It was early in Top Note's history: Noah and I were still perfecting the herbal cocktail syrups that would eventually become the base for our sparkling mixers. Following old herbalist formulas for vermouths, tonics and tinctures of the past, we were confident that we could make better aperitivo soft drinks, but we didn't know yet if the bartending world would agree.
We began taking our syrups around to local Milwaukee bars in order to gauge interest and that's when we first connected with Boone & Crockett. Now in a larger space in Walker's Point, their original Bay View space felt like walking into some combination of a pub and old world library, with taxidermy, plush leather chairs, and barrels suspended from the ceiling. We fell in love immediately.
Johnny was behind the bar. Easygoing and friendly, he opened one of the syrup bottles I brought and poured himself a dram. To our delight, he immediately bought a case of our Gentian Tonic Syrup. We almost couldn't believe it.
Soon after, I went back to see what they'd decided to make with the syrup: a simple and seriously thirst-quenching Gin and Tonic.
My eureka moment came a bit later, when another Milwaukee bartender used the same Gentian Tonic Syrup to create a cocktail featuring rhum agricole, lime and allspice dram. Drinking this cocktail was like being transported straight to the Caribbean, and the experience left me speechless. It felt like having a moment of surprise and clarity at the same time.
I was reminded of beer flavors from wild yeasts, spice, rose and must. The quench of the sour left me thirsty for more and the gentle woody bitters on the finish left me satiated. It was in this moment that I realized that our syrups could be used to create a kind of complexity that enhanced the cocktail experience to a fuller extent than I'd previously imagined. I felt - in a word - grateful.
We all have these moments in life: the combination of surprise, satisfaction, and intrigue all at once when we realize the potential in the ingredients before us and our own capability to create something incredible with them.