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Be TRUE to Your Cocktail

We all know how important fresh, high quality ingredients are to great cooking. Using dried herbs just isn’t the same as fresh. Beautiful produce and fish/meats make a world of difference in the taste of a recipe. The same holds true for cocktails.

At a recent charity event – Red, White and Beagle – I had the good fortune to meet Tory Pratt, Founder of TRUE Syrups & Garnishes. She was serving delectable cocktails for this event to benefit the Beagle Freedom Project.

Curious about her business and her passion for home made, Tory graciously sat down with me recently to talk about TRUE Syrups and Garnishes.

HH: What a cool concept – to produce artisanal tonics and syrups. How did you get started and what were your inspirations?

TP: The story is a bit long and winding. I grew up in Philly. My mom was a caterer and she and my dad started a smoked seafood business (Fabulous Foods) in 1993. The love of food was just part of who I was growing up. We’d visit family on Long Island during the summer and reveled in all the fresh produce and seafood. I actually wrote my college entrance essay to Georgetown University on how I understand different cultures through food. I got my degree and then I got my Masters in International Politics with a focus on Asian studies. I speak both Spanish and Chinese. After college I worked for the American Bar Association and did significant travel in Asia on a variety of issues with the Rule of Law Initiative. It’s funny how’d I work all day and then come home at night and cook for three hours. That was my release and relaxation. I started experimenting with ingredients I wasn’t familiar with and learned how to cook a whole array of new things.

HH: So, how did that translate into TRUE?

TP: Crafting homemade tonic was one of those experiments. I ordered five pounds of cinchona bark – the natural source of quinine. At the time, my fiancé was involved in Sandbox (now called Thousand Network), a networking community for young entrepreneurs. We wound up hosting a lot of get-togethers and I started making the tonic to serve at these events. People were really amazed by how good the tonic tasted. Even folks who typically didn’t like gin and tonics loved the tonic I was making.

So, in November 2014, I started TRUE Syrups & Garnishes. I went in knowing I wanted to sell the tonic. Honestly, I was defeatist about it up front. I didn’t believe that my passion for food could really be my job. My friends, though, were like: “Finally! It’s about time you started working with food!”

HH: That was a pretty bold leap. What did you need to do to start selling the tonic commercially?

TP: The first thing I had to do was figure out all the regulations that applied. What type of packaging did I need? How could I make the tonic shelf stable? What type of incorporation of my company would be right? Where could I find commercial kitchen space to make the tonic?

I wound up meeting Al Goldberg who runs MESS HALL, a culinary incubator and food community here in DC. I started making my tonic and brought it to an event amongst food entrepreneurs in mid-November. Everyone loved it. Al asked, “Can you have 5 cases made by Saturday for the beginning of our holiday market?”

HH: Yikes!

TP: Yep. Yikes!

“Of course I can!,” I proclaimed.

Then I proceeded to freak out! The tonic was a great success and sold out almost immediately. I realized that people really do want syrups and not the premade carbonated beverage. Over the 2014 holiday season, TRUE was written up in three national gift guides. I’m pretty much always behind in production because it sells so well.

HH: What happened after the holidays?

TP: The month of January is pretty slow in the food world. I wound up soliciting feedback from customers on what might be a good addition to my product line. The resounding answer was grenadine – folks wanted real grenadine syrup. So, I want through sourcing and based on the quality of the pomegranates, I decided to make the syrup from a combination of California and Turkish pomegranates. The two types nicely complement each other.

I’m now working on a third flavor that I’m testing with certain bars and restaurants. It’s pistachio orgeat – a sweetened pistachio milk that is fantastic in a whole host of cocktails. Check out this list of amazing pistachio centered cocktails {{insert hyperlink}} from a recent Eater article.

HH: The bottle design and “feel” of TRUE Syrups & Garnishes has an old-fashioned feel. How did you decide on your design?

TP: I really wanted to convey the high quality and the handcrafted nature of my tonic, syrups and garnishes. The bottle itself is meant for liquor so it has a thicker base and is dense. My other rules were: no cheap anything; no screw top – it had to have a cork; thick paper for the label; a hand stamp for the labels; and the wax seal to give it that old-fashioned feel. I want people to really taste what cocktails tasted like in the pre-prohibition era with quality tonics and syrups.

HH: So what’s next for TRUE?

TP: I’d love to have a 3-bottle gift set ready for this holiday season with the tonic, grenadine and pistachio orgeat. I’m working with folks from the Cornell University Department of Food Science to help me figure out how to preserve and stabilize the orgeat. I’m also considering writing a book on cocktail theory to help people overcome the hurdles of learning about the ingredients and genesis of cocktails.

HH: Awesome! We’re looking forward to all of that and more from TRUE. For more info on where to by Tory’s products, check out her website: TRUE Syrups & Garnishes. Cheers!


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