kid. It is universally beloved. It’s sweet and it’s tart. None of them are overly sweet, that’s something that we wanted to definitely avoid as not only as a people’s health concern. But I think, as a bartender, that’s the number one request that I have gotten is people say, “I would love a margarita, but not too sweet in this”, but not people are very wary.
Colleen Moore [00:33:02]: Yes. Sugar is getting a bad rap lately. People are more conscious about consuming it, which is good. I’m sure behind a bar, once sweet stuff dries, it’s a mess.
Hope Ewing [00:33:18]: That’s true.
Colleen Moore [00:33:20]: So less sweet stuff, the better I’m sure, from that perspective.
Hope Ewing [00:33:25]: I would say, although it does, it is kind of a irk someone, when people start demanding things with no sugar, because then…
Colleen Moore [00:33:33]: You’re like, it won’t taste good.
Hope Ewing [00:33:34]: … It won’t taste as t says. It’s like salt. Think of it as sugar is to cocktails is salt is to food. Like, don’t have too much, but you need some.
Colleen Moore [00:33:44]: Tell me about the Pale Mary, I was very intrigued by that one. I had Michelob before. But the tomato water, describe for how that came about.
Hope Ewing [00:33:55]: So tomato water, I don’t remember if I read about it. I discovered the beauty of tomato water or consomme is another word for it. Which is just to explain what it is basically, and this is something I started with at home, basically if you chop up tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, and you suspend them in a cheese cloth over a bowl, what comes out is this very clear liquid that has that great, like sweetness and savoriness that you get in a tomato without any sort of goop.
Colleen Moore [00:34:35]: The pulp.
Hope Ewing [00:34:36]: Yeah. I, honestly, think people who I love tomatoes and have always, but I understand that many people have a vitriolic hatred of them. But I’m convinced that it’s a textural thing because, I’ve had people try this drink that’s made with the clarified consummate tomato water, literally. And they’re like, “I’m not a tomato person, but this is fine”. I worked very hard for it to be fine. I became briefly obsessed with making tomato lemonade, and making all cocktails with tomato. And then, the team members were totally on board because, they said we wanna do a savory cocktail, but the issue with Bloody Mary’s is that, you feel like you’re eating soup. So many of them are so thick and it’s something that you know, when I have been working behind the bar and working a brunch shift, and people order a Bloody Mary, and by the time they finish it, they are not hungry anymore, and they don’t wanna order food.
Colleen Moore [00:35:42]: Which I guess if you make your money on the drinks is okay, but kinda wanna sell food too if you’re doing a brunch deal.
Hope Ewing [00:35:50]: Yes. So, we decided we wanted to do a clarified Bloody Mary. And we do compare it to [Amish lotto 35:58] because, it is effervescent. And I think, for a lot of people, that’s easier to connect the dots other than saying, it’s a carbonated clarified bloody Mary.
Colleen Moore [00:36:11]: Yeah, that doesn’t sound as sexy.
Hope Ewing [00:36:13]: Just kinda like, “What? I can’t even imagine that.” But, essentially, that’s what it is. So, we make vast amounts of of tomato consummate. And then, we’ve graduated from a cheese cloth to a high pressure filter. So, we send our tomato puree through a high pressure filtered down to- I wanna say 4Micron filter to start. And that filters out the solids and we get this yellowish gold liquid that has amazing tomato flavor. So, we started with that and then the Wilder gin, that’s made by Ventura spirits, is the base spirit for that. It’s great, amazing botanical gin. It’s got sagebrush and California bay, and a lot of other amazing green flavors. And then, we made our own celery betters because we couldn’t put a stock celery in it.
Colleen Moore [00:37:17]: It has to have that celery touch, right?
Hope Ewing [00:37:19]: Little celery, little caraway, some other spices that will be recognizable if you try to parse it. I will say the Pale Mary is actually my favorite. Not only because it was the trickiest to figure out how to do it. So that feels like a victory. But, that one, we think of it as like the cult classic because, not everyone likes it, but the people who like it will drink four of them and nothing else.
Colleen Moore [00:37:54]: So your product comes in four packs, right?
Hope Ewing [00:37:57]: It’s single can. It’s really up to the retailer. We do four packs. We can do single things. We wanted to not package using plastic rings or PakTech rings necessarily. We do have those and can’t provide them if requested, but the default is no rings, just trying to reduce the amount of plastic that we’re using.
Colleen Moore [00:38:21]: So that one is your favorite. Tell me about the Sundowner. I had a shrub and I was not expecting what I got, so I’ve had a mixed history with shrubs.
Hope Ewing [00:38:34]: Yes. That’s the first time I had a shrub cocktail on a bar menu, it was an explainer. We really had to drill people, they like, “Wait, but do you like kombucha, but do you like the flavor of vinegar?” Like, this is to explain a little bit shrubs being this very old school way of preserving fruits, where you would combine them with– Basically make ansacra or extract the fruit flavors with sugar, and then add vinegar to preserve them for the winter. But what it makes is an amazing drink ingredient because it’s acid and sweetener in one. So, instead of doing citrus and sugar, the acid comes from vinegar. And it has this very unique taste. So, we wanted to do a shrub drink. I definitely knew that was a thing. Especially, since we were making a packaged product. We were very wary of the amount of fresh citrus that we were gonna be able to use. Cause of all things like that’s the one we were worried about, like how it would transfer and how it would age in the can, which we found out how to do this, how to make them without pasteurizing, but I can get into that later. So we made a strawberry shrub. We combined cold press strawberry juice from Oxnard, this is Oxnard, California in the Ventura greater central coast area is like the strawberry capital of the world. Working with this strawberry juice that Ventura also uses to make their strawberry Brandy. We make that shrub, we use champagne vinegar, which is really nice. I know a lot of shrubs are made with apple cider vinegar. And we found the champagne to be a little lighter, a little easier on the pallet, really makes this delightful, like acidic sweetened sour thing on its own. So we started with that, and then strawberries, what goes with strawberries, but rhubarb. So made rhubarb bidders, little vanilla, little grains of paradise and mix that up. Put that so we had this red bidder, this aperitivos already, so I was just playing around. I’m like, “Well, this go with this. How does this taste?” And, it wound up just working really nicely. With the aperitivos, this one I always wanted to be like for the whiskey drinkers, for the brown spirit drinkers. We actually do the rhubarb bitters and we throw Oak chips in it. So it’s sort of a rhubarb-oak bitter.
Colleen Moore [00:31:15]: Oak infused, if you will.
Hope Ewing [00:31:17]: Yes. It’s no confusion. Like, actually whiskey is- oh, Oak infused.
Colleen Moore [00:31:23]: Exactly. By the container, but yes, the same principle.
Hope Ewing [00:31:28]: Yes. I don’t know. I know whiskey people would not like me comparing the use of Oak chips to the actual beer aging process.
Colleen Moore [00:31:35]: They may take you out of town on a spit.
Hope Ewing [00:31:41]: I would never make whiskey using them, but I will make an oak confused bitter with them. Because it doesn’t taste like whiskey. It has a very like hint of caramel and vanilla. It has a hint of that flavor, but just with a strong that strawberry like burst on it. And that was the one that I did not know how I was going to go over. I didn’t know if people would try it and just not know what to think. Cause it’s bitter and it’s Tany and it’s got some sweetness and it just has a lot of things going on. But I think, that it’s actually been one of the most popular.
Colleen Moore [00:32:15]: So, you have your four children here and we know that Angelicano was born first and that you like the Pale Mary the best, but we won’t tell the others. So, is the Sundowner the consumer favorite that you found?
Hope Ewing [00:32:33]: I think the Tiki is far and away the most popular, not far and away.
Colleen Moore [00:32:37]: it’s the popular kid.
Hope Ewing [00:32:39]: But the Sundowner is pretty close behind. We do a lot of events, a lot of tastings. We explain it and we say, even before saying it’s a shrub, we’ll say it’s like a grown up strawberry soda, and people try it and they concur. I think that one probably is close behind. The [??] is sort of more of a color classic. It’s got a loyal devoted following, and then the Angelica Cano is the classic classic. And people who really love like a bitter like, will do who are serious Negroni drinkers or love a Campari Soda , that’s their jam and people go to that.
Colleen Moore [00:33:22]: It sounds like you’ve hit a lot of flavor profiles with what you have available. Tell me about distribution. I know I tried to get it here and I’m in Denver and that was a no-go. I called some places in California that said that they shipped, it may have even gotten one off of your website. And they told me that Colorado can’t have spirits shipped to it. and I said, that’s not true. I get wine all the time. I get other spirits. So, I could not procure these
Hope Ewing [00:33:56]: I’ll have to fix that. So that’s a bummer. We’re about eight weeks in the market. We’re stil fairly young, still sort of building our distribution channels. We’re self distributing for now and building a following before we approach the larger distributor and try to get more places in the country. We’re focusing on LA for the time being. But I think, colorado’s always on the horizon, always a plan. One of our partners is actually located in Denver. So I know he’s eager to get that moving, not to be too cliche, but like this guy is the limit on that. We’re starting in LA and just building a local following and then just seeing how far we can take it.
Colleen Moore [00:34:47]: So any plans to add more flavors or are you gonna stick with these core four for now?
Hope Ewing [00:34:54]: I always wanna just do something new. We’re not actively in production at this moment this week. But if we were, I would probably have eight different ideas of other future skews, but we’re definitely sticking where we are for now. Four is actually a lot as our co-packers are- our distilling partners have told us they’re like, “this is pretty ambitious you guys. You had to”. And I was like, “Yep, it’s kind of my Miamo.” I’m like, how can I make it the most work possible? We’re just gonna keep pushing these four for now. And then if they’re special releases down the road, that’s down the road. But I would love it, but we’ll see what the market tells us.
Colleen Moore [00:35:47]: How has the reception been with the eight weeks in market? Where are you seeing these things distributed? Do you have one distributor that is heads and tails above others or are there restaurants picking this up? Anything like that? So who is the market other than the individual consumer? Do you have like corporate markets, maybe or wholesale markets?
Hope Ewing [00:36:14]: Actually, one of our biggest accounts right now is the LA fields, which is the giants of large food hall adjacent to the LAFC soccer stadium. So, we’re very invested in Vervets appearing in venues. We’re at the theater in the ACE hotel, downtown Los Angeles. So just places where this would make sense. We are at a few different bars and restaurants, and that’s really cool. I think it’s really interesting to have places have canned beer and wine on the menu and they might have a canned cocktail. But I think, predominantly, we’re very excited about the venues that are happening. We’ve been embraced pretty strongly by the local, like independent retailers, the local bottle shops. And as soon as we go in and taste them, like we’ve just had a lot of really positive responses. And people are interested in this and then once they try them, because it is actually becoming a pretty saturated market at this point. The sort of RTD drink, cocktail category is growing.
Colleen Moore [00:37:39]: Leaps and bounds.
Hope Ewing [00:37:40]: Yes. So I feel like us coming in and being able to offer something that is actually truly like handmade is something that, especially the indie retailers really like and are working to promote. So, basically looking at local retail and venues, and sports stadiums kind of thing, and pools. Anywhere where you’d think like, oh, I’d really like a drink right now, but I don’t want to,
Colleen Moore [00:38:09]: But I can’t bring glass.
Hope Ewing [00:38:11]: Can’t bring glass or
Colleen Moore [00:38:12]: There’s not a bartender.
Hope Ewing [00:38:14]: Right. Or there’s a bartender, but there’s a line. It’s intermission at a show and there’s a line around the block. You know, how nice is it just to be able to toss someone a can.
Colleen Moore [00:38:25]: Exactly. So, you’re like the bartender’s friend, right? You’re saving them some effort.
Hope Ewing [00:38:31]: Well, that was actually kind of a eureka moment. We were talking to Jeremy Allen, who was a bartender at an amazing bar in our neighborhood called MiniBar. They actually carry the Angelica Cano because, he was actually the person that said I wouldn’t be offended by having a canned Americano here because, Americano is a very simple cocktail for a bartender to make. It’s two ingredients, you top it with soda. He’s like, I don’t need to make that by hand. And if I’m for deep and somebody wants something, it’s nice to just be able to throw them that and you know, definitely assistance. So, the LA fields has been a great one. The ACE hotel, big base theater, is also phenomenal, cause like there are so many different people coming through from so many different places. And so, we’re aiming at thing venues of size and places where we can move a lot of product.
Colleen Moore [00:39:26]: That’s good. Go for the big shots.
Hope Ewing [00:39:29]: And still showing love to the little guys though. We have a local hyper nerdy bottle and bar supply store called barkeeper. That was a very early, they were early adopters and like they’ve been great champions and we will always show them love cause they’re amazing.
Colleen Moore [00:39:46]: And they’re part of your heritage growing up and learning from them before you go out to be a bartender and then make amazing mixed drinks. So, you do appear to have a lot of irons in the fire or at least when you were developing this, so what is your day to day? What does that look like for you or the production process? I mean, are you looking at a production schedule of a month or do you do one product every four months? How does that look?
Hope Ewing [00:40:18]: We are on hiatus from production right now. We were in production through the summer. A lot of the ingredients do take up to a week to make. Some of the bidderss we have to leave up to seven days. You had asked earlier about canning, we actually work with a mobile canor. So they bring their line in whenever they have time, and if you want to be extremely busy and make a lot of money right now invested in mobile canning wine because, they are incredib. They have so much work right now. Everyone up and down the coast is canning wine and beer and doing eyeballs. So, whenever our mobile canor has space in his schedule, which has been every two weeks, once a month to every two weeks, then we’ll aim to build a batch there. And our production amounts are constrained by our space. It’s definitely a space issue, which luckily Ventura does have a good amount of space. We are able to get four tanks in there, so we can do up to I think, 4,000 liters at a time of each skew. So, we will usually do two skews per canning run. That’s been the rhythm that we fell into. And it’s worked out pretty well in keeping inventory up and not being too overwhelming. So, the two to three weeks leading up to the canning date will be production. And I still work full time at a restaurant, that for me is I have two to three days off per week. And so that’s when I head up to the distillery and work with them on building the components, which they also know how to do. We’ll spend two to three weeks prepping all the component ingredients. And then the week before canning, all the blending happens, and then they’re stored cold the filtration and cold storage in the bright tanks. And then we can for two days. We just go like crazy.
Colleen Moore [00:42:22]: Cans are flying left and right.
Hope Ewing [00:42:24]: Sometimes yes.
Colleen Moore [00:42:26]: Did you guys have to invest in the equipment or is that something that your co-packer or your partner, your spirits partner, did for you?
Hope Ewing [00:42:39]: Co-packer and spirits partner are one and the same. It’s a blend. We invested in some equipment. We have our own bright tanks and we need a big floor scale, we’ll get that. But a lot of it is the equipment they already have on hand. The blending tanks and, obviously, there’s stills and fermentation tanks. We did some equipment investment, but a lot of it was there a fully operating distillery. So we benefit from that.
Colleen Moore [00:43:10]: What is ahead for you? I know that you said last week you were having a writing deadline, so are you doing more writing on the side, on top of your other three full-time jobs?
Hope Ewing [00:43:24]: Yeah.
Colleen Moore [00:43:26]: Is there another book coming?
Hope Ewing [00:43:29]: Not as yet. There’s some ideas and I definitely would love to get there some at some point. But for now, doing a little freelance writing here and there. Basically when anything is super interesting and I wanna do a bunch of research on it, I’ll pitch it to a publication and see if somebody picks it up. But, it’s quite a bit. We sort of budgeted this year to be hectic. It’s like, we’re getting the company off the ground and we’re just going to be working %100 of the time and that’s what life is. And then I feel like once you get over. If you don’t waste energy fretting about how you don’t have any time, like it actually frees up a lot more time.
Colleen Moore [00:44:12]: That is a fair observation.
Hope Ewing [00:44:14]: If you just do it instead of being worried about if you’re going to be able to do it, it’s much easier.
Colleen Moore [00:44:20]: Well, I think everyone should check out your Movers & Shakers book. Is there a place they can get it? I got mine off Amazon. Do you have a website toward that book?
Hope Ewing [00:44:33]: Yes, my personal website is hopeewing.com, [H O P E E w I N G] with an extra E in the middle. And that has a link to where my publisher’s site, but absolutely Movers & Shakers: Women Making Waves in Spirits, Beer & Wine on Amazon, IndieBound. I know in the Greater Los Angeles area, we’re available at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, which is a sort of big local institution. I appreciate your reading it.
Colleen Moore [00:45:05]: I really enjoyed it. It’s actually a reference. So we just did a big survey for our podcast to see what kind of topics people wanted us to cover. And gin is not a flavor profile. That is my favorite. And so I would not have done any shows on gin, honestly. But we got so many requests for shows on gin and on the botanicals in gin. And so when this book came, I’m like, “I wonder if she has a chapter on gin? Who can I look up that knows about gin?” And so that is where I started actually in your book. I just hopped around and I’ve been reading chapters out of order, but it’s just a wonderful book. It is like an epic road trip that I get to go on with you in the book. And I really like it. So I hope everybody will check it out.
Hope Ewing [00:46:03]: That’s awesome. That’s amazing. Did you talk to Natasha from St. Louis by any chance?
Colleen Moore [00:46:08]: I have not done it yet. I’m still preparing. I’ve read three books on gin now. So I’m preparing. It is definitely starting from zero because Juniper, you’ll be proud, I’ve even gained an appreciation for Juniper. I still don’t like it, but when I bought my house, they actually had three Juniper plants in the front of them. And part of the sale of that property was I will not buy this house unless you pull those out because, I don’t like Juniper that much.
Hope Ewing [00:46:45]: I think Natasha will try to evangelize you. Absolutely. Cause her whole thing is that she’s like, “You don’t like gin, you just haven’t met the right one yet”.
Colleen Moore [00:46:54]: I think that’s what it’s. I need one that’s a little less Juniper forward and we’re in a better place with it, for sure.
Hope Ewing [00:47:02]: There are a lot of them out there now. I hope you find the right one.
Colleen Moore [00:47:08]: I’ll keep searching. I’m game for the search. Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking about RTDs with us and I hope everything goes well and check back in with us soon.
Hope Ewing [00:47:21]: Great. I appreciate it. This was fun.
Colleen Moore [00:47:24]: A special thanks to Hope Ewing for talking with us about her history and her crazy year of launching this cocktail line. If you’re in the LA area, be sure to look for Vervet in local liquor stores or even your local cocktail bar. And, I still haven’t gotten ahold of any. So please feel free to ship me some if you happen to find it. Also, check out her book Movers & Shakers, perhaps it would be a great gift for the next gifting holiday, Valentine’s day. It’s especially a good gift for any bad women in the spirits business. I know I really enjoyed reading it and that is most likely due to Hope’s writing style. So I recommend it. And actually this is starting to feel a little like the capitalist version of public radio. So, pledge your support for great podcasts like ours and get the book Movers & Shakers for yourself is a thank you.
Anything we do make in commission goes towards Distilling Crafts web hosting expenses and our legal fees. That’s right. We have Boo-cooo legal fees. All from a bitter and very expensive trademark battle. And that’s actually all I can say about it now, but I do promise to go into as much detail as I can on a future episode. So you do have that to look forward to coming later this season.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that a giant thank you goes out to YOU for downloading and listening to this episode of our podcast. Don’t forget to like, share, subscribe even if you like just a tiny bit of today’s show. It really helps out with our shows vital statistics. If you want more information about this show, go to the show notes on our website, www.dalkita.com/shownotes where we will have links to the people, places and things mentioned today. There is even a real live transcript of the show to share with all your friends and you can post a short comment for our team to obsess over dissect, and even infer your tone and judge your grammar. Our theme music was composed by Jason Shaw and is used under creative comments, attribution 3.0 license. The final shout out goes to the man that puts all of this together, our sound editor, Daniel Phillips of zero crossing productions. Until next time, seriously guys stay safe out there. I’m Colleen Moore from Dalkita, and this has been the Distilling Craft podcast.
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