Jack Rudy products
The aromatic bittters, grenadine, small batch tonic, and elderflower tonic of the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Photo by Sarah Jane Sanders
Most modern drinkers don’t give much thought to tonic water. If anything, it’s a dubious yet necessary counterpart to a shot of gin or vodka. While ultra-pure, small-batch spirits are all the rage these days, mixers have yet to catch up. And for cocktail purists, it seems absurd to invest in high-end booze and water it down with an industrial blend of artificial flavors, corn syrup and preservatives.
Enter Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., a family-run company based in Lexington and Charleston, S.C.
Chevy Chase resident and co-owner Taylor Huber founded the company with his cousin Brooks Reitz in 2010. Huber explains the ethos: “We like to think, if we looked into our great-grandfather’s liquor cabinet, what would we see? We want to take those long-forgotten staples of the American bar and reinvent them.”
Huber and Reitz grew up in Lexington, and after graduating from Transylvania University, Reitz moved to Louisville where he was general manager of Proof on Main, one of America’s most respected cocktail bars. His recipe for a house-made tonic concentrate quickly became a staple. In 2009, Reitz relocated to Charleston, perfected the recipe and launched the company one year later. Huber, a controller for a construction company by day, spends his evenings and weekends handling logistics and accounting for Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.
Jack Rudy, their great-grandfather, was a family legend and apparently a bit of a Hemingway type. A pilot, inventor and craftsman, he lived a life of adventure and curiosity. He was a WWII aircraft mechanic, he invented a pill-counting machine for pharmacists, fashioned a houseboat from an old city bus, and shot handmade bullets into a dirt wall he built in his basement. And once, on a dare, he illegally flew his plane under the Ohio River Bridge. Rudy was also an avid entertainer and enthusiastic drinker. In the cousins’ own words: “His life was used as a barometer for what it meant to be modern Southern gentleman.”
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Taylor Huber, pictured here, and his cousin Brooks Reitz founded Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. — named after their grandfather — in 2010. Photo by Sarah Jane Sanders
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect about Jack Rudy tonic is that it’s not actually tonic. “It’s a concentrate – essentially a flavored simple syrup,” Huber explained. The cane sugar syrup base is infused with a variety of botanicals, including white pepper, lemongrass, clove, allspice and orange peel. And of course, quinine, made from the bark of the cinchona tree, which lends tonic water its slightly bitter flavor. Interestingly, tonic water was originally used as medicine. In 1825, British troops used it to cure malaria in India. It didn’t take them long to add sugar, lime and gin to make the drink more palatable, and a legendary cocktail was born.
Unlike typical tonic water, Jack Rudy is designed to be mixed with soda water; allowing more control over the sweet and bitter flavors and the amount of carbonation.
“I think people appreciate how easy it is to work with,” said Huber. “A lot of drinks today are so complicated. They want to add Campari and Chartreuse and six different kinds of bitters. Ours is just mixer, soda and booze.”
The absence of carbonation in the bottles extends their shelf life significantly; a 17-ounce bottle of Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic retails locally for $16-$18, and makes anywhere from 25 to 30 drinks.
“We were a tonic company for a long time,” said Huber. “That was our only product for the first two years, but lately we’ve had a burst of productivity.”
The company has recently added a number of new products to their line, including elderflower tonic and small batch grenadine. Huber admits that some folks have a preconceived notion of grenadine as a neon red concoction used in outdated drinks. But their version is made from pomegranate juice from a small family farm, cane sugar and orange flower water.
“It’s lighter and brighter than anything currently available,” he said. “It’s really delicious.”
Organic dried elderflowers (which grow wild throughout Kentucky) are paired with a slightly higher amount of quinine to create another new product, Elderflower Tonic. The deeper, bolder flavor pairs nicely with fine bourbons and tequilas but also plays well with gin and champagne.
In addition, Jack Rudy offers small-batch aromatic bitters, bourbon cherries and a collection of bar accessories like handmade towels, muddlers, jiggers and bartender roll-ups.
“We like to fancy ourselves as a Southern company,” said Huber. “Our products are all made in the United States, and primarily in the South.”
While co-owning a small business, working a day job, and spending time with his wife and two children takes up the majority of Huber’s time, he is optimistic and excited about the company’s future. When asked about challenges, he said, “I almost feel bad saying this, but it’s been fairly easy so far. We haven’t done any traditional advertising yet, and the response has been great. And while I know that when you own your own business, there’s this constant fear that it will all just disappear one day. But we just focus on growing slowly and adding new and relevant products to our line.”
Jack Rudy products are available locally at Wine + Market, LV Harkness, and Wines on Vine, or online at jackrudycocktailco.com.
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Taylor Huber | Photo by Sarah Jane Sanders
Q&A with Taylor Huber
Current favorite local restaurant? The Tulip
Favorite bar? Arcadium
Name one thing on your bucket list. Spending an entire summer in Finland with my family.
Your go-to hangover cure? A big ass glass of sparkling water with 6-7 drops of Jack Rudy bitters before bed
The last great book you read? Anthony Bourdain's “Medium Raw”
Best business advice you ever received? “The harder you work, the luckier you get” – my dad
How do you unwind? Hanging out with my rad little kids and beautiful wife.
Favorite Jack Rudy cocktail? Good ol' Gin & Tonic or Maiden’s Blush, using our grenadine. cc