The Bitter Housewife
Gabriel Flores 0:01
Hello everyone and welcome to the shades of entrepreneurship. This is your host, Mr. Gabriel Flores. I am here today with the owner of bitter housewife Genevieve, brave Alton. Very excited to talk about this bitters because I like to drink bitters, Genevieve purse. Welcome to the show. Thank you so much for coming, of course, would love to kind of get a little background a little bio, just to introduce the world to Genoveva
Genevieve Brazelton 0:27
how bio, it's long and winding. Um, well, I do have quite the background in food and beverage. I went to school to be a writing major. So of course, you had to work in restaurants to pay your way and all of that. And I've been I've always loved food and drink. I've waited tables and works behind bars and worked in kitchens and, and also just been kind of a maker to I like to make things at home to see if they're better. I'm the we bake bread every week well before the pandemic had people doing that. So sounds so good. Yeah. So um, bitters was just a project actually, that I wanted to try out to see if it was truly any better than the anger story that I was used to using in the bar. And it turns out that yes, is quite a bit better. I really didn't expect it when I made my first batch of bitters. I was like, yes, it'd be fun, interesting. Learning a little bit about the ingredients, then I'll, I'll go back and let the professionals do it. But it turns out yeah, they not only do they taste much, much better. I really got inspired to then make what I thought were the perfect bitters for an old fashioned my favorite drink. Very simple. And it was actually over old fashions after probably my seventh or eighth version of these bitters that my husband said, Do you think we can make a business out of selling bitters? And I said, I have no idea, but we should call it a bitter housewife.
Gabriel Flores 2:22
I love I love Yes, we should just absolutely love this.
Genevieve Brazelton 2:28
So that was just almost 10 years ago, when that little spark of an idea came and we spent a couple of years we were in San Francisco at the time. Spent a couple of years figuring out what licensing a bitters company looks like. Turns out most, most government branches don't also know what to do with you. Yeah, what
Gabriel Flores 2:54
does that look like?
Genevieve Brazelton 2:57
So in Oregon, well, and every state's a little bit different to when it comes to liquor, we all like to make our own rules. But in Oregon, we are actually a food product, we are not governed by the all CC so we are FDA. Yeah, we are FDA. And we have to follow all of those rules. And we are actually on the books still as patent medicine. Which interesting. feels fun. So
Gabriel Flores 3:26
so you're making motions, we're making potions.
Genevieve Brazelton 3:30
We are true snake oil salesmen.
Gabriel Flores 3:34
That is incredible. So so let's let's talk about how, how it kind of evolved, you started just making them in your home.
Genevieve Brazelton 3:42
I did. Yep. And just and with no, you know, no intention other than this is something fun to do. And I'll make some better drinks at home. But then I started playing around with flavors, and it was a lot of fun. And my husband who is also quite the entrepreneur has spent at this point all of at that point all of his life doing software and media and I had never made a physical product and was really not happy where he was and wanted to make a physical product and so he really started pushing like, let's see if there's something viable here. And my creative brain kicked in I do have a bit of a marketing and publicity background to and I started to look at what was on the market and it was every all the bitters there were made by ex bartenders, and most of them male. And they were all these, you know, precious little bottles with sepia tone labels and script writing and maybe even hand numbered batches and And it felt very exclusive. And as though, you needed to be a part of the cool group to even understand how to use them and what they were for. And, you know, I am a very food and beverage educated person, and I knew what they were talking about. But that was not appealing to me, I would never consider myself a cocktail geek, I just like good drinks. And, and nobody, so nobody was talking to me, and nobody was talking to my friends, you know, we all drink whiskey, we can appreciate a good scotch and an age tequila. And I like a really good cocktail button I didn't want none of those were exciting, none of the brands that were out there were exciting. So I really I saw a whole I wanted to make something that I felt was accessible and fun and playful. And you know, the name of course was definitely tongue in cheek is playful. And so go with that. I mean, the the puns with bitter are endless. And, and I didn't set out to make a brand that was necessarily, you know, woman focused, but just much more accessible in general, so that somebody who came to bitters for the first time not knowing what they were but just curious about how they worked in drinks, would feel as welcome as that cocktail geek who's got 20 bitters, collecting dust on his bar. And, and they would both appreciate the product that I made. So that was the you know, the ultimate goal, as as we really started to, you know, shape the brand.
Gabriel Flores 6:44
Nice. Now let's, for the viewers, or listeners at home, you know, that might not be familiar with what a bitter is what what is a bitter.
Genevieve Brazelton 6:52
So this simplest explanation is it is an extract, we take a whole bunch of ingredients, and we pull out all the goodness, all the good flavor. And it's super concentrated. And a few drops go a long way. But the way that they work in cocktails is if you think of them, like your spice rack, they are balancing in their blending. And I always use the analogy of tomato soup, you make a tomato soup. And when you get to the end, you add a little salt and pepper and basil. The soup is not the same without the basil. The soup is not about the basil. But if it wasn't there, you would miss it, it makes the tomatoes taste a little bit sweeter, and it just adds a little depth. That's exactly what bitters will do for your cocktail. They just you really shouldn't taste them on their own. But you should notice if they're missing, and they balance the strong of the alcohol, the sour of maybe that lemon juice or even that twist at the end, the sweet of a little of sugar or a little a cure or even a juice. They bring that all together add a little depth. And that some that extra flavor that you just can't get.
Gabriel Flores 8:08
Yeah, yeah. So let's let's talk about you know, the the origin of it and right. So, you started out from the heart as you mentioned, you kind of mentioned the kind of background to it and why you created it as well. How did you create it? So, what are the process like what did you have to do to start your own business just for the listeners at home to kind of understand but now that what goes into the What what are you extracting What am I putting into my drinks
Genevieve Brazelton 8:33
multi level so so that making of the bitters Yeah, the the extracting, basically I start with that, that high level flavor. So the perfect example is our cardamom bitters, one of our most popular flavors. It's about cardamom. So I took cardamom and when, what are a couple other flavors, spices, herbs, whatever that kind of highlight that flavor that go really well with it. I chose cinnamon and a spice called grains of paradise, which is a cousin of black pepper. It has kind of a bright, almost cranberry flavor upfront but it does have just a little bit of that subtle black pepper spice so it's not as intense though, paired those with it. And then you've got that underlying base of the bitter herbs or botanicals most of them are actually roots and barks but in that case, I use Jen Cheon which is the root of an Alpine flower. It has a really earthy bitter flavor. And then I also use a little bit of kuasa which is the stem of shrub that you can find mostly in South America. And it has it is really, really bitter but just this clean Bitter like you kind of can't taste anything else. And then there is a little bit of black walnut leaf also, which is much softer. It doesn't it it's bitter but not not real powerful. But it has almost a sweet kind of vanilla flavor to it to not it doesn't really taste like walnuts at all, but it just adds a little roundness. So it is like any recipe I'm putting all these ingredients together to kind of fill in the holes of flavor. You know, make sure there's something that gives it a little roundness make sure something gives it a little sharpness and
Gabriel Flores 10:37
and so all those that you mentioned, does that all go into one bottle of bitter?
Genevieve Brazelton 10:42
Yes. Well, and that's the cardamom is actually one of our simplest recipe. The aromatic bitters, I believe, if I remember correctly, has 17 Different ingredients in it. And and the simple ones like the grapefruit and the cardamom have like five or six. But yeah, it's still it's a all of it goes together. Yeah, we extract all of the ingredients together. That's another thing some some of the bitters that are made, people will extract each of the ingredients separately, and then blend those extractions for the final product. I really believe that throwing them all together, there is an extra level of alchemy that you just can't make happen on your own, that they do kind of balance themselves out. You know, whether that's scientifically true or not, I have no idea.
Gabriel Flores 11:37
So, so for the listeners at home, because, you know, what I'd like to do is I'd like to try to educate, right? And so how, how, essentially, focus on the entrepreneur and like how they built their business. Yeah. So in that regard, how did you scale this? So like, how did you take it from an idea, and you finally created this mixture in your kitchen? To scaling it? Mass production now being sold globally? Yeah.
Genevieve Brazelton 12:03
Well, we're still working on the global part.
Gabriel Flores 12:08
Well, we're gonna get there.
Genevieve Brazelton 12:10
Trial and error, honestly, um, well, I'm in it. And it is interesting, because I think you you start with an idea. And you have to just try something and see if it works. We figured cocktail bitters, okay, we're gonna sell to bars and restaurants seems pretty logical. So we, we started, you know, reaching out to bars and restaurants and sending out samples and doing some pounding the pavement. And it just so happened that we had a really good friend who worked at New Seasons market here in Portland. And she loved what we had created. And she put a bottle on the desk of the guy who does the local finds program there. And he loved it. He thought it was awesome. So that actually ended up being our first wholesale customer. Okay, it was New Seasons. And we're like, grocery, I don't know, maybe, you know, it's, it doesn't seem like that would be where it's going to move the most. But you go with what's in front of you. And they did start moving the product, they supported the product. And we also did, we launched actually in October of 2014. So right pre holiday. And I am also very comfortable with craft fairs and gift fairs and that kind of thing. So we went to one on a whim, just to see, would people actually buy bitters for us from us directly? You know, is there enough of a market? And I think we, you know, we showed up with like four cases of bitters, having no idea. We ended up going home twice that first day to restock my you know, I stayed there, and my husband went home and was actually labeling bottles on our kitchen table to bring back to me so that we didn't sell out. Wow. So that also kind of then it steered us in a different direction. It's like, okay, people want to give these as gifts. People are curious about having these for themselves. So that seemed the path of least resistance to then then focus on grocery specialty retail, you know, small gift shops, specialty food stores, and we sold online. But I think you know, there's a lot of things that wasn't necessarily the thing that we started out with, but there was also looking at the environment too. We realized Oregon, because it's a control state. Even the bars and restaurants that were interested in did use us they weren't often buying directly from us. They were buying from the liquor stores because that was the easiest thing for them. That's where Yeah, and So we didn't know, we actually didn't know how many were using our stuff. And, and the fickle nature of bars too is they like to put something new on the menu and use it for a while. And then the next new thing goes on the menu in instead, so, or the bar manager who really loves you then move somewhere else, and you may not know where they end up. And so that was a hard, you know, I mean, when you're two people doing everything, to then manage all of those relationships, that just proved harder than we were quite right, you know, than we were able to really manage. So,
Gabriel Flores 15:36
you know, I think you brought up a great education opportunity in regards to the grassroots efforts in which you grew. How important was that? You know, in your beginning stages, because it sounds like you, you and your husband, were kind of doing it, you know, mass producing, and distributors and labelers by yourself, but
Genevieve Brazelton 15:56
we didn't we still, I mean, we still label on occasion. And, you know, we're a whole crazy team of five people love it now. And not, you know, feels big some days. But yeah, in the beginning, I mean, we've made it in. Some of it was made in our basement, and some of it was made in the back prep room of a local restaurant. And we bottled it on our kitchen table, and we labeled it on our kitchen table, and we drove around and, you know, made all the deliveries for the first year. My My husband was working in Intel at the time, and he would like make deliveries on his lunch hour, you know, and on his way home. So he loaded up in the morning. And so it was, yeah, I mean, you do what you have to do.
Gabriel Flores 16:46
Yeah, you do. And that's that's such an incredible sport story, too. Because I think, you know, what it highlights is starting grassroots is is okay, right, not everybody starts on the, you know, 100 million dollar brand deal, right. And so starting small is nice. It
Genevieve Brazelton 17:04
is, you know, I mean, there's, it's a different way to do business. But I also think that it's, it's absolutely invaluable to just understand all the pieces. We I mean, when we so our, our newer focus is bitters and soda, which is our canned ready to drink, bitters, and soda, it's a zero alcohol, zero sugar beverage. And General, you know, process in the beverage world would have been to take the flavor that we wanted, send it to a lab, have them figure out how to make it with natural flavorings. Even if you if you want it to go natural if you didn't care, just flavorings and then ship that to a co Packer that recipe that the lab developed to a co packer who then makes a few 100,000 cases of it. And then all you do is sell it. You may never even touch that product. Yeah. And we said no, that that is not what we do. You know, we we made the first batch at Aria gent, in their in their still the first base for the bitters ins. And then we shipped totes of that concentrate base over across the river to Canada and Stevens, Washington, because you do need a you know, you do need somebody who's got a canning line if you're going to do more than a few cases at a time. But we only did 1000 cases, the first run. And then and we you know, that first 1000 cases, we did deliver at least half of those ourselves. You know, we did finally the last few pallets we we did get a distributor on board that we shipped them off to but you know, it was it's still very much a hands on. Hands on business. And
Gabriel Flores 19:17
yeah, let's let's talk about let's talk about the difficulties a little bit. So yes, let's let's, let's chat about the fun stuff. What would you say, you know, you're you're still growing. You're still building the business, right? Yes. What were you say some of the difficult parts that you've ran into?
Genevieve Brazelton 19:33
Oh, there's so many every day. I mean, I think generally what everything that is a struggle for us boils down to really two things, cashflow or lack of experience or knowledge. You know, and and honestly, cashflow is probably the hardest part of it. When you're small and you You don't have a war chest, you hold off making some decisions, because you're not quite sure if that, you know, buying six months of that thing is really worth it for the savings that you get. So you pay more for things, you don't have the scale, it just doesn't give you you know, you don't have that flexibility. But you figure out how to make it work. And you learn a lot of things on the way. And we you know, we have never, we have never run a bit beverage business before this. So there are always things today was a perfect example of I am making some test batches of a new flavor of the bitters and soda. And we've actually never really made batches this small before. I usually mix like the base with just already carbonated soda water for my tasting purposes. And then we make a bigger, you know, couple 100 gallon batch to, to go to market. So I wanted to do some taste tests with some folks. And I made a couple five gallon batches. I don't know anything about carbonation, really to let all the co2 paste it today. And it's all foamy and flat. I don't know why. Go to
Gabriel Flores 21:25
Google. That's the best place to go. If you don't know, go to Google, go
Genevieve Brazelton 21:30
to Google. And then you find some forums about you know, home beer makers and soda makers and carbonation and you're out. Our fridge isn't cold enough? Even though the thermostat says that it's this temperature? It probably isn't. Let's get an outside thermostat in there. Oh, yes. Not even close. Okay, you know, and I mean, that's like a daily daily thing. So I think that, you know, being able to roll with that and just go Alright, we're gonna figure this out. And, and we'll, you know, it's one more thing that we now know.
Gabriel Flores 22:04
So how do you determine you mentioned you're doing some taste testing is do you kind of do taste testing often? And have you done it with all of your products,
Genevieve Brazelton 22:12
um, to some extent, I have done it with all of the products. I do all the flavor development. So it's, you know, a spark of an idea in my brain. And I have my little r&d section in the kitchen. That's, you know, a lot of mason jars with strange colored liquids. And
Gabriel Flores 22:31
so you really are making potions? I really am making potions.
Genevieve Brazelton 22:33
Yeah, you know, and lots of bags of weird dried things. But, you know, I start with an idea, and I do some tests and do some recipes. And when I get to something that I'm like, Okay, this is interesting, then I at least enlist a few other people to taste it. And what do you think, you know, am I on the right track? Or taste these two things? Which one you like better? And tell me why, you know, am I going in the right direction. But I think, you know, we have as we grow, we've got a little bit more space in our development process, and we're just getting better at it. Still need to level it up, but we are getting better. And it's fun, just to bring people in to get feedback, because you You never know what they're gonna say in terms of they may have an idea that, you know, oh, this, this would be really awesome. If you did that. I was like, I never thought that that you're right, that would be and now your product is 10 times better. So I mean, I I am supremely proud of everything that we've put out. But I always think, you know, outside opinions are extremely valid. Definitely.
Gabriel Flores 23:48
Definitely. So where, where are you guys headed? What does the next 10 years look like for the better housewife?
Genevieve Brazelton 23:54
We're really I mean, I think the our main focus is this is the bitters and soda. That is the the scale of the really scalable part of the business bitters will always be a niche product. And while we can still make a very decent business out of it, it doesn't have the growth potential. So but it's fun and it and it gives us some validity and and I like making flavors so it's not going anywhere but the bitters and soda, we really want to develop much more of a DTC program that has memberships and different subscription options. flesh out that line right now we have two flavors. Third one's on the way hopefully another one this year, maybe even to this year. And then we need to expand out of the Northwest to right now the bitters and soda is only distributed in Oregon and Washington. And we do have a handful of stores that carry it across the country but you know when need to start looking at new regions, Chicago is really appealing, we've got a lot of customers there already. So that shows that there's a need. There's something about Philadelphia too, we send a lot of packages to Philadelphia. So you know, I think just paying attention and start opening up a few new regions. 10 years from now, I think, you know, if we have our druthers, maybe maybe we're at the point where we're thinking about retirement, that's what I'm talking, you know, and either this is a big enough brand that and it's still our company, but we are more like, you know, board directors that come in every once in a while, or, or we sell it, you know, I think that I also, we have never, never had the idea that we wouldn't try to sell this business, build it into something to then sell. I love it, it is my baby, I would, I will have some regrets and seeing someone else take it over. Or not regret loss in seeing someone else take it over. But I also, you know, on to the next thing, yeah. And, and I knew that was a part of it from the beginning.
Gabriel Flores 26:16
So looking back on everything, you know, all of your experiences that you've had, what advice would you give yourself? Would you change anything?
Genevieve Brazelton 26:27
Um, I? Yes, I would. I mean, I think there's a lot of things that we've done that I wish I could go back and do differently. But I would still say that we learned from every single one of them. I think the biggest thing I think that we didn't do in the beginning that I would have loved to have been told or probably was told, really, really embraced. Was was to really, really understand your customer and why they're buying your product. Yeah. What problem are you solving for them? Don't assume that you know, and constantly ask it. Because even if you, you get the same answer over and over again, chances are a year or two down the road, it's going to change. Your customers are going to change and and we're really learning that now with the bitters and soda. And we're learning it all over again. And you are not your customer, you never your customer. Even if you're really really close. You're not because you're the one making it. You're not the one buying it.
Gabriel Flores 27:41
Right, right. So for those individuals that are at home that are interested in bitters, where can they find you? Where can they purchase the better housewife?
Genevieve Brazelton 27:48
Well, if you are in the Portland area, you can find all of our products at market of choice and new season's markets, all of those Hollywood beverage also carries nice much everything that we make. In the Seattle area. PCC carries a lot of what we do a lot of our flavors, both the bitters and soda and the bitters. And you can find actually our bitters all the safe ways in the Seattle area. Oh, wow. Wow. Oddly enough, not safely here, but that's part of small business.
Gabriel Flores 28:25
State lines. We'll get there. Yeah.
Genevieve Brazelton 28:27
And you can always buy from us direct to we have a pretty decent store finder. If you're not in the Pacific Northwest. We do have a lot of small retailers across the country or you know, we ship everywhere.
Gabriel Flores 28:40
And how do they find you online?
Genevieve Brazelton 28:42
The better housewife.com Perfect you got social media? We do where Instagram and Facebook the bitter housewife make it easy. We have a semi active Twitter that is just bitter housewife. We couldn't get that done somebody else that already but yeah, man.
Gabriel Flores 29:01
Genevieve brave Wilton, the founder of the bitter housewife. Thank you so much for coming on my show for those at home. Please join me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and thank you have a great evening and good night.