it comes to tonic, Nicholas Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz of Bittercube
know all about this value-added drink delight. Kosevich and Koplowitz
founded Bittercube in 2009 after developing, formulating and tweaking
a lineup that currently consists of eight varieties of bitters. Since
then, the business has grown, with product now being distributed in
more than 30 states.
bitters, Bittercube has always been on the lookout for other business
opportunities, including consulting with restaurants and bars around
the country to create interesting cocktails. Hence, their parallel
quest for the perfect tonic.
generally don’t use the word ‘mixologist’ for us, as it implies
some form of degree," says Koplowitz. "At heart, we are
bartenders or cocktail craftsmen. Experimentation and that ‘ah-ha’
moment when you’ve stumbled across a new idea or concept is my
favorite aspect of this profession."
The partners had
long discussed the plight of house-made tonics, a base for many
cocktails that can turn brownish due to the quinine extracted through
cinchona bark. Subsequently, in early 2015, Bittercube teamed up with
Bombay Sapphire East to craft tailor-made tonics for 100 bars in 10
cities nationwide. At these "labs," bartenders could craft
unique tonics for bar guests using high-quality extracts.
Bittercube’s tonic labs have been held in Minneapolis, Chicago, San
Francisco, Boston, Miami, Houston, Portland, Las Vegas, Washington,
D.C., Los Angeles, Austin and Atlanta, as well as at the Tribeca Film
Festival in New York City. A lab was also a big part of Milwaukee
Cocktail Week in September, an event launched by Koplowitz, Paul
Fredrich of Milwaukee Foodies and Brian West of the Alcoholmanac.
At the latter,
the first 50 attendees to sign up for the Cocktail College worked with
Kosevich, with each attendee receiving a 32-ounce bottle of their own
tonic-training process for bartenders takes about 30 minutes. The
consumer session runs around 15 minutes. As part of the program, the
students delve deeply into understanding gin botanicals and how they
interact with other ingredients like tonic. So far, upward of 140
bartenders and several thousand consumers have taken the tonic course.
Professional bartenders usually know tonic fairly well and understand
their customers’ wants. They are more hands-on and generally desire
more control over the process, while most home consumers seek
guidance, the pair say.
At the labs,
attendees taste various ingredients that go into the making of tonics
and sample a finalized gin and tonic from one of Bittercube’s
tried-and-true formulas. Once they develop a formula for themselves,
Bittercube helps fine-tune the recipes.
people find something they love the first run, though sometimes it
takes a couple of tries," says Koplowitz, adding that the test
batches consist of only a few ounces because discarded attempts are
know if I’d say tonic is specific to region," says Kosevich,
Minneapolis chapter president of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG).
"Perhaps people have gravitated to different flavor profiles
based on location. However, warmer climates look at bright and
refreshing tonics, while colder climates might focus on more intense
Wisconsin remains largely a brandy/beer state, its collective palate
has been elevated over the past five years, the two Bittercubers point
out. They see consumers becoming excited about the blossoming cocktail
movement and are becoming much more adventurous, following a trend
starting with food, beer and wine.
generations are interested in the tonic lab experience, Koplowitz
emphasizes. "Someone who may generally just drink wine when going
to such restaurants as Braise or Odd Duck is often extremely
interested in tinkering with a tonic. Home experimental cooks and
bakers love the do-it-yourself aspect of tonic-making as well,"
goal for this winter is to acclimate 500 new bars with the tonic
program, again working with Bombay Sapphire East. According to
Koplowitz, the lab program is also being launched in London early in
2016. The Milwaukee-based company is undoubtedly growing, evolving and
becoming more exciting with each new launch.