By: Kendall Kostelic
Strongwater’s old-world blends add a salubrious shot (and seriously good flavor) to drinks
Good-for-you cocktails? Sign us up! That’s the promise of Strongwater Spirits and Botanicals, a Denver-based company recently launched by husband-and-wife team Nick and Asha Andresen.
Since December of last year, the couple has been offering a range of handcrafted, small-batch herbal bitters and shrubs to the mocktail and cocktail world. So just what are bitters? They’re “elixirs that doctors first prescribed as medicine,” Nick says, and that are made by infusing bark, roots and herbs into grain alcohol. Shrubs are a bit different: Classic colonial-style cocktail mixers, they’re made by infusing apple cider vinegar with fruits, herbs and honey.
The Andresens bring complementary backgrounds to Strongwater—she as a sommelier and he as a chemist for a pharmaceutical company. “When Nick approached me about creating this business,” Asha says, “my first thoughts were how perfect this would be to marry his background in chemistry with my background in the restaurant and wine industry.” As a child, Nick watched his Korean grandmother treat family illnesses by using homemade herbal tinctures, but when he began his pharmaceutical career, he focused on Western medicine.
Still, the outdoorsy couple who likes to ski and climb, enjoyed creating their own healthy mixes at home. And eventually those homemade batches made it into the hands (and mouths) of restaurant-industry friends, who delighted at the tastes.
Those flavors currently range from orange anise rose bitters to its persimmon-and-lavender and cherry-and-thyme shrubs. The Andresens attribute the flavor diversity to their cultural roots—Asha is half Indian, Nick half Asian—and their love of travel. “A big part of our travels is our culinary experiences, and we like to bring those home,” says Nick, who adds that the company is working on new seasonal and international shrub and bitter flavors, as well as an entire line of tonics. “We wanted to create products that have dynamic taste profiles while maintaining all the health benefits of these historical remedies,” Asha adds.
Those benefits, Nick says, differ according to each formulation, but every bottle comes armed with the promise of something extra, from boosting circulation (or libido!) to alleviating heartburn and digestion. Strongwater prides itself on using old-world production methods. Shrubs, for example, are made using a cold steep infusion technique that starts by infusing apple cider vinegar with organic dried fruits for one to two weeks, then adds organic Colorado honey to sweeten. (Most shrubs use squeezed juices that add unwanted cane sugar.) “It’s a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, but it brings out the natural flavorings of fruits in a way that just adding squeezed fruit juices can’t,” Nick says. The result, Asha adds, is “a perfect balance of tartness, sweetness, texture and acidity.”
They know they’ve really hit a home run when they get positive feedback at their tasting parties, where industry friends test new flavors. “We rely on our friends who are herbalists and in the culinary scene, and really respect their feedback,” Nick says. Clearly, their palates are prescient: In less than a year, Strongwater is already selling its products in 12 states and to 60 purveyors, including 43 in Colorado.
And while the Andresens’ goal is to make Strongwater a known cocktail-industry name, 50 percent of its customers buy products simply for the health benefits. That’s just fine with the owners, who, in the evening, like to add one of their shrubs to ice, other herbs and soda water and sip. Whatever way you drink Strongwater’s bitters and shrubs, when you raise a cocktail and say, “To your health!” you’ll really mean it.
THE DESERT BIRD (recipe)
THE OLD FASHIONED VARIATION (recipe)
TEQUILA COLLINS (recipe)
THE BITTER END
Rob Corbari, bar manager at The Populist, beverage director at Bar Fausto and Colorado ambassador for Strongwater, says he likes to work with bitters and shrubs because of their deep history. “It’s something that we’ve been cultivating and using for small purposes for a very long time, and it’s fun to see that come back into our culture,” he says. Corbari, who’s been bartending for more than 10 years, advises home mixologists to aim for balance between the spirit, citrus and sugar—“kind of that umami thing.” His current favorite shrubs and bitters cocktail: an Old Fashioned variation he’s serving at The Populist made with Strongwater’s herbal bitters and white whiskey. That recipe, plus three more, are sure to shake up your cocktail game.