Libations laboratory Creative Winnipeg mad scientists began to mix for kicks, but couple's bottled cocktail potions have proven you can teach old spirits new tricks

Shane Masters was scrolling through the New York Times online a few months ago when the headline “What if Cocktail Mixers Were Actually Good?” jumped out at him.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/04/2021 (650 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Shane Masters was scrolling through the New York Times online a few months ago when the headline “What if Cocktail Mixers Were Actually Good?” jumped out at him.

The accompanying article centred around how interest in creating quality cocktails in the comfort of one’s own home has skyrocketed since April 2020, what with so many bars and restaurants being forced to close owing to COVID-19. While poking fun at neon-green, sugar-rich margarita mixes sold in grocery stores, the story alerted consumers to healthier, tastier options — small-batch, craft cocktail mixes prepared with freshly squeezed juice, homemade syrups and all-natural ingredients.

The first thing Masters thought after reading about ventures such as San Francisco’s Fresh Victor and Washington, D.C.’s Charismatic Creations was, “Hey, what about us?”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Marie-Pier Racine, left, and Shane Masters have turned their home into a cocktail producing business.

Masters and his fiancée Marie-Pier Racine are the founders of Angel’s Share Cocktail Co., an 11-month-old biz that markets creative, preservative-free cocktail mixes, close to 50 in total. How inventive is their output, produced in a commercial kitchen at Riverview Community Club? Well, if you’ve ever fetched a bottle of gin and said to yourself, “If only I had some elevated beet juice to go with it,” they’ve got you covered.

The Taste test

Think of the Hoppin’ Hives/Little Brown Jug Belgian IPA combination as a radler on steroids — in a good way. Radlers deliver crisp, refreshing citrus notes with subtle maltier notes from the beer base, with relatively low alcohol (3-4 per cent ABV), making them perfect for summer.

Think of the Hoppin’ Hives/Little Brown Jug Belgian IPA combination as a radler on steroids — in a good way. Radlers deliver crisp, refreshing citrus notes with subtle maltier notes from the beer base, with relatively low alcohol (3-4 per cent ABV), making them perfect for summer.

In this instance, the spice note from Little Brown Jug’s IPA works well with the ginger note, the moderate hoppiness of the brew lines up with the citrus notes of the Hoppin’ Hives, and the 6.5 per cent alcohol brings more kick than your average radler. Tinker with the recommended ratio to taste, should you want more or less sweetness, and enjoy on a hot day.

— Ben Sigurdson, Free Press drinks writer

Though I’m not an India Pale Ale fan, especially not of the very hoppy, pinier-tasting variety, LBJ’s Belgian-style IPA is already more in my wheelhouse, and the addition of the Hoppin’ Hives mix puts it squarely in my backyard. The tart lemon of the Angel’s Share concoction (a mix of lemon juice, honey and ginger) transforms into a juicy grapefruit flavour when mixed with the beer (though I’d like more ginger to come through). It’s a super-refreshing and easy-drinking beertail, if that’s really what we’re calling these things.

As Ben says, the recommended ratio might not be up your alley — it’s quite sweet — but it’s easy enough to modify the proportions. It’s also easy to imagine mixing the Hoppin’ Hives with other alcohols, as the sour-sweet-spicy combination is pretty classic.

— Jill Wilson, Free Press drinks consumer

The couple’s new, Never Skip a Beet mix, which contains notes of root vegetable, hibiscus and citrus, pairs terrifically with two ounces of gin, a merger Masters had confidence in before ever reaching for a jigger.

“Back in my culinary days I worked at a lot of progressive restaurants that were really into creating all these unexpected flavour combinations, so I had a strong feeling that one would work,” says Masters, who, prior to becoming an accountant, took a two-year culinary-management course at Toronto’s Humber College.

“I made a new mix just the other day using banana and parsley. MP (Marie-Pier) gave me a look, as if to say, ‘That is so weird,’ and in a sense, she was right. It’s weirdly delicious.”

● ● ●

Masters grew up in St. James, but it was Toronto where the seed for Angel’s Share Cocktail Co was originally planted. In 2014, a year before he and Racine, a “good, Windsor Park girl,” began dating, he was working at the Ritz-Carlton. One night, at the end of a long shift, he was served an expertly made Negroni in the five-star hotel’s Ritz Bar.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Initially, Masters' and Racine's homemade mixes were strictly for their own use.

Masters’ taste was somewhat refined; he’d long since moved on from the rum-and-Coke days of his youth, he says with a chuckle. Still, he found himself staring at the glass in front of him, astonished that something containing only three ingredients — an ounce each of vermouth, Campari and dry gin — could be so flavourful. By the time he moved back to Winnipeg he had gotten into mixology “big time,” to the degree his apartment mates chided him, letting him know there wasn’t any more room in their domicile for his ever-growing collection of cocktail books.

For Racine, also an accountant, it was a Zombie, a rum drink prepared with various fruit juices, that first got her interested in cocktail culture. She was in Montreal on business, it was the dead of winter and she ordered one out of curiosity at a Tiki-style bar she’d popped into. The verdict: “It was insane how good it was. It absolutely blew my mind.”

After purchasing a home together a few years ago, Masters and Racine began regularly hosting backyard barbecues for friends and family. In addition to whatever was on the grill, they always made a point of pre-choosing four or five different cocktails to serve their guests. The problem was, they were spending so much time in the kitchen shaking and stirring that they didn’t get to enjoy their company as much as they would have liked.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Angel's Share Cocktail Co. mixes debuted first on Instagram and then at the Pineridge Hollow Farmers’ Market.

That got them thinking. Instead of running around making drinks all night, what if they bottled the mix ingredients they planned to use ahead of time? Then, when it was to serve a batch of Mai Tais or whatever, all they had to do was pour the pre-mixture into a glass, add the applicable spirit and presto-change-o: instant cocktail.

Initially, their homemade mixes were strictly for their own use. As time went by and guests’ reviews became increasingly positive, they thought perhaps they should take their idea to the next level by starting a business of their own. They spent a few months driving back and forth to a provincially-run food-development facility in Portage la Prairie, where staff there guided them through required steps, such as recipe development and testing for shelf-stability.

In the summer of 2019, just before Racine was scheduled to write her final CPA exam, they took a road trip to Kentucky. They still weren’t sure what to call their fledgling venture, but that changed when they visited a rickhouse loaded with hundreds of barrels of bourbon. Masters mentioned to a worker how aromatic the place was. He responded, saying the scent they were picking up was the one per cent of stored alcohol that was being lost to evaporation; the “angel’s share,” he called it.

Masters and Racine immediately turned to one another, saying practically in unison, “That’s it; Angel’s Share!”

“Certain classic mixes, like Brown Derby, Gold Rush and Bee’s Knees, are always going to be available, while others will be rotated in and out, depending on the season.” – Marie-Pier Racine

The couple was preparing to launch Angel’s Share Cocktail Co. last March when COVID struck. Not wanting to appear insensitive — both have friends in the restaurant industry and knew they were being adversely affected by the various lockdowns — they waited until mid-May to debut their product line, first on Instagram and secondly at the Pineridge Hollow Farmers’ Market.

It’s true they were at a bit of a disadvantage in the sense they couldn’t offer passersby a Moscow Mule or glass of sangria to try, but shoppers seemed to get the idea. Within a month, people were making a beeline to their booth to scoop up their latest creation. That is, if they hadn’t already gone online to order mixes such as Cucumber Mint Collins, London Fog Martini and Sailor’s Storm through their website, (Depending what a drink calls for, each 237-ml bottle generally contains enough mix to fashion four cocktails, though ones like their Old-Fashioned, $14, can make up to 50 drinks, as just a spoonful of mix is required in each.)

“Certain classic mixes, like Brown Derby, Gold Rush and Bee’s Knees, are always going to be available, while others will be rotated in and out, depending on the season,” says Racine, adding they too succumbed to the lure of pumpkin spice last fall when they introduced a mix combining pumpkin, baking spices and citrus that paired perfectly with vodka and a dash of nutmeg.

This weekend Angel’s Share Cocktail Co will be a featured vendor at Third & Bird’s spring market, scheduled to take place at Red River Exhibition Place Saturday and Sunday. There, Masters and Racine will unveil their latest brainstorm, Hoppin’ Hives, a collaboration with craft brewery Little Brown Jug.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Masters makes a West Coast Sour in their commercial kitchen.

“As soon as the LBJ team tasted Angel’s Share’s Hoppin’ Hives in our Belgian IPA, we knew it was a perfect pairing,” says Rebekah Grisim, Little Brown Jug’s general manager. “Our taproom allows us the opportunity to mix it up and create unique offerings to lovers of Little Brown Jug brews, which is why we are excited to offer this pairing in our taproom as one of our weekly, featured beertails very soon. Our Belgian IPA and Hoppin’ Hives, with notes of honey, citrus and ginger, may just be the new beertail of summer 2021.”

Racine laughs when asked if she and Masters take an inordinate amount of time moving through a grocery store’s produce section, pausing over a bin of this or that, thinking hmm, what if?

“It is a bit of a chore. He’ll pick up a watermelon and say something like he bets it would go good with elderflower. Usually he’s right,” she says.

Also, although they don’t have a date picked out for their wedding just yet — they’re waiting until things calm down in terms of COVID so relatives from Quebec can attend their nuptials worry-free — don’t be surprised if, when that day rolls around, they disappear for a moment or two following the first waltz.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure we’ll play ‘bartender’ once or twice during the evening,” Masters says, offering a visitor a sample of their West Coast Sour mix to try at home with his favourite whiskey.

In the name of research, he means?

“Heh, always in the name of research,” he says with a wink.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Shane Masters, co-owner of Angel’s Share Cocktail Co., makes a West Coast Sour.
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Shane Masters pours a West Coast Sour.

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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