March 21st, 2017 | By Mike Raven
ITM: The first question I have to ask is why is it called Q Drinks?
Jordan: “Q” is for “question,” because the whole company started with a question: Shouldn’t the mixer be as great as the spirit?
One summer night almost 10 years ago, a couple of good friends were in my Brooklyn backyard for gin & tonics. A few drinks in, my teeth felt strangely sticky. While Jon was talking, I picked up the bottle of tonic water and looked at the ingredients – 32 grams of high fructose corn syrup! Artificial flavors and artificial preservatives! Sara was drinking a Sprite. I asked to see the can. It had 32 grams of high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and artificial preservatives.
“Do you know that tonic water is virtually the same thing as Sprite?” I asked.
“Really? I thought it was like club soda.” Sara Answered.
It was probably the gin, but the idea was stuck in my head. Justin brought this great (and expensive) bottle of Tanqueray over, and we were mixing drink after drink with something that wasn’t any good. Right then, I looked up. The moon was shining down on the table. The light caught the Tanqueray and it looked like a glowing orb of green gin goodness. Next to it, the plastic tonic water bottle, with its label peeling off and its contents going flat, looked particularly decrepit. In a flash, I realized I should make a better tonic water – one made from real ingredients and good enough to mix with my favorite gins.
I spent four years working to make that great tonic water. I tracked down farmers to source ingredients; I made the recipe in my Brooklyn kitchen; and I spent late nights agonizing with a great designer to make a bottle as beautiful as the liquid it holds. I came up with a spectacular tonic water.
Immediately some of the world’s best bars, restaurants and retailers started buying it from me. In New York City, I delivered it from my station wagon, with me doing the delivering and my dad driving. Then we got a bunch of press coverage and some larger accounts across the country joined them, both restaurant groups and retailers such as Whole Foods. And soon I was being asked for other carbonated mixers as tasty and high quality as Q Tonic Water. Today we have six flavors – tonic water, ginger beer, ginger ale, club soda, kola and grapefruit – that are proudly served at great bars and restaurants across the country.
ITM: I read your story of your terrible experience with tonic waters. It must have really been bad for you to be motivated to start your own line.
JS: Yup. Though six gin & tonics have a way of making everything seem much clearer!
ITM: Creating the beautiful bottle design wasn’t as easy as you thought, was it?
JS: No, but nothing has been as easy as I thought it would be. That’s part of the fun!
We made a custom, thicker glass bottle that enables us to put more carbonation into our carbonated mixers. The way to have a drink stay fizzier longer is to have it start with more carbonation. And granted I started a carbonated mixer company, but nothing drives me more nuts than a flat gin & tonic or Moscow Mule.
So we invested in a thicker glass bottle that lets us use more carbonation, and we then treat carbonation like an ingredient so that each of our six flavors – tonic water, ginger beer, ginger ale, club soda, kola and grapefruit – has a different carbonation level. It wasn’t very easy to figure out how to make the bottle hold more carbonation, run well on our production lines, and enable us to price our stuff competitively, but we’ve done it. And it’s great.
Though once you have a bottle that performs beautifully and contains spectacular liquid, you need to make sure it looks fantastic. So we worked with an incredibly talented designer to make sure all of our bottles look as beautiful and sophisticated as the liquid they contain. As a result, Q bottles fit in perfectly at the nicest looking restaurants in the country.
ITM: The products all say “spectacular” on them. I believe you have a plan for on-premise outlets to increase the quality of their cocktails involving that word?
JS: Yeah, we call it a “spectacular serve.” It’s how they serve highballs in Europe and it’s an easy way for restaurants to delight guests while also increasing profits and differentiating their cocktail program. A bunch of national accounts are already starting to implement it.
It’s pretty easy to do – all you have to do is serve highballs “club style,” with the bottle of Q brought to the table alongside a garnished highball glass filled with ice and the customer’s spirit of choice. Your server then opens the Q bottle in front of the guest, pours it until the glass is three-fourths full, and leaves the bottle behind, which allows the guest to top off their drink as they desire.
We already see it working at a bunch of great national restaurants and hotel chains. Customers are delighted by a level of service – an experience – they wouldn’t get at their own house or the regular bar on the corner (which, by the way, these days also serves Hendricks & tonic, though with tonic out of the gun.) This lets the account charge a higher price for highballs, closer to the price of a specialty cocktail than a pint of beer, and they increase their profits without doing anything crazy like opening another location. So everyone wins – the guests, who get better drinks and a better experience; and the account, which increases profits and differentiates its cocktail program.
ITM: I was looking through your products on your website, Qdrinks.com, and was impressed with the ingredients in each flavor. The Q Spectacular Tonic Water even has handpicked quinine from the Peruvian Andes and organic agave as the sweetener. Seems like you had health and quality in mind creating these.
JS: Yeah, we use real ingredients from real trees and plants in all our products: quinine from real Peruvian trees, ginger from real ginger root, agave rather than high fructose corn syrup or sugar, and no artificial flavors or preservatives. We do this partly for health reasons but are actually more motivated to make the best tasting drinks possible. And real ingredients just taste a lot better.
With that said, I’m going to take a quick tangent on sugar because it’s something I’m pretty fired up about. Sugar is really bad for you – it makes you fat, it makes you tired, it makes you all sorts of bad things.
But if you’re a drinker, sugar is bad for another reason. It is a fantastic time to be a drinker – there are so many terrific spirits out there. Each is created by a distiller who has agonized over the botanicals, the shape of the still, the number of times it is fired through that still and how it’s aged. The big guys are making terrific spirits that are so consistent and so tasty. And there are more and more craft distillers who are making incredible, interesting spirits. I can have a new, fantastic gin every night until 2025!
However, if you’re using a mixer with too much sugar, you can’t taste any of the subtleties in the spirit you’re mixing with. You see, sugar is a masking agent. It’s why Prohibition-era cocktails are so sweet – they were covering up the booze because it was made in the bathtub! So if you use a mixer that is super sweet (and most mixers have as much sugar as soda), you can’t taste any of the wonderful subtleties in the great spirit you’ve chosen.
So we make Q drinks with agave rather than sugar or high fructose corn syrup, and we use a lot less of agave than other mixers use of sugar or corn syrup. For instance, Q Tonic Water has 35 calories per 6 ounces, compared to 65 with Schweppes and 58 with Fever Tree. That means cocktails made with Q have fewer calories, but even more importantly, it also means that these drinks taste even better because you are more able to taste the subtleties in the great spirit you’ve chosen.