Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what has been your professional path before Cheeky?
I'm originally from Vermont, and started working in restaurants at the ripe age of thirteen. I was lucky to have some great first few jobs in the industry that got me hooked on hospitality. Years later I read Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain) and Setting the Table (Danny Meyer), and that was the first time I realized hospitality could be a calling and a career, rather than just a way to earn money. I spent 17 years total working in restaurants in Boston and NYC, simultaneously completing my bachelors in psych, and post-bacc + masters work in industrial design and dispute resolution. In this period of time, I also studied in London and Italy, and worked on design projects in South Africa and Sri Lanka.
What inspired you to create Cheeky?
In 2010 I got my first real "break" in the beverage world, and was flown down to Tales of the Cocktail where I found a home within the craft cocktail community. I became a brand ambassador for Bacardi Rum, began teaching consumer cocktail classes at Astor Center in New York, and then expanded to teach at four additional schools in New York and Philadelphia. It was then that I realized hospitality is super personal for people; people wanted to offer the best for their guests, but felt lost and overwhelmed when it came to cocktails. I started wondering if there was a way to simplify cocktail-making so anyone with any level of training could feel like a superhost around friends and family.
It took many more years—and launching and dismantling a whole other mixer company!—but eventually the idea evolved to Cheeky: a line of bar-quality syrups and juices for the home. Over the years it became apparent that people not only wanted to mix cocktails to their taste (more citrus, more sweet, more bitter, etc), but they wanted great adult beverage options whether they were drinking alcohol or not. So, it was important to me that all our products were 0% ABV, and as delicious with seltzer or spirits alternatives as with spirits.
Where/how are Cheeky products made?
We currently produce all our syrups and juices in small batches at our facility in Brooklyn using a method similar to old-fashioned canning processes. It's important to us to only use ingredients we would purchase for a bar, and to process them as minimally as possible.
First, let's talk sweet & simple. Since they all seem to be a straightforward way to add sweetness to a cocktail, what's the distinction between Simple Syrup, Agave Syrup, and Honey Syrup? When or why would you use each of them over the other?
This is a great question! Most well-known cocktails we know by name (and of course their non-alc alternatives!) like the Margarita, Mojito, Moscow Mule, etc, are a balance between spirit, citrus, and sweet, plus dilution from shaking over ice. Basically we're looking for the right balance between the flavor and body of the spirit and your personal preference for sweetness or tartness, plus any flavors or aromas that might enhance the drink as a whole. So, on one hand it's about degree of sweetness, but it's also about what flavors, colors, or textures might complement the other ingredients in the drink.
For example, a Mojito is nearly crystal clear in appearance, and very clean in flavor. This very fresh looking and tasting cocktail should be made with a clear rum substitute, lime, seltzer and simple syrup (not a darker agave, honey, etc.) A non-alc Gold Rush, however, would call for a bourbon substitute, lemon and honey syrup. The honey is very aromatic and is also a texturizing agent, so it foams up and gives great body to the drink that you wouldn't get from another sweetener. Agave is mostly used with tequila and mezcal cocktails (agave-based spirits), abiding by the maxim, "what grows together goes together."
When making cocktails, especially for others, what's the best way to gauge how sweet to make it?
Well first things first, I'd ask your guests what they prefer! After that if it's still hard to gauge (a lot of people think they're "average") and you're making a shaken cocktail with juice, I would start with 1.5 oz non-alc spirit, .75 oz citrus and .5 oz sweet. (The ratios with spirits behave a bit differently by the way—if we were talking full-proof spirits, I'd say start with 1.5 oz spirit and .75 oz each citrus and sweet as the baseline.) If you can, I would give them a small taste before you shake, and you can always add more of any of the ingredients before shaking to get it closer to their preferences.
If you're making a cocktail like an Old Fashioned that calls for only a small barspoon of syrup, I would always under measure vs. over measure. Like cooking a steak, if you order it medium rare, you can always cook it more, but if you order it well done and go too far, you can't "uncook" it back to medium!
Pucker up! Let's talk about your Lemon Juice and Lime Juice. What makes it better than a run-of-the-mill supermarket version?
Most brands add water, sugar, and a range of additives or preservatives to maintain color on shelf, where we do not add any whatsoever—ours is 100% citrus juice. Make no mistake, it comes with its own issues (unadulterated citrus is VERY sensitive to heat and light, so it darkens in color faster than if we added preservatives.) Our customers regularly tell us they would rather have 100% juice with some variability in color than juice chock full of preservatives that looks perfect forever. We recommend storing the citrus juices away from heat or light and consuming as quickly as possible for the best outcome!
Add the first three ingredients to a shaker tin, add ice, and shake 10 seconds. Strain into a champagne flute and top with the alcohol free sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist if desired.
Soda or seltzer water with a splash of Cheeky Lime! I say this to reinforce that there's a lot of ways to enjoy a recreational adult beverage, and simple options like this often are forgotten in lists of recipes. Sometimes simple is best!
We're feeling fancy. Tell us about your more specialty flavors, like Cranberry Syrup, Ginger Syrup, and the limited edition Mint Syrup.
I would actually classify the Ginger in the same category above as the Simple, Agave, and Honey—these are all bar staples found in cocktail bars around the world! The Ginger is a 2:1 (2 parts cane sugar to one part fire-y ginger ☺️). When we launched, we didn't realize the Cranberry Lemon, Honey Ginger, and Mint were in a category of their own, but these are all thoughtful hacks for real cocktail "problems." Our new Espresso syrup is in this category as well. All of these syrups were created to reduce the steps necessary to create real bar-quality classics like the Cosmopolitan, Penicillin, Mojito, and the Espresso Martini. In the case of the Espresso Martini for example, you'd normally need to mix a zero proof spirit substitute, zero proof coffee liqueur, fresh espresso, and simple syrup, but with our Espresso Syrup, you just need 2 oz of the non-alc spirit and 1 oz of our Espresso Syrup to achieve the same results.
Fill a highball (tall glass) with ice. Add rum alternative, Lime, and Mint Syrup, then fill with soda water. Stir, and garnish with a mint sprig, or lime wheel if mint is unavailable.
In a pint glass combine 8 oz light nonalcoholic beer and a splash of Cheeky Ginger. Add soda or seltzer to taste and stir. Add splash of Cheeky Lemon or Lime if desired. Cheers!
Our motto at Boisson is seeing the Glass Half-Full. How do you think quality mixers like Cheeky allow people to see the glass half-full?
I think "mixology" has felt very intimidating to a lot of people, when instead it should be a playground for creativity. The best bartenders (and educators in general) share their knowledge in a way that makes the guest or student feel more capable, not less. With fully mixed mixers (ie Margarita mixer), the consumer doesn't emerge understanding anything about their preferences except that they like some brands more than others. Keeping the ingredients separate as we do helps people experiment, better understand what they like, and proudly make their creations for friends. If people emerge more confident and capable after using our products, we've done our job!Aaron Moses Robin, Home Cooking with Jan, Cone & Steiner General Store, and Rami Lavy