Kat Savage and Elliot Patterson of Savor Shrub Bitters Talk Cocktail Mixers
Kat Savage and Elliot Patterson, the humans behind Savor Shrub Bitters, make "concentrated, probiotic, fermented, non-alcoholic cocktail and mocktail mixers." These tasty, creative spritzers add instant flavor to any drink--and they're good for you, too! Bitters have a long history as digestive aids, and some of Savor Shrub's creations might even help you dodge a hangover.
Kat started Savor Shrub Bitters in the winter of 2019, intending at that time to sell mainly to restaurants and bars. After Covid hit, plans changed. The fledgling company pivoted on a dime, restructuring their business plan and launching an online sales platform to accommodate the shifting landscape. In the interview below, Kat and Elliot called in to talk to us about their business and the delicious, creative products they make. Listen below or scroll down for the transcript!
This week only, Savor Shrub's limited-edition seasonal flavor, Cackalacky Scuppernong Kudzu Flower Y'all, and their five-flavor flight are 20% off! Visit our market and select "Savor Shrub Bitters" from the producer menu on the left.
Kade: If you would, would you both just tell me a little bit about yourselves for people who may have never heard of you? What do you make and what do you do?
Kat: Sure, yeah. My name is Kat Savage, and my business partner is on the line with us, too.
Elliot: Hi, I'm Elliot Patterson.
Kat: Yeah, and together we make Savor Shrub Bitters. It's a craft cocktail and mocktail mixer. We're here in the Asheville area, and our business is about a year old.
Kade: That's awesome. Congratulations, I didn't know how old your business was. What are shrub bitters?
Kat: Yeah. Elliot, do you want to do this one?
Elliot: So, our shrub bitters are a concentrated, probiotic, fermented, non-alcoholic cocktail and mocktail mixer made from fresh fruit and botanicals and fermented in live apple cider vinegar.
Kade: Oh, wow. That's a mouthful, and also it sounds delicious.
Kat: It's a little like a kombucha cocktail mixer. I know a lot of folks will use a kombucha as a little tricky, easy cocktail mixer, but this is really meant for that. It's a little bit more concentrate, and you can dilute it with all kinds of other stuff. It makes just, like, five-minute fancy cocktails at home. It's pretty great just to have something that can elevate any drink that easily.
Kade: Yeah, that's really neat. It's nice to have something to just splash in there to fancy it up a little bit.
Elliot: And there's a lot of flexibility in these, too. We've got, like, the Orange-Mango Spice, which is great with hot water as a hot toddy. You can put a little rum in that. I really like the Lemon Spruce-Rite with sparkly water. It's like a very herbaceous lemonade. There's a lot of different directions you can go in.
Kade: And I've seen on your social media that you post a fair amount of mocktail recipes, too. I think that's really neat. We live in such a cocktail-and-beer type of city--I don't see a lot of mocktail-friendly stuff. I really like that that's something that you can do.
Kat: Thanks. It's definitely a big focus. We really aren't big alcohol drinkers ourselves, and we are also in this Asheville mocktail and beer culture. I think I've googled "top three mocktails in Asheville" and you get nothing. You get an article from the Mountain Xpress from like 2015, so I think that we have a lot of room in Asheville if other mocktail makers want to jump in and help expand the niche, it's not a competition. Let's offer people options to drink in more healthy-conscious ways, and just actually, if you're going to have an alcoholic beverage, stop and enjoy it. Savor it. It's not just about, you know, drinking. It's about taking in the moment, and I think that when we consider whether we want to drink a cocktail or mocktail, even in the moment when we're making ourselves a drink in the kitchen, just taking a moment to consider whether we want to actually want to drink any alcohol or not is a great way to stay present in life. It's a whole different lifestyle.
Kade: Yeah. I agree, and it's a good way to be kind to your body, too.
Kat: Not everybody wants to feel like crap all the time, and drinking alcohol really can do that. So the bitters in our cocktail mixers can really help prevent people from feeling so bad when they do choose to make a cocktail, because it supports the body and has a history of supporting the liver when you enjoy bitters with your food.
Kade: Oh, that's clever. I didn't know that, about the health functions of the bitters.
Kat: Yeah! They're really good for you. I think that people stay away from bitters in their home kitchen a lot, other than coffee and chocolate and maybe hops. Those are common bitters flavors we have in our kitchen. But I think Americans especially are kind of intimidated by mixing bitters, so we've just gone ahead and done that mixing so people don't have to worry about getting that perfect ratio so it still tastes good.
Elliot: We were brainstorming a little bit before this call. I think bitters are a pretty unfamiliar flavor in American diets. It reminds me of when umami was a big thing a bunch of years ago, when we all discovered, "Oh my gosh, there's a fifth flavor!" I was like, yeah, bitters are the new umami. I think we're used to them being in very specific contexts. You know, if you mix cocktails, if you're knowledgeable about mixed beverages, you know about using bitters to enhance the alcohol. But it's kind of like, yeah, chocolate and coffee are the only contexts we're really familiar with them enhancing a flavor. I think we often try to cover up bitter with sweetness in our chocolates and coffee. Our flavor-mixing in our shrub mixers--we use the bitter to balance out the other flavors, and it's also a traditional digestive aid. I think there's, like, a spring tonic aspect of this that we could talk about a little bit. You know, the early spring greens like dandelions are something bitter that kind of helps wake your body up after the winter. There's a lot of seasonal and regional influences in how we put these flavors together.
Kat: Yeah, there are.
Kade: I think that makes a lot of sense, and I think that fits well for here in the South, where we think of bitter greens as a big part of our cultural diet and culinary history.
Kat: I love that parallel. I think folks in the South in more rural areas still do things like harvest and eat dandelion greens, and these things are still traditional in various parts of Europe, too, because--especially, like, dandelions, they're found all over the globe. They're naturalized everywhere at this point. We have both dandelion greens and roots in several of our signature flavors. I think Blueberry Lemon-Lavender Shrub Bitters has maybe the most dandelion of any--that's the main bitters in that one, besides the lemon peel, which is also a great bitters. We just love incorporating local, abundant things in our bitters where possible. We're really hoping to move over to sourcing more and more from local farmers, maybe even other farmers through Patchwork, over the next couple of growing seasons as we expand.
Kade: Oh, that's really cool. You know I love to hear that.
Kat: Yeah. We'll definitely be reaching out to folks.
Kade: For sure. So, on that note, how did you end up founding a business to craft shrub bitters?
Kat: Well, it was kind of an accident. Elliot and I have both been in adjacent fields and careers that have kind of dovetailed into this career. I started Savor Shrub Bitters in the winter of 2019 and hired Elliot as a consultant for business and website development, and all kinds of stuff. We worked really great together as a team, and so when Covid happened last year, we decided to turn it from my own personal business into a shared partnership business that we've worked really hard to, you know, pivot with the changes of the Covid times. This is not really what our initial business plan looked like. We were going to sell to mostly restaurants and bars, and we've really had to shift and step into online sales and that sort of thing, as well as being an early Patchwork Alliance producer. We jumped on there right at the beginning as Patchwork shifted from a more standard CSA to a collective of farmers, which is so cool that y'all did that and started that delivery process for folks so early in Covid. I think y'all were among the first couple of organizations in town that would delivery groceries. Do you know?
Kade: I think so, yeah. I don't know for sure, but I think so.
Kat: It was early. I mean, I remember being very impressed about the way that Patchwork pivoted from being a CSA with pickup locations to a way to support and network all these farmers it was in connection with, and these producers, and bring us together so that we are stronger as a team. It is a better way to reach out to people, because what people want is they want groceries delivered to their house, and y'all have really made it very easy for local producers to get their products into people's hands. That's so cool.
Kade: Thank you. That's really nice to hear. I think last year was so challenging for so many of us, and Covid presented so many new challenges. You know, there was and is so much danger wrapped up in just leaving your house at this point, so it really required us to look and see what are other ways we can network with each other, and what are other ways we can build up our local community and make things possible, and make food access possible in these new lights.
Kat: Y'all made some really amazing shifts as an organization right there at the beginning. Even now--you all accept EBT, which I know y'all were a forerunner of for online farmers' markets...it's just been a real pleasure to be a part of Patchwork, because it's really been a tremendous help getting our products out to people and getting the word out really early in our business.
Kade: Thank you. I saw on Instagram you made a post that talked a little bit about the work that goes into creating your products. You actually posted a picture of three different ones that you had taste-tested. What is the process like to make bitters?
Kat: Yeah, that photo was a pretty fun glimpse into it, but the process is a good bit harder than that. The photo you're referencing is on our Instagram. There are three different cocktail glasses, and I'm not going to give away what the flavor is, yet, because it's still in-progress. I'm going to hold that back just a little bit. But there were three different slight flavor modifications on a recipe that we have in progress for one of our private reserve flavors that we release seasonally. So we're always coming up with new recipes, and Elliot and I work together to make flavor notes and shifts and changes before we produce. I think I'd love to hear Elliot talk a little more about our fermenting process, if you'd like to, Elliot.
Elliot: Yeah, so I think I was kind of hearing two different questions in there, and one of them was about the flavor development and the other was about the production process. We work with organic ingredients where possible. We start as much as possible with whole fruits and botanicals, and those are fermented in live apple cider vinegar for about four-to-six weeks, kind of depending on the weather and the flavor at the time. We want to get certain flavors showing up that might take a little bit longer to come out of the mash. Then we press in a commercial kitchen--we have a big wine press that we're using right now to get the liquid out of the mash...what's a nicer way to say that, other than "extract the liquid from the solids?" [laughs] So we press in this wine press, and then we bottle from there. It's a refrigerated product, so it does need to stay refrigerated once it's bottled. And then, Kat, do you want to talk about maybe some of the flavor combinations? Because I think that's really something that sets us apart. A lot of the flavor notes have been really surprising to me to kind of get to know.
Kat: Sure, yeah. You and I were talking a little bit earlier about one of our private reserve flavors, Elliot. We were talking about Cackalacky Scuppernong Kudzu Flower Y'all, which is our hyper-local name for that product. I think local North Carolinians can totally appreciate the Cackalacky of it all. It's a flavor that is inspired by an aperitif called pastis, which can be a few different types of flavors, like maybe an anise flavor or a fennel. Ours is a fennel-based aperitif, and it's got some vermouth notes in it as well, because what happens when you ferment a scuppernong grape, which is a local North Carolinian treasure. We have the oldest scuppernong grapes--this is where they come from in the world. They're a type of muscadine. It's a really special white grape sort of flavor, and it brings out these vermouth notes when it's fermented. We top it off with a top-note of fennel, and once it becomes this combination of a new flavor, I think a lot of people may be surprised that it's both at once new and familiar. That's kind of what we aim for with all of our flavors. If you take a look at our website, SavorShrub.com, what you would see is that things like Strawberry Balsamic Shisandra are our signature flavors. I think a lot of people know what strawberries and strawberry balsamic tastes like, but shisandra is this five-flavor herb from China, and it is what is says. It's five flavors. It's all the flavors on the tongue. It's got umami, it's got sweet and sour, it's got everything going on with it, and that might be a new flavor aspect for people. So taking some fun new botanicals and blending them with familiar flavors that we might already understand and enjoy just helps give people kind of a new experience while not stretching them too far, hopefully. It's like, maybe, going to a bar and getting a new twist on an old favorite from the bartender. It's something that the bartender has put together especially for that evening, and yet it's also still very recognizably like a daquiri, or a gin and tonic. Each of our flavors kind of corresponds with things like that. The Strawberry Balsamic Shisandra is like something you could use for a daquiri. Recently I had a customer tell me that it's the only flavor you need--it's just the best one. They were so excited about it. But back to the Cackalacky Scuppernong Kudzu Flower Y'all shrub bitters, just putting an ounce of that in a champaign flute with some prosecco, and it's immediately this very lovely beverage. We've named that drink the Hemingway because it was inspired by an Ernest Hemingway recipe. I feel like I've gone on and on about this, but I really get excited about our flavors. I'm a foodie, and I just love playing in the kitchen and combining these things to make tasty drinks for everybody.
Kade: I can tell. That's good, though, that's good. It sounds delicious. I haven't gotten a chance to taste it yet, but it sounds just absolutely great. I love that it's got kudzu in it, too. I get excited when I see that edible things have kudzu in them, since it's, you know, the vine that at the South. I get kind of, you know, we get to eat it!
Kat: Yeah. We should eat the vine that eats the South! And then we won't have a problem. It's so nutritious, it's so common in other countries like Japan--they use the root, they use the flower, they use the leaf. Cackalacky Scuppernong Kudzu Flower Y'all has both the flower and the leaf in it. Those two things have been known to prevent hangovers. I don't make any health claims about it, but I think it's an interesting thing that you could add to your cocktail for sure.
Kade: I'd actually heard that, too, about the hangovers. And I had heard--and this is not, you know, founded medical advice or anything like that, but I had heard that there was some investigation into using kudzu to treat alcoholism too.
Kat: I've read those studies, as well, and I have seen that it's the kudzu root. You can actually get that in capsules. So just continuing the "drink responsibly" theme, it's great to have some kudzu flower and not have a hangover and get some kudzu root. Just reduce the amount of alcohol. People can cut back using that sort of thing if they need to.
Kade: So where does your kudzu come from?
Kat: We are sourcing locally, and we are not going to give away our sources. [laughs] We are able to do the HACCP plan and the good manufacturing practices aspect of things in our kitchen. Elliot and I have experience in that sort of area--I come from the tincture business before this, and Elliot comes from...do you want to speak to your own experience, Elliot?
Elliot: I spent about seven years in local, sustainable agriculture, organic farms. I ran one of the first multi-farm CSAs in the state that accepted food stamps, and I have HACCP plan and food hub training under my belt. There are some significant differences in the sort of legal environment around food production that are different from what you're required to do as a farmer, or what you're required to do as an herbalist making tinctures. So there's definitely a learning curve for us in how do we take these two different backgrounds and combine them in a way that's going to work well for this business. That's actually how I ended up being part of this--Kat said she'd hire me mostly to do website and spreadsheet stuff. I was doing a lot of tech consulting at the time. Then, when quarantine happened, and the work that I was doing at the time ended, it made a lot of sense for us to do this stuff together. So I guess I'm kind of the logistical back-end.
Kat: Yeah, we're stepping them into being able to forage for things and create those paper trails for our insurance, and all those hoops. It's a lot to keep track of.
Kade: For sure.
Elliot: Do you want a definition of HACCP planning? I just threw an acronym out.
Kat: Yeah, give a short one.
Elliot: It's Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, and it's a food safety requirement for food manufacturing.
Kade: Got it. Thank you for clarifying that. That's great that you have those two different backgrounds--it sounds like you're pretty varied between the two of you, but you can cover a lot of ground that way.
Kat: It feels that way. It's been a great business partnership. I feel like we really dovetail nicely with each other's skillsets. It's been a joy to dovetail like that, but also Elliot is a home-brewer and has experience in brewing things and fermenting things as well. We both bring this commonality of love of fermentation and brewing to the table.
Kade: Nice. So, if you had to pick, which of your products or flavors are you most excited about right now?
Kat: Elliot, do you want to do this one?
Elliot: I mean, I'll pick one, you can do the other. The flight is really the main one, I think. So, the flight is a set of five tiny bottles, and they're one ounce each, and that is two servings if you do a half-ounce in each beverage. Like I said, it's a really concentrated product. The flight comes in a cute little bag with a recipe card, and that is your sampler of our five signature flavors.
Kat: So if you think about, like, a beer flight you might get out a restaurant, this is the way to do a cocktail flight for two at home, or on a picnic, or whatever. It travels really nicely, and it's so easy to just look at the little recipe card and just make something that requires very little effort but tastes very fancy, which I like. I like low-effort, big-reward things. We put a lot of recipes out on our Instagram and our social media and try to make it very easy for people to mix, because I think sometimes people are intimidated by a new product, and, you know, we want to help people get going. Our products are dry like a wine would be dry, so they do need to be sweetened often, a little bit, and that really helps open up the flavors. But the flight is a really great way to taste all five of our signature flavors and see which ones you're the most excited about, which ones you'd like more of.
The other product I'd just love to chat about is Cackalacky Scuppernong Kudzu Flower Y'all as a great spring spritzer. That's how we're thinking of it. It's just a really great seasonal thing with a little bit of prosecco.
Kade: It all sounds delicious. I love that you have the flight because you do have so many different flavors, and they all look great. I know when I'm picking one out, it will be hard to choose just one. Also, that's great that you do the recipes and there's so much flavor and creativity and variety in the product that you're doing. We can't really go out to bars that much right now, or to restaurants to try new things, so this is a great way to be able to do that at home and bring some flavors that maybe you wouldn't normally be able to expose yourself to or be able to try, and just have that in your own kitchen without having to go out.
Kat: We're so excited and honored to be able to do this work. It's just really such good work--it's hard work. It's a manufacturing job, so we do a lot of hard hours moving heavy things and on our feet in the kitchen, but we like just as much as anybody else kicking back with a cocktail, and we love sharing this with people. We really hope that this helps enhance people's quality of life, and that we get to keep doing it for a long time.
Kade: Well, thank you both for taking the time to talk to me!
Kat: Yeah, thanks so much for your interest and all the work you do with Patchwork.
Kade: Do you have any last comments you'd like to say before we wrap up?
Kat: Our Instagram is @SavorShrub and we're also on Facebook and Etsy @SavorShrub. www.SavorShrub.com
Kade: Awesome. Thank you!
Kat: Thanks! Take care!