John Wiseman knew he had to cut back on the booze when he woke up one morning after downing 20 drinks in a single evening and felt ... absolutely fine.
"It scared the crap out of me," said the 36-year-old partner in the Whiskey Brooklyn, a bar in Williamsburg. "No one should be okay after that."
Wiseman's decision to curb his alcohol intake, a childhood friend's journey through alcoholism and recovery, and conversations with area bartenders gave him a new perspective on the city's nightlife scene: sober or temperate New Yorkers didn't have many options for libations.
The typical options — seltzer, soda, sweet mocktails and non-alcoholic beer — couldn't replicate the complexity of the blended cocktails he loved best.
So Wiseman began tinkering with ingredients at his Gowanus home, incorporating tips from mixologists and restaurant industry experts he'd meet on the job. The objective of his experiments: to concoct craft cocktails that teetotalers would enjoy drinking with friends.
A successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign launched last September made Wiseman and his partner Ashley Simon, 33, purveyors of Curious Elixirs, lightly carbonated brews of juices, spices, herbs and other botanicals.
A promotional video made for Curious Elixir's Kickstarter campaign
The entrepreneurs are now shipping small, monthly batches of their first elixir, Curious No. 1, in four- and 12-bottle packs and growlers from a production facility in the Hudson Valley to a few thousand customers around the U.S., Wiseman said. The Brooklyn-based company has also partnered with Uber's food delivery service, UberEats, to distribute four packs of the two-serving bottles to customers within three-miles radii of locations in Gowanus and Williamsburg for the remainder of "dry January," a trend that has some people abstaining from drinking after the indulgent holiday season.
Elixir prices range from $29 to $88.
Who's ordering? Endurance athletes, pregnant women, recovered alcoholics, biohackers, and health-conscious younger women like Simon, a yoga teacher whose group My Body Does challenges sexist, body-shaming advertising.
Wiseman said his company uses only 100-percent organic and free-trade ingredients for its no-sugar-added beverages "because that’s what people want now ... at least the people we’re going after. They want to take care of themselves.”
While the cocktail creator wouldn't share a list of ingredients in Curious No. 1 — “part of the fun is you’re supposed to figure out which two cocktails it was inspired by," he said — he did describe it as rich, "herbacious," and somewhat bitter, with the "mouth feel of a Lambrusco, a dry sparkling red wine."
"We want a layered kind of nuanced approach to it," Wiseman said of the tasting experience he envisions, "so you’re discovering these different flavor notes as you’re going along."
Now in development, No. 2 will be "refreshing and a little lighter," he said.
Wiseman and Simon hope to place their product in bars and restaurants by the end of this year, because they see broad distribution as the path to profitability for their lean nine-person operation.
In less capitalistic terms, Wiseman said he'd like to more establishments offer "soft" cocktails, like the NoMad Bar in Kips Bay, as a means of erasing the stigma around temperance.
The service business, he said, "is not about selling alcohol — it’s about providing a delicious experience and good service in a place where people can connect with their friends."
We'll say cheers to that.