Leaving a promising career as a lawyer to start a bitters company was the best way for Missy Koefod to regain her quality of life after being diagnosed with cancer. “[The illness] motivated me to stop doing a job I hated and get back into something that I was really passionate about,” she says. “I wanted to go into business for myself, and the idea of craft cocktail mixers came up. We got stuck in the house during an ice storm one night, so we started playing around with recipes, and that was that.”
Koefod launched 18.21 Bitters with her partner Kristin Koefod in 2014. “There were a few other mixer companies on the market at the time, but not a lot of people who were making unusual flavors,” says Kristin. “Because Missy just went through this life-altering health crisis, we started eating extremely clean, so we wanted to make interesting flavors without the chemicals. If we use basil, it comes from our local farmer’s market, or for grapefruit bitters we only use fresh grapefruit peel.”
Missy worked in bars before attending law school, and Kristin hails from a long line of chefs, so while the two didn’t previously have any formal training in bitters-making, they focused on what they knew best: flavor development. “We made a lot of mistakes. I wanted to make eucalyptus bitters and they were horrible,” Kristin laughs, adding that other flavors have proved more successful, like the Saffron and Tart Cherry, a recipe inspired by Persian cuisine, and the Havana and Hide, a recipe evoking the flavors of leather and cigars (but made without tobacco leaves). Missy’s favorite flavor is the Earl Grey. “I’m obsessed with Earl Grey tea, so we made those bitters because it’s something I love to drink,” she says. “It works really well with amari and aperitivos.”
After the bitters took off, the duo decided to add shrubs, concentrates, syrups and pre-batched cocktail mixes to the lineup, making them one of the only one-stop shops for cocktail ingredients in the country. There’s also the brick-and-mortar in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, where they help customers make the most of their ingredients in person. “There’s been this air of pretension around cocktails for a long time, and even though that’s settled down a little bit, it’s still something that people who aren’t familiar with cocktails kind of assume they will encounter when they go into a store or bar, so we really wanted to take the pretension out of craft,” Kristin says. “We host cocktail classes, have events in the store, and people can come in and taste our entire product line, so it gives us the opportunity to have a flavor focus group almost every day.”
Their products can be found in bars and retail stores in 38 states and six countries, but in a quest to make cocktail-making even easier at home, they’re about to launch carbonated ginger beer and tonic waters in cans, and watch out for their first cocktail bar to open in the Beltline area later this year.
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