Our February 2018 box features a unique Chai liqueur from The Hartford Flavor Company. We go behind the scenes with this husband and wife team to learn how this wonderful venture was launched. There is so much love behind it and we are so lucky to have people try the special flavors they've been able to bottle.
Can you tell us about your background?
I am an artist and sustainable landscape designer. I have been working with plants for 20 years. For me, this venture is to take the plants and flowers I love so much and preserve them in alcohol, so we can all celebrate with a better, cleaner cocktail.
What led to the creation of the Hartford Flavor Company?
I became gluten free and chemically intolerant to all of the additives in alcohol and had to stop drinking. After six months, that became unacceptable! I had made the cranberry liqueur for Christmas gifts in the past and always cooked with liqueurs. I thought why not make more different flavors and so I made the lavender liqueur with plants right out of my garden.
A few months later, I brought the two flavors to a Christmas party in December of 2013 where there happened to be mixologists and restaurant owners. Somebody said I should go into business and I had "Magic in a bottle". My initial thought was "Crap, another thing to do" - the kids had just gone to college and I was looking to have a break. My husband, Tom, thought it was a great idea, as he was looking for something else to do. He said, "In 20 years, will we regret it?" I dismissed it as too much work.
Then two weeks later, it was my birthday, and we went out to dinner. I ordered a cocktail; my first out in about a year. I had an immediate headache from my first sip and it ruined my night. That was my moment where I said, 'If I don't do this, I will never be able to have a cocktail out again'. So I set to work making 50 more flavors; 16 came out excellent and were market viable. We did a test panel with 300 people - friends, strangers, and industry people. Every single person said we had something special and to go forward. So we did!
When did you launch?
It took a year for all of the licensing to be in place and we launched the Wild Moon Liqueurs line in late March of 2015.
We hear you have a tasting room! Where is it located and what can people expect when they go?
Yes, we have a unique Tasting Room at our Infusionary. We call ourselves an infusionary, although we have a distillery license. The address is 30 Arbor St. Hartford CT. We give a tour of the facility, a sample of the seven flavors, and a unique cocktail made with one of the flavors. We feel like a little oasis in the city and we are trying to make a cool destination in an old warehouse building where the first pay telephones were made.
What would you say is the biggest challenge since you launched the business?
The immense time and effort to launch any business is daunting, but a business that is so heavily regulated definitely is even more difficult. The first three years were 12 - 16 hour days on a regular basis, with no day off for long stretches. Balance is what I am working on now.
We fell in love with the real flavors in your chai liqueur. Can you tell us about the ingredients and production process?
Wild Moon Liqueurs Chai Spice is a sentimental flavor for me. My mom always had a pot of real chai on the stove during holidays and snowy days. I did that for my kids as well. I needed to tweak the recipe a bit to make it translate to alcohol. It is an infusion that is cardamom forward, with fresh ginger, cinnamon, clove, coriander, and black pepper. We infuse directly into 190 proof sugar cane alcohol we import from the Netherlands, which is gluten free and GMO free. After heavy filtration, we sweeten with house made simple syrup. Very simple process, that is low tech and completely hand crafted.
We also love your Birch flavor. What gave you the idea for a birch flavor and where does the birch flavor come from?
I wasn't allowed soda as a kid except for Foxon Park White Birch Soda (made in the New Haven area) on the rarest occasion. I loved the flavor. I wanted a native New England flavor that would be different and appeal to the more advanced drinker, and also be a more masculine flavor profile. The Wild Moon Liqueurs Birch is made with 25 pounds of sustainably harvested white birch bark, a little bit of vanilla, and sassafras to help it finish like a root beer.
What sets Hartford Flavor's liqueurs apart from others you might find on the market?
As a liqueur drinker I wanted to change a few things that I didn't like about most liqueurs. So we make a product like no other that I know of on the market. Gluten free, GMO free, and as organic as I can make it. So, they contain no chemicals, artificial flavors, colors, chemical suspenders, or hidden ingredients. They're flavor-forward and 100% natural - made with real plants, reduced sugars and with organic fair trade sugar.
I am here to revolutionize what we drink.
Can you share a moment that stands out as one of the most exciting for Harford Flavor Co. since your launch?
Very hard to pick as we are having more exciting moments every few weeks. But I am always so touched when people come up to me, often with tears in their eyes and say, 'Thank you so much for making Wild Moon, because I couldn't drink either, and now I can'. This definitely reminds me why I am working so hard, and I am so thankful to be able to help them, and make them happy.
Any lessons learned so far?
Many, but maybe the biggest is to trust your intuition so that when the universe hands you an opportunity you have the courage and belief in yourself to reach outside your comfort zone and say YES.
What's your favorite way to drink your chai liqueur? Have you had any outstanding cocktails using it?
Wild Moon Liqueurs Chai Spice is great in tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and in your box brownie mix instead of water. Also, over pancakes and in apple pie ala mode. Of course it's great in all the spirits. We have a Tiki Tiki Chai drink with Gold Rum and ginger ale, which is a favorite. We also have a spicy margarita called Chai Nino which is great. We have lots of recipes on our web site hartfordflavor.com But my favorite way to drink Wild Moon Chai is from a flask while on a hike, on a chilly day.
What's next? Any new projects or products in the pipeline you can tell us about?
So much! I am working a line called Wild Botanics, which will be similar to Wild Moon but with more unusual flavors like Sage, Lemongrass, Roasted Dandelion Root, Sumac, Horseradish, and Rosemary. I'm also working on a line of Spiked Teas. We are thinking about a Hartford Flavor Reserve line as well, which will have one-off flavors and barrel aged extensions. I have so many great flavors; we will see what makes it out to the marketplace.
What is your favorite flavor of Wild Moon?
I love the Wild Moon Liqueurs Rose best. It is so versatile and makes the most unusual drinks with Prosecco, gin, tequila, and bourbon. Wild Moon Rose has unexpected spiciness to it with hints of nutmeg and cherry undertones.