You may have recently seen my Spring cocktail (The Peach Tea Smash) made with Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Sweet Tea Syrup. I recently had the opportunity to conduct a Q&A with President and Co-Founder, Taylor Huber, to talk cocktails, Charleston and the legacy of the man named Jack Rudy.
HCH: Reading about the history of the company, your Grandfather, Jack Rudy sounds like an incredible man, why did you decide to name this product line after him?
In our households, our great-grandfather was often used as a barometer for what it meant to be a modern Southern gentleman. Because neither of us ever had the chance to meet Jack Rudy in person, I think his legend was even greater, and we felt like our company would be a great way to honor him.
Can you tell us a bit about the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. brand? Why did y’all decide to get into the craft cocktail business?
You hear this all the time, so perhaps it’s a bit cliché, but I don’t think it was ever something that either of us ever planned on. Brooks [Reitz] worked in restaurants in college and after, and was doing some wonderful things behind the bar just when this new and improved cocktail culture really started blowing up.. Long story short, he came up with this incredible Tonic Syrup recipe while working behind the bar, people loved it and the idea for business was born. We are first cousins, I have a business background and loved the product, so a partnership was formed. The rest is history.
The website says the Jack Rudy products are based out of Charleston, SC and Lexington, KY – which products actually originate in Charleston and which ones are from Lexington? Are the ingredients used in those products sourced locally from their city of origin?
We produce, warehouse, pack and ship all of our mixers in/from Charleston. I live in Lexington and run all the day-to-day business operations from Lexington. We try to source as many ingredients as possible locally, but often times availability in the qualities that we need is not possible locally.
What would you say sets the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. mixers apart from all the other craft cocktail mixers out there?
Honestly, I believe that first and foremost is taste. We could be pumping out new products every single month, but we really like to take our time and make sure that every product tastes perfect and represents our brand. I believe that we also have a very clear mission and an interesting story to tell with our products.
Sweet Tea Syrup is the latest addition to the Jack Rudy family. Who/What/How is it decided what the next flavor of Jack Rudy Mixer will be?
It’s really an organic process. It could be an experience one of us had while traveling, and idea in the shower, a dream, a picture from a magazine, anything really. One of us comes up with an idea and if the other one likes it then we get in the kitchen and start playing around.
Y’all have found a ton of notoriety with the Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonics since the start of the product. It has been featured on Esquire, Imbibe and now, most importantly; Holy City Handcraft (/sarcasm). How did you go about spreading the word on your product? Did you expect to get as much notoriety as it has already gotten?
We really have been blessed with incredible press and quite simply it is probably a combination of luck, great connections and having products where the taste sells itself. Brooks has some really great connections that he has established over the years in the restaurant industry, and that has really helped up get our foot in the door at a lot of places. Once we have our foot in the door it seems like the quality of the products and the branding speak for themselves.
Somewhat related to the last question, it seems as though the product has already made its way overseas and into the hands of international mixologists, which is an amazing milestone. Where would you like to see Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. be in 5 years?
Oh man, I have no idea how we have garnered an international audience, that still baffles us every day. We still see ourselves as a couple guys just having fun and doing what we love. We want to keep growing, adding employees and products, improving how efficiently we do business, and we will see where that takes us. We have some ideas about adding some alcoholic products to our line, but we are waiting on the perfect opportunity to do it the right way.
Barrel aging seems to be all the rage these days in the cocktail (and beer) world; do y’all have any plans to barrel age any of your mixers in the future?
Not that I have anything against it, because I love barrel aged gin (specifically Cardinal and High Wire), but probably not. If it was crucial in improving the flavor of a product we would certainly consider it, but we aren’t looking to barrel age something just for the hell of it.
Besides craft cocktail mixers, y’all also offer a line of apparel, glassware and bar tools via collaborations with what looks like proprietors from the Southeast who focus on well-made, high quality materials and handcrafted products, this can’t be by accident. What is the inspiration behind these products? How do you decide who to collaborate with?
We really just want people to be able to drink and entertain the same way that we enjoy. Basically we just design what we like to use ourselves. We figure if we like something or find it useful there are probably other folks out there that are interested in the same products. We try to collaborate with friends and people/companies that we really admire.
Your collaboration with W&P Design in particular has been wildly successful: the Carry-On Cocktail Kit. This was pure genius, how did this idea come about? Side note: The instructions also mention to ask your flight attendant to purchase [insert liquor] for each tin – Currently, the TSA will let you bring in any container of liquid under 6 oz on an aircraft. Why not just tell the consumer to bring their own mini bottle? I feel like it’d be a great travel tip or was it more of a legal issue?
I really wish we could take credit for coming up with the idea for the Carry-On Cocktail Kit because you are right, it is brilliant, but that was all W&P. They just wanted to include really high quality products in their kits and that’s where came in. That’s a question for W&P, but you can absolutely bring a whole bag full of mini-bottles on the plane with you. Let’s spread the word!
It seems as though craft cocktails have gone through almost a renaissance over the last few years, what role do you think the craft cocktail culture plays here in Charleston and where do you see it going in the future?
I think that NYC and San Francisco originated the re-birth of the craft cocktail culture in the US, but cities like Charleston have really taken up the mantle. There are so many incredibly talented bartenders in Charleston doing new, creative things. I can’t say what the future holds, but I can tell you what I would like to see. I would love to see the proliferation of simple, well-balanced, affordable cocktails across all bars and restaurants, and not just the ones where entrees are $30 or cocktails are $15.
Since whiskey/bourbon is such a huge part of this blog, I have to ask: Do either of you have a favorite American Whiskey (bourbon or rye) that you’d like to divulge to the public?
We’re Kentucky boys, so bourbon is in our blood. Favorite daily drinkers would be Bulleit, Buffalo Trace and Old Grand-Dad. Favorite harder to find bourbons would be E.H Taylor Small Batch and Weller 12.
What are y’all’s favorite cocktail to make and sip on at home?
Jack Rudy G&T, naturally. We both love a good Aperol or Campari Spritz, light, bright and low-alcohol. Been playing around with our Tea Syrup a lot lately and I love mixing it with a good Tequila and some fresh lime juice. It’s the perfect summer sipper.