In recent years, DIY food and drinks kits have become really popular with consumers. From home-brewing kits to cheese making kits, the DIY trend is one that appeals to all, but predominantly the millennial consumer looking for a new and creative food and drink experience.
Bootleg Botanicals are a US start-up based in Las Vegas that has recently launched a range of alcohol infusion kits. While distillation can cause issues, the start-up has created a way for consumers to easily create spirits in their own home and flavour to taste. We spoke with co-founder Melanie Belshee from Bootleg Botanicals about its range and the latest trends in alcohol.
Tell us about Bootleg Botanicals. How and why did you start up the brand?
My husband Ryan and I have always enjoyed experimenting with home-brewing beer, wine and cider but one day Ryan decided he’d like to try making absinthe.
He spent weeks researching and discovered that there really was not a legal way to make absinthe at home through the traditional distillation method. It can also be dangerous and since we were living in a condo at the time, distilling was absolutely out of the question. I convinced him to give infusing a try. So we did, and after some tweaking and taste testing it turned out to be really good. So good that when we hosted a blind taste test and put our batch of absinthe up against popular store-bought brands, ours actually won the contest.
After the absinthe, we came up with some other ideas such as an Old Fashioned cocktail blend and compound gin. We were five years into the business of making a security product but the idea of creating an infusion kit was so appealing that we decided to go for it and launched a Kickstarter project to test the market and see if anyone else thought this was a good idea.
To our shock and amazement, the idea was a bigger hit than we expected. Our initial goal was just $5,500 and the campaign closed at over $30,000. We both had a feeling at that point that this was an idea worth exploring.
Selling security products is hard work but alcohol is something with mass appeal, it’s fun and we decided to close the doors on our former business and give Bootleg Botanicals all of our love and attention. So far we are very glad we made that call.
How did you develop each infusion kit and which has been the most popular?
Absinthe was our first experiment and has continued to be a favourite but by far our most popular blend is the Old Fashioned cocktail blend.
With all of our blends we used a method of infusing each herb and spice in a neutral grain high-proof spirit, mixing drops of each infusion until we like the flavour profile of the blend. Before starting to blend the tinctures, we tasted each individually and logged what we discovered. For instance, grand wormwood tastes like unsalted pickles with the bitterness of grapefruit. By itself, it’s pretty unappealing but when properly infused it makes absinthe delicious.
Side-by-side comparison tastings helped a lot. It’s amazing how you can pinpoint the different flavours of something when you really stop and think about what you’re tasting. That part took some practice.
We knew from the start that we wanted the herbs and spices to be organic to prevent any unwanted chemicals from making their way into the finished drink. We also liked the idea that the sugar content could be controlled. We really don’t care for most of the liqueurs on the market because they are extremely artificial and overly sweet for our tastebuds. Of course everyone will be different and will taste differently. That’s the beauty of infusing; you can create a flavour that meets your needs.
What market research did you do before launching them?
All of our initial blends were tested out on our friends and family before launching them on Kickstarter. Truthfully we went with liqueurs and cocktails we personally enjoyed out of the gate. Market research was difficult on our product line because only a handful of companies offer infusion products. Now that we have a few years under our belts we’re learning what the public seems to resonate with. Our brand image is prohibition era so we like to stick with drinks that fit that era but also match trends from within the drinking community.
Our newest blend, the Ginger Mule cocktail kit, allows home-brew enthusiasts to make their own alcoholic ginger beer. It is a slight deviation from our infusion kits but offers the same high-quality, organic dried ingredients. Unlike distillation, home-brewing beer is completely safe and legal. With the popularity of alcoholic soda and the Moscow Mule we’re hoping this kit will be a big success for us in 2016 and beyond.
Why do you think there has been an increase in food and drink DIY kits on the market?
I think that people have become more aware of what is in the food and drinks they enjoy. Gluten intolerance is up, people are more careful about the amount of sugar they consume, and avoiding artificial ingredients and GMO processed food is a priority in many households. DIY is not only a fun hobby but it gives you control over what you are consuming. It’s also a lot of fun to share your homemade creations and impress your friends with your amazing skills.
Who is your target market and how are you attracting them?
Our product appears to appeal to the 25–45-year-old range, predominately male culinary enthusiasts who are creative and a bit theatrical. Gift-giving season is really our largest sales time. The Kickstarter community and Etsy have played an integral role in helping us find retailers that match our target market. Many of the retail relationships we currently have come through Kickstarter and Etsy connections. We have been fortunate to have not needed much outside advertising to spread the word. It’s been amazing and a completely different experience from our former business ventures.
What’s your view of the current alcohol market? What are consumers looking for?
Tastes are always changing. While whiskey was big a couple years ago, today alcoholic sodas seem to be making a big splash. It really is hard to predict what will be the next big thing down the line but I think that classic cocktails won’t ever really go out of style. I predict tequila will also be making a big come back in 2016-2017, especially flavoured tequila.
What’s your plan for 2016?
We are super excited for the Ginger Mule kit to make its debut in a couple months. We wrapped up our third Kickstarter campaign last month and are waiting for our raw goods to make it in so we can get all of our backers their rewards. From there, we’ll be launching the Ginger Mule to the public and looking forward to seeing how the public responds. The kit will include two 100% copper mule mugs, the basic brewing supplies required to batch 1 gallon of ginger beer, organic ingredients to make a ginger beer that is gluten-free, contains no GMOs and is vegan-friendly. We have a couple other ideas up our sleeves that will probably have to wait until 2017 but you never know.
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