By Gregory Daurer | Jun 20, 2022
What started off as a hobby led to a career for Andresen. He and a friend used to make medicinal herbal tinctures. Then (to your health!) they began adding those tinctures to their cocktails as well.
Andresen says, "What was a hobby then turned into a business once we started getting accolades, and bartenders telling us, 'Wow, these are some of the best bitters we've ever had!'"
Today, Andresen says of his company Strongwater, "We make craft premium cocktail mixers -- everything ranging from cocktail bitters to syrups to sparkling mixers." In other words, practically everything needed for preparing a tasty drink "minus the alcohol," he notes.
There are syrups to which one need only add spirits and ice. In addition to the company's Simple Syrup, there's one called Perfect Margarita, which features real lime juice, orange and cane sugar, merely awaiting the addition of one's own BYOB of tequila. The company's Wildflower syrup incorporates essences of "rose, hibiscus, lavender." How good is their Old Fashioned cocktail syrup? The preparation -- featuring "Demerara sugar, mountain spring water, orange peel, tart cherries, bitter herbs" -- was a finalist in 2019 for a Good Food Award.
Then there are also herbal bitters -- drops of which can be added to cocktails. Their cherry bourbon bitters contain seven-year aged bourbon, as well as "tart and bing cherries, schisandra berries, cherry bark, cassia cinnamon, gentian." There's turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and sassafras within the traditional-style aromatic bitters, and the company's website lists the bitters' health benefits, as well: potentially lending the body antioxidant and anti-inflammatory assistance. (An affiliated brand of CBD-infused "calming bitters" named Mountain Elixirs is linked through Strongwater's website.)
Tonics complete the lineup. One is a ginger beer befitting a Moscow Mule or Kentucky Mule. "We're actually soaking a few hundred pounds of real organic ginger root like you do a tea bag," Andresen says about its preparation. The Orange Blossom befits "a Spanish-inspired gin and tonic." And Andresen calls the Signature Tonic -- which makes use of lemongrass, wormwood, sage and dill -- a "Nordic-inspired" mixer.
"I'm half Korean and half Norwegian," says Andresen. He grew up around grandmothers from each respective culture who "were both into herbalism themselves" -- hence, Andresen's love for plant medicines.
And in terms of spirits, Andresen says, "I've always had an interest in botanical beverages -- the gins and all the different apothecary drinks of the world." The derivation of his company's name derives from the "strongwater shops" of yore that sold herbal preparations, such as early versions of gin, according to Andresen.
There has been strong growth for the company, as well. "In the seven years we've been in business, we have grown on average a hundred percent every year," says Andresen, "so we've doubled in size every year we've been in business." The company has over 300 accounts exclusive to Colorado and, after self-distributing for its first four years, is now represented by Classic Beverage Company. Out-of-state customers can purchase the company's products through the company's website or on Amazon. "They really took off on Amazon for us in a big, big way" during the pandemic, says Andresen.
The products are made in the company's 5,000-square-foot space in Denver, filled with "a lot of different vats with lots of different botanicals soaking." The company incorporates over 40 different ingredients into its products, including "flowers, barks, roots, and herbs." Andresen says, "We get fresh turmeric in from Hawaii, and we hand-peel all of our turmeric and that goes into our aromatic bitters, for example." In addition to the company's own canning line, there's a Charmat Tank in order to add champagne-like bubbles to the mixers.
While Andresen no longer oversees daily operations, he still captains the ship (in addition to being an actual sailing captain, as well). "We have a master mixologist in Kyle West [who formerly held the position of beverage engineer at Teakoe Tea], who is now our director of ops and one of our product developers," says Andresen. A couple of other employees, one being Nick's wife, Asha, have sommelier backgrounds.
Which leads Andresen to affirm about his company which makes flavorful preparations for cocktails, "We have a lot of good tasters here."
Challenges: Being a small company without any investors. Andresen says, "We have a lot of competitors with celebrity endorsements -- or things like that -- and it's very difficult to compete in the marketing world, getting the word out on what we're doing."
Opportunities: "We feel like we make some of the best bitters and syrups and sparklings on the market," says Andresen. "It's just getting the word out on what we do. And communicating our authenticity to our consumer base.
Needs: "We're at an interesting crossroads where maybe we do need to entertain the idea of taking the growth that we had and multiplying it with investment," says Andresen.