“Dude, you should bottle that sh*t!” Who knew that these wise words would inspire me to start my first business? Well, it was not these exact words that sparked the idea for selling a ready-to-serve mixology cocktail, but it was the encouragement from my enthused friends, aka official recipe testers, that motivated me to transform my passion for cocktails into a non-traditional business idea.
My passion for cocktails was ignited by my first mixology experience at The Violet Hour in Chicago circa 2006. The Violet Hour was one of the first mixology speakeasies, taking a cue from Sasha Petraske’s Milk & Honey in New York before the mixology movement had hit major cosmopolitan cities. You may be wondering, “what exactly is mixology and how is it different than a traditional cocktail?” Technically, according to Merriam-Webster, it is the art or skill of preparing mixed drinks. Well Ms. Webster got the art part right, but to call it a mixed drink is a gross understatement. To me, mixology is the art of pairing seemingly mismatched savory and sweet ingredients, which when muddled, shaken, or stirred together in the right proportions, create a curiously delicious and memorable experience.
So there I was in a dimly lit, seating room-only, sparsely decorated bar in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, mystified by the concoction in an apothecary style carafe with a remarkably fitting name—“She’ll Never Settle.” Oh, is that some sort of herb I taste? Is that a raspberry….or a currant? And what exactly IS chartreuse? This odd yet harmonious mixture left me perplexed and spurred my desire to experiment.
After years of creating and sharing my concoctions with friends, in early 2011 my entrepreneurial friend Ann (WG ‘09) approached me about turning my cocktails into a business. Fortune Brands had just acquired Skinny Girl Margarita for an undisclosed amount (ahem, $100M) and through some preliminary research and intuition we recognized that even though average consumers may not frequent The Violet Hour, they desired a unique, ready-to-serve cocktail experience. Ready-to-serve simply means a drink pre-mixed and packaged with alcohol. Recognizing an opportunity and motivated by our collective passion, Ann, my sister Parisa (WG ‘09), and I decided to create 49eastseventh, our new ready-to-serve cocktail business.
With just an idea and a few thousand dollars, we developed a loose business plan and a project plan, and got to work. Lacking beverage experience, we thirstily absorbed each conversation that revealed something new to us, changing the “plan” at every turn. As Chief Mixology Officer (catchy title, right?) I tinkered with several recipes that I tested on various focus groups, only to learn that women and men had surprisingly distinct preferences about colors and flavors. Men preferred more citrus and herb focused drinks, whereas women appreciated exotic flavors like hibiscus or blood orange. As a result, I settled on Blood Orange Rosemary Citrus as our first cocktail. Meanwhile, we flew to South Carolina to meet with distillers and beverage manufacturers to determine whether creating a natural, delicious, high-quality drink that captured the essence of mixology was even possible—turns out that fresh fruits cannot be bottled with liquors due to decomposition effects. We interviewed liquor stores to understand how they select their products only to learn that they were heavily influenced by the distributors and their product promotion choices, making the distributor key in the value chain. After meeting with an attorney, we discovered the complexity of US liquor laws. Many vary state to state, are highly restrictive, and date back to the prohibition period.
Our heads were spinning with information, decisions, and a May 2012 launch date that was rapidly approaching. We were exhausted, dedicating our free moments to 49eastseventh on top of our full time jobs, yet we were exhilarated. As we three, young entrepreneurial-spirited females chased our goal, we relished the peaks and the valleys of entrepreneurship—each small success generated the confidence we needed to realize our vision.
As driven as we were, a series of personal events forced us to shelve 49eastseventh (temporarily!). We had forged a positive and valuable partnership that left an indelible mark on each of our careers and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.
For those of you keen on mixology, there are plenty of things you can do. First, join Cocktail Club. It’s awesome. Second, there are a handful of excellent cocktail bars in Philadelphia with talented mixologists at the helm, including 1 Tippling Place, the Ranstead Room, Franklin Mortgage, and Hop Sing among others. Third, on the web, you have an array of options from Tasting Table’s comprehensive blog to This Girl Walks Into a Bar blog to Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s blog; these are fabulous sources of recipes, tips, and general tippling knowledge. Lastly, if you want to start experimenting, check out barproducts.com for the basics such as a shaking tin and glass, 4 pronged strainer, and jigger.
Even though 49eastseventh is on hiatus, I’m still obsessed with cocktails and you can always find me muddling and shaking concoctions on Pine Street. Sadly my passion for mixology won’t make me a millionaire by age 30, but it did land me this incredibly awesome article in the Wharton Journal. I’d say that’s an even trade.