- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Bartender Max Messier couldn’t find the cocktail syrups he wanted, so he made them. He’s among a number of do-it-yourself New Orleans bartenders crafting products with a local flair and finding a wider market.

Several said they started because stores offered homogenous, non-local products made with dubious ingredients, including chemicals.

“I have a DIY ethos like a punk-rock band: If you need something, you just make it,” said Messier, former bartender at Square Root. He recently concluded a successful Kickstarter campaign for his new venture, Cocktail & Sons: All-natural syrups designed as key components in homemade classic and modern cocktails.

“I’m a huge fan of home bars. My grandparents had a wet bar in their home where they would always entertain people and make drinks,” Messier said.

Each syrup is created with particular cocktails in mind. For example, Messier said, Spiced Demerara mixes with whiskey and other items to create an Old Fashioned or a Sazerac. Mint and Lemon Verbena helps build a classic Daiquiri or Mojito. Oleo Saccharum works well in a French 75 or a punch.

He uses fresh ingredients, often bought at Hong Kong Food Market in Gretna. When possible, they’re certified organic and local.

The first four syrups are in several respected New Orleans area spots, he said: Arnaud’s French 75, Doris Metropolitan, Tiki Tolteca, La Barra at Tacos and Tequila, Winston’s Pub & Patio and Gravier Social Club. Messier also held tastings at Barrel Proof and Tiki Tolteca.

He plans to start selling through his website in early January, and later to get a commercial kitchen and move the syrups into retail stores and more bars.

Scot Mattox, who began making his own bitters while tending bar at Iris, moved late last year to running El Guapo Bitters full-time.

His first recipe, mimicking the bitters originally used in Manhattan cocktails, took years, he said.

“The jump from this to other bitters was easy,” Mattox said. “I started tinkering with ingredients, started finding some great flavor combos and finding ways to use them.”

They attracted major players including Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, a yearly cocktail extravaganza that attracts industry members from around the world.

Bartenders from around the globe are now using El Guapo Bitters.

“Everything that goes in our bottle is a recognizable food item,” Mattox said.

Chicory-Pecan and Crawfish Boil bitters are inspired by south Louisiana staples. Mojo Cubano Bitters that use flavors from Cuban cooking that work well with rum.

The company, incorporated in 2013, has spread into about 16 markets, including at least 12 U.S. states, Australia and New Zealand. A contract signed in December should bring El Guapo into Europe early in 2015.

Customers can also buy the products online.

He’s working on a tropical bitters made with guava, pineapple, passion fruit, coconut and spices, as well as a spring seasonal bitters called “Love Potion.”

El Guapo began as a business targeted to bartenders, and bars remain the core market, Mattox said, but at-home cocktail enthusiasts are also catching on.

“I’ve seen a huge jump in consumer demand, from regular people,” Mattox said. “People are trying to elevate the way they’re cooking at home, the way they’re drinking at home. People are more interested than they have been since Prohibition in crafting cocktails.”

In February, El Guapo will add all-natural syrups including ginger syrup, orgeat, and lime cordial, Mattox said.

Chef Emily Marquis Vanlandingham added syrups to her catering business, Feed Me Eat Pretty, after watching bartenders hurry into the kitchen to make simple syrups right before service began.

Now they have their own Locally Preserved line of pepper jellies, sweetless jams, syrups and preserves from regionally grown produce.

She’s planning a move into a production facility with national ambitions. Vanlandingham, who won a grant for her business through the Idea Village New Orleans Food Challenge, said the products have proven a hit with both cocktail enthusiasts and bartenders.

“Honestly, we can’t get some of the flavors in jars fast enough,” she said.

Especially popular are Meyer Lemon Thyme, Grapefruit Mint, Satsuma Rosemary and Satsuma Whiskey syrups, she said.

The products often make use of local farmers’ excess.

“It’s amazing to see people’s faces light up when they try the syrups. They can’t believe it’s satsumas, lemons, figs,” she said.

Locally Preserved products are offered through Good Eggs, all four Crescent City Farmer’s Markets and several stores around the city, including Pearl Wine Co., as well as online through Etsy and the Locally Preserved website.

Fans can increasingly find Locally Preserved syrups in cocktails at local bars such as Purloo and St. Lawrence.

Sam Halhuli, a bartender at Twelve Mile Limit, began making his own ginger beer in December 2013 to dress up cocktails. Huhu’s Ginger Brew was created specifically for bartenders, with intense flavor that can hold its own against other ingredients.

Huhu’s Ginger Brew is on tap at Twelve Mile Limit, Markey’s Bar and Avenue Pub, and Halhuli is working toward a product that can be distributed wholesale.

Kegs prevent the nonalcoholic beer from oxidizing, keeping the fresh flavors intact.

“Fresh ginger beer tastes a thousand times better,” Halhuli said.

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com

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