In American, not to mention a whole lot of other countries around the world, it can be hard to separate the social scene from alcohol. The two are more often than not mutually exclusive. At least, they were, until up and coming booze-free cocktail company, Curious Elixirs, made its way onto the scene to change up how we think about socializing sans spirits. Started by business partners John Wiseman and Ashley Simon after Wiseman decided that he needed to take his drinking down a notch and wanted to be able to do that without having to sacrifice good-tasting drinks, Curious Elixirs is quickly positioning itself to be the go-to pick for non-drinkers come time to go out – or stay in – drinking. Here, we chat with Simon about the start of the brand, the top secret elixir formula, and how Curious Elixirs is (drastically) changing the way we socialize.
How did you guys first come to start Curious Elixirs?
My partner, John, had owned a bar for a while, and as he was getting older, he was just wanting to drink a lot less. At the same time, a lot of his friends were drinking less or giving up alcohol altogether for various reasons. Either they were pregnant or they were in recovery or they just decided that they no longer wanted it in their life. So eventually he came to me and he was like, “You know, I have this idea. I have all these friends now who don’t drink and every time we go out, there’s only ever really bad options. It sucks. It’s either like club soda, or water, and I want them to have something just as delicious as a cocktail.” And from the beginning, I was really enthusiastic about it, and I thought, “Why not? Let’s give it a shot.” So that was sort of the genesis of the relationship and the idea.
Where did the name come from?
John came up with the name so I can’t take credit for it. The idea, though, is that we really want Curious to be an experience, and the name sort of embodies both an attitude of being a curious person and then the nature of the product itself, because it has really complex flavor notes and we don’t divulge a lot of what’s in it. The drink is really meant to indulge people’s curiosity, if that makes sense. So we’re almost a little bit deliberately vague about it because we want people to try it and be curious about what they’re tasting and what flavors they think are in it, and sort of have their own unique experience in that sense.
So you don’t really talk about what ingredients are in it, but are there specific things you go for when it comes to picking ingredients?
We use 100% organic ingredients. We use organic juices, and seven different types of botanical herbs and bark. We actually make this in Beacon, New York and we chose our partner, who is our co-packer and helps us make it, is also really committed to using organic, fresh ingredients as much as possible, too. With Curious, there’s no added sugar, there are no preservatives or anything like that. I mean we care really deeply about what’s in it. I think it took us like 15 different formulas before we arrived at Curious No.1, so it was definitely like a process to get us to a place where we were really satisfied with the taste and also where we felt confident about what was in it and how we felt after we drank it.
The concept of kind of keeping the ingredients a secret is super cool, but how does that work in terms of allergies and stuff like that?
Well even though we don’t really divulge, of course if people have any questions – whether it’s because they have an allergy or intolerance, or anything like that – we obviously tell them whether or not that’s in the drink.
Can you tell me a little bit about the flavor of the drink?
Everybody sort of describes the flavor a little bit differently, but most people would say it’s herbaceous. It’s definitely not sweet, which was a deliberate choice because we felt like a lot of mocktails tend to be really sugary and really sweet, so we were trying to avoid that. But herbaceous is definitely one of the big notes, and it’s a tiny bit bitter. It’s reminiscent a little bit of a Negroni in that sense. But, again, we really like people to kind of try it and get their own reaction for themselves.
Right now you only have one flavor available, right? But you’ll be launching more soon?
Right. We launched through Kickstarter less than a year ago and the goal on Kickstarter was to raise enough money to launch the first flavor. We had a very successful Kickstarter which was awesome, and we raised enough money to produce and sell Curious No.1, which is what we sell right now. Our new flavor, Curious No.2, will be coming out in the summer, though, and our plan is to release Curious No.3 in the fall.
What was it like for you guys to have the brand get its start on Kickstarter?
I think Kickstarter was really crucial for us. It was a way for us to test of our hypothesis, which was just that there are a lot of people who don’t drink or who drink really lightly, like maybe one drink a week, and those people would benefit from an option like this on the market but weren’t being catered to a lot by companies. And Kickstarter gave us the space to find out that the hypothesis was actually true. So rather than launch this with nothing more than just this gut feeling that it would work, we thought Kickstarter would be a great way to see if that community was really out there. We were lucky because we were really successful and we got a lot of great feedback from people who don’t really drink and who thought this sounded amazing, and they were excited to try it. Also, I think Kickstarter really does just give you a closer connection to the people who help you start your company, too. They’re more than customers, you know, they helped us make our first flavor and get it out the door. Like it’s because of our backers on there that our company even exists, so it’s great to really build a community around your product in a genuine way, and in a way that you can constantly have conversations with your community.
As of right now, Curious is really only available for sale on your site. Are there plans to have it in bars and things like that, so that people can get it when they’re out with friends or something?
For this first year, we’re really focusing on direct to consumer, and really just building our company thoughtfully, which means not scaling faster than we’re comfortable with. But we definitely have plans to get it in bars and retail spaces. We don’t have an exact date for when that will happen, but it’s likely the end of the year. It’s really just a matter of when we’ll be able to do that well and effectively and thoughtfully, but the goal is for the end of the year.
What do you think has been the hardest part of starting Curious Elixirs?
I think there are two things that are hard in really different ways. One thing that I think is hard – and this is definitely a champagne problem – is that we have had a really, really positive response and everybody is asking when we’re going to expand, and when we’re going to be in retail, or how we’re going to grow. And we really want to do that, but, again, we want to do that in a way that we don’t have to sacrifice the quality of the product; where we don’t have to hire a ton of people really quickly or anything. So I think holding back on that a bit and trying to figure out what it’s most important for us to do in the moment is really important, and it’s something that all companies deal with, I think. So that’s definitely a healthy challenge. The other challenge, which is very different, is selling a physical product. It’s tough. John and I come from marketing, tech, and media backgrounds, and John has a little bit of experience selling products through JackThreads, but it’s a real challenge. There’s a lot involved in it, and there’s a lot of people involved in the supply chain. There’s the people making our bottles, the place those materials are from, the people who print our labels, the people who help us make the drink, the people who ship it and help us get it out to consumers – these are all parts of the flow. So it’s a lot, and it’s definitely been a learning curve for us. It’s exciting and we love doing it, but it’s definitely a challenge to make real stuff.
I’m sure it’s also tough when it’s something that’s meant to be consumed right? Food and drink is always going to be held to a higher standard because it’s going in our bodies.
Yeah, definitely. As it should be! We have to go through a bunch of rounds of things to make sure that it’s shelf stable and stuff, beyond just whether or not it tastes good. It’s a lot of details.
How do you think Curious Elixirs has the potential to change how we socialize?
I think that ultimately our vision is that we want the choice to not drink alcohol to be easy and unstigmatized and just as good of an experience as drinking a delicious cocktail or a beer. And we don’t feel like any of those things are true right now. In a perfect world, you’d be able to go to a bar and maybe ten percent of the people are drinking a Curious and it’s not a big deal at all. One of the things we think about a lot is not just people who don’t drink but people who want to pace themselves. I mean alcohol is awesome, you know, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think that socializing has to be mutually exclusive to drinking alcohol, and I think that’s another big picture vision for us. We want to disentangle those two a bit, and we want to be a part of creating a kind of new normal where drinking a little bit or not drinking at all is just as socially acceptable as drinking.