Pellettieri and her husband, Noah Swanson, founded Top Note
always thought she’d someday open a craft brewery. Having worked for
both Goose Island in Chicago and Miller-Coors in Milwaukee,
Pellettieri enjoyed home brewing as a hobby for 20 years.
When she began
to get more serious about becoming an entrepreneur, she began
experimenting with making herbal-laced ales, thinking that might be
the way she would differentiate her brews from others on the market.
But in the making of those ales, she realized something — she liked
making the tonic syrups for her brews better than making the beers
down the aisle of any grocery store, and they don’t have an upscale
version of tonic water," she says.
So she decided
that she’d make one. From that initial aha moment, it took her a
year to plan to leave her well-paying job to start her own venture,
and then it took another six months to get her business started with
her husband, Noah Swanson.
But since its
debut at Outpost Natural Foods last June, her Top Note Tonic has been
steadily growing and more and more people are enjoying her handcrafted
tonics. "The name comes from the sensory analysis of flavors —
people will talk about the top notes of a beverage," she says.
The top notes are often the most fragrant, enjoyable notes of spirits,
wine and beer.
Her first year,
Pellettieri started with three basic tonic syrups — gentian tonic,
bitter orange and bitter lemon. She’s already expanded her line this
year to include a ginger beer (which is nonalcoholic), and she’s
doing an Indian tonic with quassia bark and kefir lime leaf. At Ale
Asylum’s Riverhouse, she’s doing a grapefruit soda designed to mix
with beer for a drink called a rattler. "It’s kind of like a
shandy because it’s sparkling," she says. She’s also going to
be selling her tonics by the glass at several farmers markets,
including the NEWaukee Night Market.
into expanded digs in the Lincoln Warehouse, the same building that
headquarters Twisted Path Distillery and Bittercube Bitters, and in
her new kitchen she’s able to blend and make custom tonics and
beverage concentrates for individual clients. Eventually, she has
plans to bottle individual servings of her tonic syrups with sparkling
water. Her ultimate goal is to have a ready to drink with no mixing
expanding, Pellettieri admits a big part of her job is educating
people about tonics. "Tonics used to be a whole category of
beverages you would get from a pharmacy for health benefits," she
says of their historical origin. "In America, they’re only
known as mixers, but they are really so much more."
But most people,
when they think of tonic water, they think of gin and tonics, with the
tonic water containing quinine. Most of the large scale-made tonic
water gets its quinine chemically, but not one of her tonics contains
quinine. "I wanted to stick to raw, natural ingredients,"
explains Pellettieri. Her bitter orange, bitter lemon and Indian
tonics get the quinine naturally from cinchona bark, and her gentian
tonic doesn’t contain any quinine at all.
"One of the
things I want to show people is that there are different tonics out
there," she says, adding that many times she’s had people say
they don’t like tonic, but then they taste hers and change their
minds. "With the gentian tonic, I wanted to show that it provides
aperitivo qualities without any quinine."
Top Note Tonics
taste great with a little seltzer or soda water added, but they also
work quite well in craft cocktails and nonalcoholic cocktails. For
recipes, visit topnotetonic.com.