If you’ve sampled one of the Gin Joint’s much-lauded cocktails, you know they’re all about about freshness, intensity, and balance. Now, Joe and MariElena Raya, the bar’s owners, are bringing to market a retail line to make it easier for cocktail lovers to recreate those flavors at home.
“About a year ago we really started conceptualizing the project,” Raya says. “We asked ourselves what drinks do people react to at the Gin Joint? How can we take these more popular drinks and make it so that people who aren’t a pro can get behind them and have fun with them?”
And they wanted to do it without sacrificing any of the quality. “The boundaries we have set for ourselves,” Raya says, “is that we don’t want to use any ingredient in our mixers that we wouldn’t use behind the bar at the Gin Joint.” That means using as many organic ingredients as possible, plus top-quality sweeteners and fresh fruit juices.
Bittermilk’s first three flavors are what Raya calls “riffs on classics,” and they look to strike “that balance of acid and sweeteners and aromatic complexity and bittering complexity.”
Compound No. 1, the Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned, blends the dark sweetness of burnt cane sugar and demerara with bitter notes of gentian root, chinchona bark, and orange peel.
No. 2 is a lemony-sweet Tom Collins mix tinged with elderflower, elderberry, and hops, while No. 3 is whiskey sour made with smoked honey.
Though each mixer is named after the primary cocktail that inspired it, they can be used to create plenty of other libations. Swap in tequila for the whiskey with the No. 3 sour mix, for instance, and you get a bang-up margarita. Or, blend two spirits with the mixer, like gin and yellow Chartreuse to create “The Bittered Bee.” The Bittermilk website has a dozen recipes ideas to get the ball rolling.
In devising their compounds, the Rayas bring the same intense focus on quality that has so distinguished the Gin Joint’s libations. They age the Old Fashioned compound, for instance, in bourbon barrels they get from the Willett distillery in Kentucky. “We are only using them one time,” Raya says. “Once we are done with them, we decided to cut the barrels into chunks and use the chunks to smoke the honey for the whiskey sour.”
“It’s a sweet, beautiful smoke. It’s not as hard as hickory or mesquite—a nice, complex sort of ingredient.”
The Rayas just secured USDA approval for their facility and are fast at work bottling and labeling their initial batches. They’ll launch in town later this month at select retailers like Bottles, the Charleston Beer Exchange, and Two Boroughs Larder as well as behind the bars at some of downtown’s most noted restaurants. Everything is currently on track to start taking orders online at bittermilk.com on Sept. 23, too.